Empire de la Mort
(Don’t forget to check out the video!)
The catacombs were the first thing we wanted to visit during our short time in Paris. The city has a 130 mile maze of limestone quarries beneath its streets. In the late 1700′s, cemeteries were literally saturated and overflowing with decay, and the solution was to exhume and relocate the bones to these quarries. Over the years, the remains of over six million Parisians were stacked in the tunnels.
We eventually located a small, nondescript building that housed the entrance to the catacombs. A small sign warning that the visit is “disadvised to the people suffering of cardiac or respiratory weakness and of nervous disposition” set the tiniest bit of anticipation in motion as we descended a long spiral staircase 130 steps straight down. At the bottom a graph shows the depth of your location compared to the subway, and we tried not to ask ourselves questions about earthquakes in France. A series of dark, empty tunnels eventually led to the beginning of the ossuary, where a sign above the door warned, “Halt! You are now entering the empire of the dead.”
Those in the tunnels with us all stopped within the first 50 feet to view the first collection of bones and skulls, many totally disregarding the flash photography ban. We hung back to let them pass, but not so far to leave us totally alone. Stone plaques commemorated the dates and cemeteries from which certain piles were transferred. Other plaques were inscribed with death-themed maxims in French and Latin. We were able to understand just enough words to know that most were fixated on the fleetingness of life and the certainty of death. We examined the brow ridges of the skulls, guessing whether they were male or female, how old they might have been when they died and what their lives were like before they were deposited in the dark and damp empire de la mort.
The paths continued and the psychological edge from simply being in the presence of human remains shifted into wonder at the sheer volume, piled even into even the smallest corners. After a while your mind just stops trying to process it, until you realize that it took less than an hour to become comfortable walking next to the remains of six million people.
Food in Paris
Continuing our tradition of compiling all of our food photos from one leg of the trip into one blog post, here is what we ate in Paris. Two days, a handful of meals… not much time to delve into French cuisine. One of our breakfasts, which consisted of coffee, orange juice and chocolate croissant next to an outdoor market, was just too pleasant to interrupt by taking the camera out. And it didn’t help that we were so hungry one afternoon that we walked into the first cafe we came across. It turned out to be an expat place that sold cheeseburgers and American grocery items. Good thing we had such a great feast in Toulouse!
Eiffel + Arc
Although the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe were not on our priority list, we found ourselves in the general neighborhood of Eiffel late in the afternoon on our first day. We bought some cheese and wine from a nearby shop, sat on the lawn and watched the crowds, then wandered across the Seine for a much better view of the tower and watched some breakdancers for a bit.
We realized the sun was setting soon and that would probably be a great time to head over to the Arc, which is at the crest of the Champs-Élysées. Although the war memorial is 200 years old, cleaning and restorations in recent years made the limestone seem golden in the evening light. It was an unplanned end to the day, and one of our favorite memories of Paris.
We got to the Arc de Triomphe just before the sun went down and spent enough time taking photos that I realized we were needing to change the camera settings as the light changed. So I got the idea to walk up Avenue de la Grande Armée to the next waist-high stop light to try to get some video footage that could be sped up as the sun sets. I originally thought the sun was setting fast enough that the light on the Arc would significantly change within just a few minutes. Ten minutes later I wasn’t so sure that it did, but a better ending walked right in front of us.
A Tiny Slice of Paris
We had only two full days in Paris before our flight to Tbilisi, which is far too short to really see much, so we didn’t go crazy rushing around the city trying to pack it all in. We picked only two things we really wanted to do (visit the Catacombs and Musée d’Orsay), made sure they happened, and anything else was gravy. Here are a few fun photos that don’t have much of a story behind them.