Friday, July 07, 2006

Paris, Day 3.

Strolled over to Montparnasse today, which took the greater part of the morning, because Paris looks small and walkable on the map, but is actually a lot more extended in area than one would think. But I wanted to see the city, you see, it always looks so pretty in the movies, though so far, though clean and in some areas maybe even appealing, and though it has everything (shops of all kinds, nothing you cannot find here no mater how exotic), is after all simply just a big city, not much unlike, say, Milano, or New York, with its chaos and car honking and people in a hurry, and curiously people live and move around like in most large cities, only in small relatively confined areas by choice: there is no reason to go up to Bastille if you live in Montparnasse and vice-versa, when everything you need can be found one or at most two blocks down the corner.

Anyway, after finally arriving in Montparnasse and spending some time at the Librarie Gilbert-Jeaune, a pretty darn big 4 floor-bookstore whose entire basement was dedicated to travel books/guides and maps, to buy me a Germany road atlas in preparation for next week's arrival, I visited the mysterious Paris catacombs, containing no less than 5 million people (or bones of, that is) piled up in rows and rows and rows one on top of another about 1.5 meters high through a labyrinthine system of over 300 kms of subterranean tunnels (you only get to visit 1.7 kms of it, all full of bones without space for a pin between them and even arranged to make pretty patterns with the skulls) at 20 meters of depth (under the Paris Metro and sewer system) more or less following the organization of the streets above (I say more or less, because though that is what the guide said, Edwin claims that people have in the past gotten lost in there and forgotten for days...and to my reply--I had assumed he was kidding or at least exaggerating for the tourist me--that they simply should've brought a normal city map along, given what the guide had said, he got all serious and clarified that they often connect to other buildings and sewer systems and other underground systems that most definitely do not follow the city roads). Why no one (that I know of) has staged a good book or suspense movie here I don't know (if the Francophones here think I am mistaken and instead know of any books that are set here, let me know in the comments section, for would love to read a good story!), because the setting is absolutely ideal, what with the romance of the city above, the decadence and grimmness below, etc. etc. Some parts, even, I kid you not, reminded me a bit of the basements of MIT's buildings 66 and 54 (granted, MIT is a lot more brightly lighted, sort of), what with its cabinets full of bones and fossils that came from who knows where (believe it or not, MIT does have an anthropology and archaeology department--it even gets 2 or 3 students per year!) thrown in helter-skelter, and made me think for an instant that perhaps some of the MIT profs got from here the inspiration for their decor.

The catacombs, by the way, were originally limestone quarries, and were only turned into dead people deposits in something like 1786 or so to relieve the Les Halles district above from disease caused by unhygenic conditions in its nearby Cimitière des Innocents. So basically they exhumed everybody there and moved them down to the quarries, eventually extending the privilege on to other cemeteries as well. Icky, I know. But that is why the whole place is littered with signs alerting the tourists that this is consecrated ground and be respectful of the people who rest here and so on and so forth, even though it was someone (don't remember the name right now) later in the 1800s who had the bright idea to arrange the bones in piled up decorative patterns to save some space and open the network to visitors.

Anyway, all of those huesitos piled up and at length and oftentimes arranged rather comically and to no end made me think 2 things:

1. What a waste of calcium. I mean, there are people here from before 1768 here, whose families and descendants, probably, are also all dead by now and don't care to come to visit (bones are of course unmarked anyway). I mean, with so many bones, you could probably do something with all that surplus calcium (ironic that the catacombs used to be limestone deposits, eh?? Still are, in a way, ha ha!), I'm sure the spirits wouldn't mind. Why? Think of it this way, what "respect for the dead" and "reverence", and ceremony is there, when your bones are piled up at random with someone else's such that your hip bone connects to someone else's knee bone connected to someone else's humerus and your femur which should've been somewhere in the same area as your hip bone is actually 37 kms away supporting half a skull that like 6 or 7 anonymous others is arranged into a pretty cross and altar pattern for entertaining obnoxious tourists? What respect are they talking about? Might as well get rid of the "please be reverent" signs, I think. I mean, after all, your soul, if there is one (if you have one, ha ha!) is probably gone somewhere else by now, and if not, it is thanks to this system gnashing its teeth and spinning in its grave (or not, in this case). In which case, more reason to stage a good murder mystery here...

2. The sheer number of people that exist on this planet (or more properly, that existed). Yikes. Good thing the bones here are long dead. It must be horrifying to see an analogous fresher pile of so many anonymous dead put together. Only....this kind of anonymous piling still goes on as recently as to this day. For what reason, I never understood.

Anyway, an obnoxious thing happened to me as I was exiting. The guards/curators at the exit asked to see the plastic Gilbert-Jeaunne bag containing the Germany atlas I had just bought prior to the visit. Apparently tourists like to steal bones to keep as souvenirs! So they asked me to open the bag and show the contents. Nevermind that it clearly was not bulky enough to contain a bone, or that it, containing a large and thin, rectangular book did not have the appropriate shape, or that the bag in question was clearly labeled Gilbert-Jeaunnes which is a bookstore as well known and ubiquitious as Border's in the U.S., or that if I really were trying to steal bones I'd probably hide them in my other bag, the daybag I was carrying, which even has zippers and everything and which they did not ask to see.

Enclose the stupid bones behind glass then! Or use a bit more judgement. Why I looked like someone who would take home half the left hand metatarsal of some reeking damp icky old skeleton is beyond me.

Anyway, afterwards I was planning on visiting the Let's Go highly recommended Park Citroën, but ended up meeting up with Dorothee instead, who had just come back from Biarritz and as she lives close by right in Montparnasse it was a rather happy coincidence I was in the same general area. We had a nice evening chatting and catching up on the respective adventures since Barcelona and, as ever since the past few day's biking across green grass fields peppered with chamomile I had been having a craving for this kind of tea, some relaxing tea at her apartment. It was quite restful and pleasant. :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hip-Hop dancing?