d'Entre les Morts
Posted: Nov 21, 2003 8:17:29 PM
First of all, this is what we ate in Berlin. Looks tasty, don't it?
Second of all, Super Bonus Points for the person who first identifies what the reference in the title is (and no cheating by looking it up in a search engine! and I may have to disqualify Fruitbat right now, as she's too damn clever). I'm actually calling this report 'd'Entre les Morts' because I seem to be unintentionally running into the dead everywhere I go in Paris.
One of my first stops upon hitting the streets was to go under them, to the famous Paris Catacombes. At the end of the 18th Century the graveyards of Paris were running out of room, so the enterprising administration decided to dig up all the old dead people and collate them in an ossuary (that is, a vault for bones). So they took the skeletons, gave them a clean, and then stacked them in large piles in a huge underground complex.
Huge? Oh yes. Imagine a corridor with bones, six or seven metres deep on either side, with the femurs and skulls being given pride of place on the exterior, arranged in artistic patterns. Got that? Okay, now imagine that this corridor, though it turns and twists, is one and a half kilometres long. For you imperial types, that's one mile of crypt, several hundred thousand skeletons. Enter the dead.
For some reason one of the other sites that I went to see was the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, and I had an amusing time spotting the various celebrities that are interred there. Chopin, for example. Abelard and Heloise (although I doubt anyone will know who they are unless I say that they made a cameo appearance as puppets in 'Being John Malkovich') were buried side by side. The two most interesting tombs, however, were those of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. Oscar's tomb was covered in lipstick marks, and Jim's in lyrical grafitti. Hmmm... "I am the lizard king, I can do anything" is nice, but I think that the creepy "You can ring my bell at the dead rock star hotel" is the reason there's a guard standing next to the tombstone.
And then there's the Pantheon, another site of interest that was on the itinerary. Famous dead people there: Rousseau, Voltaire, Hugo, Dumas, Zola, (Dumas' tomb was higher than the other two authors - J'accuse!), Braille (yes, there's an inscription in braille), and the Curies (whose crypt gave off an eerie glow). A little further on: the Hotel Des Invalides. A hospital? Well, yes, but it's also the final resting place of Napoleon I. His tomb is placed so that you either have to look up to it or bow down to see it, but I pointedly did neither. I also made fun of his hat, which is on display at the adjacent military museum. Take that, tyrant.
I'd hate for you to think that I'm doing some kind of Tour of Death here in Paris, but there's not much point describing the Louvre (the Mona Lisa! the Venus de Milo! both with a rather bored expression, I have to say), the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame (which is five minutes' walk away from my hostel), the Rodin Park (The Thinker!), and the Pompidou Centre, because any description I gave them would be useless in comparison to actually experiencing these places. I can say that they are amazing, and that everyone should go and see them right now, but that's about it.
And when you do go and see them, be sure to go in style. I luckily happened upon a new tour being run in Paris (it has been going about six months now) which was extremely high in novelty value: tour by Segway. Now, for those of you who have never heard of these contraptions I suggest you do a websearch, but basically imagine a platform with two wheels and handlebars that never tips over and can be moved at a brisk pace just by leaning forwards. It is incredibly fun, and ridiculously easy to use.
The tour itself was rather haphazard, of course (I believe that I knew more about Paris than the - American - guide, and spoke better French, too), but that is only to be expected when the highlight of the expedition is the mode of transportation. We were quite a spectacle, and a fair few tourists stopped to gape, stare, (not-so-)subtly glace sideways, smile broadly, wave, point, and take photos as we Segwayed by. When the four hours were up we didn't want to get off. Oh well, next time I'm in Paris I'll con someone else into coming, and I'll go again.
Tomorrow, Versailles. After that, I shall have to leave, probably to take the high speed train to Lyon.
I shall avoid going to any more cemeteries.
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