Saturday, January 3

the lovely bones

yesterday, instead of going to the louvre - which is going to be free tomorrow as it is the first sunday of the month -d and i went to the Catacombs.

the guide book said it was only open 2 to 4 pm - so we headed over in the afternoon and waited in line for about 20 min or so before we were able to get in.

we passed the entrance door - i bought a souvenir medallion as i have for many of the french monuments - and after purchasing our tickets began the descent down, down, down into the depths ::ba ba ba bummmmmmm:: of the catacombs. after the first descent of 120 so steps (no i didn't count them - they listed it as you enter so that those who are not in physical shape know ahead of time) we began to follow the "sens de la visite" thru the corridor...

and we walked. and walked. and walked.

and there was no one ahead of us, and no one behind us, and we just kept walking. it felt like we were entering the sewers on an episode of "buffy the vampire slayer".

-d said that he was feeling cheated.
"where are the bones?"
as that was the WHOLE entire point of our descent.

we kept walking - then FINALLY there was a sign that said "ossuarie".
because "os" means "bone" in french i said, "i bet we are close." and also because there were lots of people congregating.

-d glanced through the entrance and said, "now that is creepy."

we entered a hallway where the walls were made of bones. skulls. femurs. bones i don't know the names of. all stacked up neatly. the eye sockets peering at you, and the grins missing teeth.

sometimes the heads were placed artistically among the legs bones and arm bones. those were the bones i recognized. i didn't see any ribs.

and we walked among the bones.

at one point there was a woman breast-feeding her baby on a chair surrounded by bones and skulls. some people had brought their toddlers. that's what *i* call a family day out.
there were portions where the bones were piled higher than -d's head! (he is 6'5).

here is what rick steves says about the catacombs:

"these underground tunnels contain the anonymous bones of six million permanent parisians. in 1785, the revolutionary government of paris decided to make its congested city more spacious and sanitary by emptying the city cemeteries (which traditionally surrounded churches) into an official ossuary. the perfect locale was the many kilometers of underground tunnels from the limestone quarries, which were, at that time, just outside the city. for decades, priests led ceremonial processions of black-veiled, bone-laden carts into the quarries, where the bones were stacked (artistically) into piles 1.5 meters high and as much as 24 meters deep behind neat walls of skull-studded tibia. each transfer was completed with the placement of a plaque indicating the church and district where that stack of bones originated and the date they arrived.

from the entry of the catacombs, a spiral staircase leads 18 meters down. then you begin a 1.5 kilometer long subterranean walk. after several blocks of empty passageways, you ignore a sign announcing: "halt, this is the empire of the dead." along the way, plaques encourage visitors to reflect upon their destiny: "HAPPY IS HE WHO IS FOREVER FACED WITH THE HOUR OF HIS DEATH AND PREPARES HIMSELF FOR THE END EVERY DAY." you emerge far from where you entered (and boy, do you ever), with white limestone-covered toes (and hat - esp. if you gets dripped on!), telling anyone in the know you've been underground gawking at bones. note to wannabe hamlets ("alas, poor yorrick, i knew him horatio -") an attendant checks your bag at the exit for stolen souvenirs. (and they did)."

it's very unsettling to think you are walking in between 6 million dead people. and to think each one of these people used to be walking around paris. who would have thought that people would be paying to gawk at their bones.