Les Catacombes

Greetings from a cafe near rue Raspail where I am enjoying a hard won drink. My limited French continues to get a workout. I understand about 50 percent of what I hear and can make myself understood pretty much all of the time. Well, i’ve had to wave my hands a few times, but so far no one has become too frustrated with me and –most importantly– no one has cut me off in English yet!

This morning I managed to warn off a Yugoslavian scam artist, order a crepe and give directions to a lost French tourist –no small feat for a man as terrified as I am of exercising his supposed second language.

Paris is fascinating. It is undoubtedly lovely, bur smells like an open sewer. Yes there is fashion here, but jeans and tennis shoes are most common. And I’ve seen so much camel toe that I think I’m back in Egypt.

today I ventured into the catacombs, the 300 year old quarry pits 20 metres beneath the city, which has served as the city’s ossuary since the mid 18th century. It is a miles-long creepy underground labrynth where the carefully stacked bones of millions of dead Parisians are stored. Here’s a pic of one of the skulls:

A tour of the catacombs really is quite an experience. The French have taken pains to preserve the creepy low lighting, and have limited both the frequency of tourists and the density of employees, so that every visitor gets a sense of being alone in the dark with a million dead bodies.

The fellow who took my ticket was amusing. He liked to guess visitors’ countries of origin. For me, he guessed “America”, then “UK” and then, after much pondering, “Canada”. Weirdly, “India” never made his list.

I couldn’t help but think that had this been a North American endeavour, there would be garish fluorescent lighting, handrails, computer kiosks, an escalator and, of course, a gift shop. The French know how to do ambience… that’s why it’s a French word!

Lastly, I was a tad disappointed that the French had already coined the word “Pestacle”, which is close enough to my word, “pectacle“, to make me uncomfortable:

I should also add that yesterday was the 64th anniversary of D-Day. As far as I could tell, there was nothing special going on in France, at least not conspicuous enough to draw my attention!