Sunday, 24 October 2010

Paris - the catacombs

Jean-Paul Sartre said that hell is other people. I think that being stuck with other people in a maze of tunnels filled with millions of corpses is probably worse. Which is where I found myself during my recent trip to Paris.

The tunnels under Paris were the result of stone mining which began in the late 1700s. Lack of space in the city's cemeteries at the end of that century lead to the catacombs being used as a resting place for thousands of corpses. These were arranged in a decorative fashion and have been a tourist attraction since the early 19th century. To access the bones, visitors walk for hundreds of meters through rather plain, bare tunnels, passing the occasional pool or sculpture. This has the effect of building tension before they find themselves in the ossuary. When I entered the first of the bone-tunnels my breath was taken away. The sight is awesome. The fact you then walk for twenty minutes past hundreds of thousands of bodies is utterly sobering. It is momento mori on an epic scale.

And what of the "other people"? I am sorry to say the gravity and emotion of the experience was lost on the babbling, naive bunch of overgrown children I was unlucky enough to find myself with. The laughed, japed and popped their camera flashes in disregard to the repeated notices prohibiting their use. One half-wit decided to push a small LED light inside the eye-socket of a skull to illuminate it so his girlfriend could photograph the cranium. With a flash. If ghosts exist (and I hope they do) I will be happy to assist them in removing this moron's head from his shoulders and leaving it to rot in a cellar with a lot of snap-happy retards.

The Wiki on the Paris ossuaries is here. Hacksaws can be purchased here.

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  1. The only problem with world travel now being affordable to all is that world travel is now affordable to all.

    I think a little piece of innocence died on my first trip overseas, when to my horror I discovered graffiti all over the outside roof at the top of St Paul's Cathedral. That's when I realised that there were a lot of people out there that I could never possibly relate to! Since then I've encountered the most unbelievably ignorant and stupid people at well-known travel spots, and it astounds me why they even bother - just to tell their friends they've been there, I suppose.

    The scary thing is seeing places cater to these mindless hordes - putting bloody manniquins everywhere at historic locations is a particular bugbear of mine, as though we can't possibly imagine what it was like ourselves. The other thing that annoys me is fences and guardrails and and all the other additions designed to stave off lawsuits from people who can't take responsibility for not falling over if the floor is slightly uneven.

    I've got nothing against making historic sites available to all - but when everything is dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, what's left? As you can probably tell, I really related to your frustration here!

  2. Hey Peter. Yes, dumbing down is a pet hate of mine too. The snap happy chimps seemed to display a massive lack of respect for both heritage and the dead though, and this was what really got my goat. Oh well...