#Bizarre #Travel Journal #4: #Creepy, #Spooky— #Paris? #Arrete! C’est ici L’Empire de la Mort

So you’re in Paris. Sure you’ve got to check out #Notre Dame. It’s truly amazing what can be done with high empty spaces and a huge organ. Definitely check out the Mass. Phenomenal heavenly music.
But if you are after real cred, you must visit the #Catacombs. Okay, I know. Don’t forget the #Louvre. Who knew Mona was so small? Yeah, people were smaller back then, but not that small. It’s not hard to imagine two guards back in 1913, talking after the famous painting was returned from being stolen. “Pierre, I’m pretty sure she was a little bigger. You know, up front, when I first started back in ‘10. You sure that’s our girl?”
Although the name, Catacombs, was a nod to those other ones in Rome, you don’t have to worry about being prodded along by pikey #Swiss Guards. You are more likely to find the custodians here, sitting quietly in a corner fiddling with their cell phones, if those even work five stories beneath the surface. #Damn Cell !@#$.
Before the 1700’s, the Catacombs first served as limestone quarries for Parisian buildings. When in the late 1700’s the cemeteries in the old city started overflowing and the stench became unbearable, city fathers decided to rebury the dead in the empty quarried spaces outside of town was the best solution.
History tells us the exodus of bodies (and parts thereof) from the old Les Innocents cemetery (and later many others) to the quarries at Tombe-Issoire ‘became a nightly procession of black cloth-covered wagons carrying Parisian dead.’ It took a long time to clear Paris’ cemeteries and, in the end, over six million bodies found their way to the Catacombs.
So where is this mysterious place? You can find it at One Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy. This is where you would have found Paris’southern gate, Barrière d’Enfer – The Gate of Hell— in the eighteenth century. Today, the entrance is right across from the Denfert-Rochereau Paris Metro stop (Number 4, 6 and the B Line – ‘Réseau Express Régional,’). Bus lines 38 and 68 are nearby.
This building (actually, the small building to the left in the photo) is the current entry to the underground. There are many popular visitation times when the line of eager thrill-seekers wraps around the block like #Ouroboros. So plan accordingly. Arrive at least several hours before the posted last tour. As closing time approaches, the staff begin walking the line and counting tourists to determine where the line will end for the day. They are very accurate.
While you are standing in line staring at the overflowing, wire mesh trashcan full of discarded coffee cups, you may decide it is time for refreshment. Send someone around the corner to the delicious Le Pain au Naturel, or one of the many neighborhood coffee shops.
Tickets for the Catacombs are only available on-site, i.e., no online sales. There’s no bathroom, or beverage service down there, so come prepared. #Mickey D’s is around the corner,. Bring change for the toilet). Step up to the ticket counter, lay down your cash or credit card, and put on your best smile as ‘no animals are allowed’. Further caveats are ‘the tour is unsuitable for people with heart or respiratory problems, those of a nervous disposition and young children. The Catacombs are not accessible for persons with reduced mobility.’ But the real kicker is the subtle ‘130 steps to go down and 83 steps back up to street level’. More about that later.
Bring a flashlight for those dark, meandering, gated holes, maybe there is something in there. Even though it’s not handicap accessible, most passageways are flat, dry, and easily traversed. Surprisingly, there are no other-worldly smells. Hey, it’s not Manhattan.
Once down the spiral stairs, you begin a path through carved-out tunnels. The more distracted of us might begin to wonder, what is this all about? It is quite boring at the beginning. Finally, you come to this ominous sign. Which of course, we all take photos of. Feel free to create your own selfie by photo shopping your face into the opening below.
You don’t have to be a savant to get what it says. Yeah, we’re getting to the good part. Here’s where the ‘those of a nervous disposition’ bit comes in. You are immediately immersed in head high bones and #skulls. #Eerie and creepy, but somehow sanitized. There was no blood to speak of, except for when I was gawking at a particularly sinister skull and smacked into a support column. Why they would put that there, I have no clue. The endless hallways, while twisty, are not particularly claustrophobic-inducing, but it is kind of dark down there. Since flash photography is forbidden, it is a good time to whip out the #Sony Nightshot camcorder, or that #infrared app on your cell you weren’t sure you’d ever find a use for.
Initially, all the bones may be unbearable for some folks but after a while it becomes clear that even the interment staff got bored. This is clearly evidenced by the poetic renderings of some of the bones, including this peculiar, big barrel-shaped thing. That’s right. What were they thinking?
The tourable length of the chambers is only about a mile of the approximate 180 mile total. Some forty-five minutes later, after wandering around thousands of skulls and boney parts, you’re probably pretty much tapped out on l’Empire. But don’t get distracted. Don’t let your good judgment falter. If you see one of the metal-barred doors open, with a broken padlock on the ground, resist the urge to sneak off the beaten path. In 1793 a doorkeeper, Philibert Aspairt, wandered off and was not seen again for eleven years. That’s when they found his body— his lunch partially eaten, wine bottle drained, with a slim cigarillo butt firmly clenched in his teeth.
Remember those stairs out, I mentioned? For those with strong mental, but weak physical, prowess, ascending those measly 85 steps up can be like clawing your way out of Dante’s lower circle. My associates had quite the laugh when I collapsed, breathless, on the pavement at the exit.
#Absinthe, Absinthe! Where’s that #Green fairy to take away the pain?
Check out http://www.bizarretravelbook.com
and the blogs at the Outcasts http://www.outcasts-tlh.com/
Aside from my own personal photos and observations, I wish to thank the Internet as a ready source of fact-checking, especially our friends at Wikopedia, Google and the Smithsonian. Please contribute. Keep them in business.


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