Anna’s friend Cez was arriving tomorrow evening so I had booked myself an Airbnb close to the hotel. Its owner Gaeille came and brought me the keys to the place at 10 and as we followed her out it was already raining. We were to take the Metro to visit the Bastille Market.
The cleanliness of the Metro stations is beyond belief. The white tiled walls are glossy and look as if they were built yesterday. We speculated as to whether they hose down each station during the night. The floor of the stations show no dust, dirt, spills, gum or anything else. The most rubbish I saw on a station platform was one ring pull from a can – in a whole week of using the Metro. The route indicators within the trains light up so so know exactly where you are in your journey. I was greatly amused that I read the station ‘Edgar Quinet’ as ‘Elgar Quintet.’ (!).
The outdoor market was vast but on this rainy morning customers were pretty scarce. Within minutes my feet were soaking wet, which was strange, since my shoes didn’t let in the water on our rainy walk last night. Anyway this prompted me to buy two pairs of socks for Euros each. It wasn’t until later that I realized one was Angora and one was Cashmere, both retaining their original price labels of 20 Euros. We chatted to a stall holder selling a new line in umbrellas, which can turn inside out. They come with lovely scarves to match. Other scarves featured hand embroidery using toro technique that I a recently learned in my textile class at home. During out morning coffee stop I donned my new socks and my feet dried out perfectly.
The afternoon was spent at the Catacombs which necessitated changing Metro trains at Chatelet which turned out to be an enormous station more like an airport. And SO many people. Directly across the street from where we exited the metro was a regular building which was the entrance to this vast underground system of tunnels filled with skeletons. You would never have suspected it. “Stop. This is death’s empire.’ Thus begins the path that leads through the remains of several million Parisians. The first bones were thrown here haphazardly into an abandoned quarry shaft.
The first bones came from the largest cemetery in the city at the time located in Les Halles district. The cemetery was closed in 1780 amidst concerns for public safety and little.by little the remains of people from various city cemeteries were deposited in the old quarries. There are signs in the passageways indicating which cemeteries the bones came from. Around 1810 the inspector general of the quarries decided to develop the area and the long bones and skulls were arranged decoratively to form a back wall behind which the other bones are piled.
These bone walls are called agues and there are corridors of them. Pillars of rock, left by the quarry men to support the ceilings are hidden by skulls and tibias. One of these in particular had became quite famous as the ‘tibia rotunda.’ One of these supporting pillars is surrounded by bones in the form of a barrel shape. On 2 April 1897 a night concert was organized there between midnight and 2 a.m.
The information was circulated in the newspaper and the concert drew over 100 people to hear Chopin’s Funeral March and Danse Macabre by Saint-Saens among other piece. There are hate remains of about 6 million people in these corridors and the bones of Charles Peroult who created Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella are somewhere in this labyrinth. We visited the souvenir shop with its macabre trinkets before heading up onto street level. Anna bought a book about cats. She asked the lady at the checkout if this book was here because of the word ‘cat’acombs? No, it turns out it’s because Paris was known at one time to have a lot of cats, especially in the Montmartre district – hence Le Chat Noir, supposedly the first modern cabaret but now simply a hotel. Famous patrons included Debussy, Satie, Toulouse Lautrec and Verlaine.
Lunch was next and we stopped in a cafe where the service was very slow, even for European standards. A party of student aged people to our right were from Michigan and the couple to our left were from Redwood City. The group from Michigan complained to the waitress about the slow service – typical Americans!
We were bound for the canal district with its wrought iron bridges. There was a playground that was teaming with children and their carers. This was truly a multicultural district of Paris. The area reminded me of Amsterdam with bikes leaning on bridges.
Later, at dinner in an outdoor bistro I discovered a new beer Eidelweiss, which I enjoyed with my pizza while Anna tucked into a 1664 with her pasta. We walked down to the Seine after dark and watched the flashing lights of the Eiffel Tower.
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