July 28: The Catacombs, The Luxembourg Gardens, and a Change of Plan

This is what I posted on Facebook this morning as a plan for the day: Today we're going to the catacombs of Paris (unsuitable for young children! perfect!) and then Dan's coming home to bike while we play at Luxemburg Gardens. I'm coming home with the kids to meet Dan; they're going to see a movie in French while I go stand on Pont d'Alma where Joyce often stood to watch the river run, and then I'm going to sit in les Deux Magots and finish my novel.

Yes, when I woke up this morning, I was full of spunk and vigor, because I was charging down the finish line on the novel, and determined to finish it in some spectacular way, with fireworks, angel choirs, and a pantheon of Parisian writers looking kindly down on me from the rafters of one of their favorite haunts. This did not happen. I think that was for a good reason.

We wanted to get an early start for the Catacombs because we knew there was going to be a horrifying line. As it turned out, there was a horrifying line anyway. However, it was extremely important that we go to the catacombs, because that's just the kind of people we are, to prioritize seeing miles of bone piles over seeing the Mona Lisa. Did I mention we are skipping the Mona Lisa? Well, we are. But we are not skipping the catacombs.

We took the Metro down to Montparnasse and wandered through the cimitiere there on the way. We saw this incredibly creepy sight. This is the grave of Charles Pigeon, who apparently wanted to be remembered as someone who was just about to get out of bed:

I found this one super creepy too:

Here's a view from the grave of Camille Saint Saens, who we looked up in order to pay our respects:

Lots of people had left mementos and notes, or ticket stubs or drawings:

Benny wanted to write one too:

Here's his note:

I love this line: "I am very joyed to know even that you're dead, your music still lives on." It's so incomprehensible and yet comprehensible, quintessentially Benny. And he used the correct version of you're and your, which makes my homeschooling heart proud.

The cemetery was very beautiful, each grave so unique, and the labels so interesting and personal. It was to be a stark contrast with what was going on down below.

So we got in the line with our own bottles of water, the kids DSi games, and all our hopes and dreams for a better world. It was hot:

Someone was selling suspiciously unsealed looking water bottles along the line out of a pickle bucket, and the dad in front of us thought he'd be a hero and buy cold water for his teenaged girls. One of them spat out, "I'm not drinking THAT," and the other one poured it over her head. We were all very cheerful in the line, because we could see other people walking past us to get to the end of the line, and we irrationally felt very superior and scornful of them, and that got us through.

First you walk down, down, down, and through miles of tunnels. This was the stone quarry from which the stones were pulled to build Paris:

The gateway to the Empire of the Dead:

Then miles of bones, relentlessly anonymous:

It's difficult to show the scope of it with the camera and such low light. Plus the tunnels of bones just went on and on forever. The bones were removed from public graveyards and placed in the quarry tunnels when plague and disease was spreading from the cemeteries into the drinking water. They have marked which bones came from which cemetery, but for the most part they have no idea who is who. When you come in, there's a list of known people who may or may not be fully or partially interred in the catacombs.

The thing that got me most was the way they had engraved bits of poems and literature throughout, in Latin and French, and the altars. I loved the gritty plaintiveness of the artwork -- skulls arranged as crosses, as hearts, embedded in piles and piles of femurs. I expected it to be creepy and hokey, it was actually very somber, meditative, and religious.

After we came out we had a bracing diet Coke, some ice cream, a fabulous crepe, and a big drink of sunshine. And some hand sanitizer. Yes, I let the children touch and hold the human bones. It was very somber down there. And we heard rats. But up on the surface, it was warm and bright.

We parted ways with Dan and the children and I headed off to the Luxembourg Palace. Once there, we wandered around in the gardens for a while, me having my Hemingway moment, the kids immediately attracted to the ducks, the fountains, and the sailboats. We patiently waited to get our boats, and then the kids launched them into the pond:

You rent a little sailboat and a stick, and then you shove it out from the side with the stick, and you just keep on doing this as the wind blows it across and across and across the pond. The weather was perfect for this, so beautiful and sunny and breezy and wonderful. The children had the best time with their boats, and Sadie was actually very good, very determined and purposeful with her stick. Benny wandered a bit and sometimes lost track of his boat, but also enjoyed himself.

I even wrote a little as I sat there, in the same place Hemingway sat. And later I put the scene of Sadie with her stick and boat straight into the end of the novel.

When our time was up we made our way over to the playground, which did not disappoint. Unsupervised zip line, crazy spinny things, lots of water play and sand toys and climby things.

On the way home we shopped a bit in St. Germain and picked up a stellar Three Musketeers costume for Benny. We ended up being two hours late to meet up with Dan, which freaked him out to no end, since my phone had died and we hadn't checked in. In the end, it was all fine. I did not get my Pont d'Alma and my Deux Magots, but I had an inspiring day nonetheless, and the whole thing was very interesting.

1 comment:

  1. A debt of gratitude is in order for the blog entry amigo! Keep them coming...
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