Just like that, with more than 100 metro rides (50 hours!) and countless baguettes under my belt, my 5 weeks in Paris have come to an end.
So, what have I learned? Well, for one, I have found the answer to one of my first questions: Yes, Parisian men and women don’t wear shorts or flip-flops. Two, never pack lots of bars of French soap together in your carry-on because you will get pulled aside by security at both airports for having “suspicious looking substances.”
But most importantly, I learned that a part of my heart will always be in France, and what better way to reminisce about my summer than revisiting all the places I’ve been through writing?
Today, we will be visiting Les Catacombes, known as The Empire of the Dead to its friends.
As this was a class excursion, we had a group reservation, meaning that we were lucky enough to skip the two-hour line (and the pouring rain) and go straight in.
Our guide met us at the front and asked us if we wanted our tour in French or in English. Being the good French students that we were, we all said French. Easy French (James Bond, anyone?). Emphasis on easy. Like we’ve-only-been-speaking-for-four-weeks-bonjour-is-my-go-to-word French.
It wasn’t until about halfway through the tour that we realized she thought we had said 4 months of French, which explains why I only understood about 20% of what she said. The tour guide was oblivious to our confusion, as the dim-lighting was doing an excellent job obscuring our furrowed brows and forehead wrinkles. For us, it was a fake-it-til-you-make-oh-nope-you-didn’t-make-it situation.
Anyways, into the catacombs we went.
The catacombs are a complicated, underground network containing the remains of more than 6 million people. Many parts of the catacombs have yet to be explored and will likely remain unexplored, as it’s extremely dangerous and confusing. Part of what I did catch from our tour guide was that a few years back, some teenagers got lost in the catacombs for three whole days.
Also, it has been said that some people, after developing their photographs, notice strange silhouettes that were not there before. I mean, it might be true, but I’m more inclined to think that those “strange silhouettes” were just shadows of that person who kept on trying to squish by you even though there clearly wasn’t enough space.
Now, as a slightly claustrophobic person, I would be lying if I said that I fully enjoyed my experience touring the catacombs. Don’t get me wrong, I felt very lucky to be able to skip the line and see such an incredible part of history, but the lack of windows, the humidity, the darkness, and the narrowness really weren’t contributing…in a helpful manner.
Nevertheless, I found some parts of the catacombs extremely fascinating.
There was even a little well/pool of water that had collected from the humidity.
The actual “bones” part of the catacombs was quite interesting. Some parts looked chaotic, while others had been made into patterns and formations.
There was even a heart-shaped formation made out of skulls. Someone was being extremely derisive.
Or maybe they were just lonely.
There were even skulls and bones placed to make a barrel. (Sorry for the poor quality of the pictures. It’s not exactly selfie-lighting down there.)
After the tour ended (and the 120 or so spiraling steps up), some friends and I thought that it would be a good idea to get some fresh air, so we decided to go to the beautiful Parc Montsouris, one of the four large urban, public parks, in the 14th arrondissement.
Strange to think that underneath all these magnificent buildings and parks lies a whole city-maze of bones. The layering of history. A vestige of the past.
In that park full of life, I thought about the empire of the dead.