Saturday, 10 September 2016

Paris, part two: I Pitti the Fool Who Paid for That Palace

Paris, France (Paris, France)
December 2015
A morning wander down to the market bore many fruits.
Though the sky had clouded over, Parisians were out in force acquiring various foodstuffs for the coming week.

Once we had picked the better looking of the two boulangeries (surmised by length of queue), our wait yielded croissants and a tarte framboise. To fulfil our breakfast needs, we also picked up hot chocolates and a few oranges.

Following breakfast the rest of our morning was spent lazing around and watching YouTube videos, so we decided to make the most of our afternoon by visiting the Jardin du Luxembourg. The palace is actually a mimicry of the Pitti Palace in Florence, built in 1612 because Marie de' Medici (widow of Henry IV) was homesick and wanted a place to remind her of her childhood. The gardens were built alongside the palace in a Florentine style, and are today enjoyed by nobles and peasants alike. 

Then we rocked up to the catacombs, but they were fully booked until 5:45pm, so we secured our slots for that time. With two hours to kill, we strolled along the boulevards of the Cimetière du Montparnasse, where many notable people have been buried. Following the map, we tried to locate the final resting place of Samuel Beckett but were unsuccessful. Unless you've been there, you have no idea how packed and jumbled the place is! (Though you can't tell from the photo, which looks extremely well-ordered. But once you get away from the path, it's chaos.)

We did find many beautiful statues, usually of attractive women fawning over tombs, like the one above! We also happened upon the grave of Jean-Paul Sartre and his lifelong partner Simone de Beauvoir. 

With an hour still to go before catacombs entry, we figured we should explore the area known as Little Brittany. Apparently in history, trains from Brittany to Paris used to end up at a train station here, so migrants set up their crêperies within walking distance. Why not! That was definitely the most crêperies I've seen on one street - there were hardly any shop fronts that didn't sell crêpes! 

GOT DEM BOULES! Crepes too - we had a Dame Blanche variety and a flaming Calvados one with apples in. 

Finally, with bellies full, it was time to descend into the Catacombes de Paris. In order to reach the correct depth, we were required to wind our way down a dizzying spiral staircase that seemed to go on for an eternity. The space that the catacombs occupy exists because of quarrying done to provide stone for many of the city's landmarks. The mining was unregulated, and it got so bad that some streets began to cave in. This was clearly unfavourable for everyone involved, so King Louis XVI said "sort it out, mate" and a good chap called Guillaume (among others) strengthened the network of tunnels. 

The bones come into the story when low cemetery standards couldn't be ignored any more: the fetid stank of bodies was escaping the Cemetery of the Innocents and milk in surrounding houses would turn sour within the day and wine would spoil. Also, a shared grave cracked open and corpse juices began to flow into some distraught citizens' cellars. To clean up the whole lot of mismanaged cemeteries around the city, the king ordered all bones be exhumed and brought to a new ossuary in the former quarry. This process took a ruddy long time (18 months for the Cemetery of the Innocents alone), but at least no one had to worry about deceased fluids after that. 

The little bowl on a pedestal was where an eternal fire was kept in the quarry, to promote air circulation. We managed to get some photos without people, but the site was fairly busy. One tourist in particular stood out: Crazy Mike of the Catacombs. He had somehow got it into his head that these bones weren't from cemeteries at all, and that some genocide had taken place, stating "This is like the killing fields" and when his girlfriend (with audioguide) told him all about the relocations, he declared "I don't believe it. That story is bullshit!" In one part of the catacombs he pointed upwards to tiny stalactites forming from moisture and asked "Why is that not in any other part of the tunnels?" in a skeptical voice. He seemed to believe that he had uncovered a huge conspiracy - by whom and for what reason, who knows. Towards the end of the tunnels he pointed to a stone plaque from the 1800's and exclaimed "This is brand new. Look at it!" Becoming fed up by Mike's theories, his girlfriend just said "you look at it" and resumed listening to the audioguide. The funniest part was that between expressing his far-fetched concerns, he repeatedly posed with his girlfriend for selfies in front of all the bones. 
Before heading out on our overnight train to Annecy, we partook in the bottle of rosé that our host left for us and relaxed in the apartment for a spell. Trekking with our heavily laden backpacks, we made it to the Gare d'Austerlitz, and waited for our train while people played on a random free-to-use piano as a snaggletoothed hobo applauded for them. 

Today's post was almost called: Conspiracy Mike and The Subterranean Hike