Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe & beyond...join me!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

paris...the dark.

I'm standing in the fore-garden of the Louvre museum looking down at the manhole. I’m on the other side of the museum, away from the bustle surrounding the impressive glass pyramid. The dust from the gravel which is being kicked up by the many tourists heading through to their pointy goal, hits my face. It is windy, and for a cool day in May I’m surprised by how many non-Parisians are milling about. But if I’m here, why shouldn’t anyone else be here.

Nearby a family plays chess on one of those life-size chess boards. The little boy heaves a rook with both arms, and all of his strength, to a black square while mom and dad look on. I kneel down to get a closer look at the man hole. Everyone has seen Les Mis and Phantom; has heard the legends (or are the just rumours?) of the Parisian Underground. I am curious.

I wish I could see anything, but of course it’s just dark. I wish I was braver, but of course I’m still just me. I might be taking these days to explore the corners of a city I don’t know too well, but I’m not going to do anything crazy; nothing crazy like trying to meet a cataphile who parties and paints and hangs out “down there”.  

I’m completely intrigued though, by what I’ve heard.  Apparently, there are huge man-made ponds with fish fed by employees of the Opéra Garnier; rock quarries, which to this day still implode once in a while, gleaned for building material back in the day; France’s largest gold reserve which stays mostly hidden from thieves, except for once or twice; and huge bone-filled ‘rooms’…apparently six million Parisians were poured underground from overcrowded cemeteries in the 18th and 19th centuries. “All are anonymous, disarticulated. All individuality forgotten,” writes Neil Shea, from National Geographic, in a fascinating article about this dark side of Paris ( If only I could see a bit of it all, but do I really want to?

Sure is a pretty manhole.
A day later, I’m sitting on the top deck of a river ferry, forcing myself to ignore the cold wind thrashing at my face. I do love this river. The view of the Seine is truly beautiful from every standpoint that I’ve seen so far. From one of its 37 bridges, from the varied banks you can amble along, from the impressive jardins, from high above, and now from the water. What is most impressive are the buildings along the river, each as eye-catching and interesting as the other. But, I’m here for the stories.

The young tour guidess, gives choppy English commentary through the gusts of wind and I hear her say something about the guillotine. For some reason, I sit up a little straighter and try to make out the rest of what she’s saying, in French…"la guillotinel'exécution de Louis XVI…et Marie Antoinette… sur les 2 498 personnes guillotinées à Paris pendant la Révolution” (okay, I didn’t actually understand the rest). I notice we’re floating past the Place de la Concorde, which I now like to call ‘Place de Guillotine’. Here stood the guillotine; a horrific death apparatus set up for, as the Germans call their outdoor soccer-viewing events, public viewing. I’m sorry. They say society has become more violent! Families used to come out to the town square to watch the latest beheading! In this respect I actually think ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ is a sign we’ve evolved as mankind. Or, at least I’m happier thinking the violence is not as publicly-endorsed as it used to be. 

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