Paris Trip 2012

Day 4 - 9/18/2012

I arise earlier each day but am still very tired. Sleep is deep but short. I wake from vivid dreams in the wee hours of the morning.

I eat breakfast at the house, cereal and espresso, then rush to be first in line at Les Catacombes de Paris! The entrance is in the Place Denfert-Rochereau, which is dominated by the Lion of Belfort. I am not first. Ahead of me is a group of Australians. We chat. One of the men is an orthopedic surgeon with a house in Brisbane and another on a small island. His wife's cousin, a Britisher with a vast knowledge of everything, told us that the US Constitution was originally going to be written in German, due to the influence of the Pennsylvania contingent!

At last it opens. As a group, we descend a long set of spiral stairs. An endless tunnel extends into darkness. Thankfully the height of the tunnel is about 7 feet. Only at times do I have to hunch and bend. The first sight is not the expected bones. There are a series of sculptures of famous buildings carved into the walls by a former Quarry Inspector.

The light is very bad for photos. We keep walking and finally reach the entrance to the ossuary and the Empire of the Dead!

We pass chamber after chamber of remains. The bones are arranged neatly, artistically, the femurs and skulls mortared into place. Sometimes they are arranged in patterns, with skulls outlining crosses and hearts. I am exhilarated. The tour ends at another spiral staircase which leads out of the underworld. I wonder if old miners fill the same pleasure of the open air as I do now.

The metro train running the Denfert line (4 line) is a clean, modern train. There are no doors between cars and I can see through the entire length of the train. The air inside is fresh. I disembark at Île de la Cité. The juxtaposition between the transparency of the train and the massive, inscrutable buildings is interesting.

On the island, I am again amazed by how much wealth there was/is in France. No wonder French history is one of wars and the exploitation of the colonies.

I stroll and watch the boats along the quay on the Seine, see the fearsome Frankish statue of Charlemagne in front of Notre Dame, smile at a man feeding sparrows from his hands. As I cross the Pont Saint-Louis to Île Saint-Louis, a young woman with a clipboard motions for me to stop. She doesn't speak and pantomimes an invitation to sign a paper. It is a petition or collection for deaf and mute aid. As I complete the form, she signs kisses, touches her heart with gratitude, and pats my arm. I leave blank the field for money. She invites me to fill that out. I finally understand that I am being scammed. I refuse and walk away. She acts broken-hearted but doesn't follow me.

The doors of the houses on the Île Saint-Louis are grand, ornamented with elaborate carvings and hardware. I take pictures of almost all of them. At the eastern end of the island, I enter la Maison de la Mouche, the fishing store, and am disappointed. While it is an amazing store, they specialize in fly fishing gear, not spinning rods. I quickly tour it, then leave. I have two more fishing stores that might work out later in the week.

I exit to the north side of the island and cross the Pont Louise Phillipe, walking to the Rue des Barres along the alley behind Église St-Gervais-et-St-Protais. There is an old boot scraper embedded into the worn marble steps. An empty building next door facing into a courtyard has exposed wooden beams. It looks like a horse stall.

I wind through the curving streets and pass along the backside of the Hotel de Ville, not knowing the grandeur of the facade. I'm very hungry and stop for lunch at Tabac de la Mairie. An elegant woman drinks white wine and eats a large salad next to me. People stream by, all in stylish fashion. I have my first croque monsieur and follow it with coffee. A honeybee visits my table and shares the warm sunlight.

After 45 minutes or so, on the Rue de Rivoli, I discover the Hotel de Ville. The ornamentation thrills me more than any other building I have yet seen. I'm not sure why - the opulence, the statues? Later I learn about the Place de Grève, the square in front. How it was used by Parisians to burn stray cats alive (a favorite, twisted past-time) and where they held their public executions. François Ravaillac, murderer of King Henri IV, was drawn and quartered there. A place of great bloodshed, now a market place.

Going north, I find the boutiques of Rue Saint-Martin and the beautifully dilapidated Saint-Merri. The facade of this church is completely covered in mesh and awaits repairs. The interior is sparse and dark. Art hangs everywhere: from the ceilings, the walls of the chapels, the altar. I find myself enchanted by the dusty gloom and will visit it again.

I leave Saint-Merri and the tangle of close, stone buildings and enter the large squares that house the Stravinsky Fountain and the Centre Pompidou. They are modern, all glass and steel. A man plays jazz guitar next to the fountain. I like the open, playful architecture, but don't understand the significance of the building or that it is a museum. I put it on my list of places to visit.

It is getting late in the afternoon. I'm tired and go home. I rest until the early evening. I want to continue exploring but I don't know where. I decide to try the Canal Saint-Martin and view its fishing possibilities.

It is near dark when I leave. A couple of blocks from the house, I realize my pen leaked into my back pocket. My hands are covered in ink. I walk to the Place d'Italie and ride north to the canal.

When I get to the first lock, there is a boat waiting to travel upstream. I have never seen a working canal before. I watch for a spell, then walk the entire canal along the Quai de Valmy. Mid-way, I find my fishing spot. It is a quiet section with a little park. The water is still and I see the motions of fish upon the water.

At the extreme northern end of the canal, there is a bar along the waterside, filled with hip and edgy young people. They sit on the wall of the locks, drinking beer and talking. I pass the Peace and Love hostel. It is brightly lit and filled with drinkers.

I go home and pass out - a day well spent.

Stone Sculpture Carved by Quarry Inspector

Entrance to Ossuary

Rows and Rows of Bones and Skulls

Boats Along the Seine


Man Feeding Sparrow

Drain-pipe on Side of Building

Rue des Barres leading to Église St-Gervais-et-St-Protais.

The Hotel de Ville and the Place de Grève

Centre Pompidou

Canal Boat Heading Up-Stream

prev next