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Paris, FR 12/8/05

So, in keeping with the spirit of the last post, I’ll tell you about another Parisian tour we did. Navigating the subway system brought us to a normal commercial district with cafes and stores, similar to many we had been through while we were there. The guidebook led us to a nondescript door opening into a narrow hallway. At the back was a lady behind a window that collected our Euros and then we went through a door and down a narrow stairway. A long way down. 130 steps, then down a long stone corridor and into a room (or a grotto) full of bones. Human bones. We were in the Catacombs.

It’s really pretty amazing to see. We’d heard about them before, even seen them on TV, but in person it’s…hard to describe. It’s somber, spooky and overwhelming all at once. The bones are carefully placed, it’s not like they just dumped them. The catacombs were originally quarries but when the cemeteries got exceedingly nasty (which doesn’t even begin to describe the, um, sanitary conditions of the time) they moved the remains on in. Several million of them. That’s lots-o-bones. They placed them in piles according to type, piles of thighs and legs and arms. Piles and piles of skulls. Arranged in many different styles. Skulls were used many times as accents.

They made art.

We walked a long way, 2 km, through rooms and corridors all the same and all different. It wasn’t depressing in any fashion, it was fascinating. And then we climbed up another 85 steps and were,┬árather jarringly, back on the street trying to figure out where we were. It was nice to see the sun.

Note: All photos were taken with no flash. The only illumination was the bare electric lights and my mag lite, held by my lovely assistant. I used a fast lens (50mm, f1.8) and got some interesting shots. I’ve seen almost the same shot as the first one below published somewhere. Apparently the rose is a regular feature.

Paris, FR 12/8/05

Paris, FR 12/8/05

Paris, FR 12/8/05

Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, 12/9/05

Several years ago, Patti and I went to Paris to celebrate one of life’s little milestones. We went in late-November/early-December and it was, for the most part, cold and gray most of the time we were there. Towards the end of the trip, we made a stop at a location that all the books said was totally worth it: the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery. You may have heard of it. It’s best known among people of my demographic to be the final stop for Jim Morrison. We found it to be much, much more than that.

First off, it’s huge (over 190 acres). There are lots of other famous people resting here. One of the first we saw was the bizarre tomb of Oscar Wilde, which for reasons I can’t begin to explain was covered with the red lipstick impressions of hundred of lips (not all female, I suspect).

Oscar Wilde's lipstick covered tomb. Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, 12/9/05

Morrison’s grave was protected by some fans, all significantly younger than ourselves, to protect it from vandalism. At Chopin’s tomb, there was a little old man tending to the many fresh flowers (in December no less) and generally keeping things tidy for old Frederic. We strolled past the resting places of Abelard and Heloise, Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, and many other graves, tombs and monuments of Parisian society. It was all pretty cool, even though it was our coldest day yet.

Chopin's monument is tended with great love. Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, 12/9/05

What surprised us the most, however, were the monuments to the losses taken in WWII. We ran across them early and often. There were many of them commemorating the victims of the camps, members of the resistance, specific incidents and who knows what else. And some of them, many of them, can only be described as surreal. Grotesque shapes, skeletons and weird art adorned them. It was quite sobering.

One of many sculptures honoring the lives lost in WWII. Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, 12/9/05

Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, 12/9/05

Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, 12/9/05