Macabre in the morning means a visit to the Catacombs of Paris. Oooooo. . . These catacombs were created in 1785 to serve as an ossuary (literally, a room or container for the bones of the dead) when Paris’s largest cemetery (where people had been buried for over ten centuries!) started becoming a danger to the townspeople (a lot you can read into that). Before they became the Catacombs, they were quarries where tons of Lutetian limestone had been mined to create many of the most famous buildings in Paris, including the Louvre. This strata of stone is 45 million years old and the fossils of many extinct marine animals have been found here! You can actually see fossils still embedded in the stone, although I didn't see any myself.
So they literally dug up most of the cemeteries around Paris and moved all of the bones into the quarries. At first they just piled them in, but then in the 1800s they decided it might be nice to be a little more respectful about it, and the bones were arranged in a more “decorative” fashion. Callie and I tried twice to see the Catacombs – the first time we got there around 5 and they were closed. The second time we got there at 3:30, but it’s right around that time that they cut off the line because the last admission is 4pm. It just so happened that WE were chosen to be the designated cut-off point! Needless to say, frustrating. So I finally got wise and went at 9am on my last day in Paris. Callie wasn’t able to make it. I waited in line 2 hours and finally – entre! To get to the Catacombs, I descended about 60 feet underground (180 narrow, winding stone steps). I walked through a series of quarried corridors before reaching a large room where a beautiful sculpture had been chiseled. It was created by a quarryman named Decure, who fought in the armies of Louis XV and was supposedly one of his best soldiers. The sculpture is of a fortress from the island of Minorca where Decure is believed to have been held prisoner by the British. Beautiful sculpture.
Then more winding corridors. It’s very cool, and wet. The walls and ceilings drip water at times, which didn’t make me feel all that secure! And sound is very strange down there. I could hear a guide giving a group of people the history of the place, and it sounded like he was far behind me and right next to me at the same time – I don’t know how else to describe it! On the ceiling above me throughout the walk was a large snaking black line. Visitors in the 19th century painted it there to keep from getting lost in the Catacombs, which makes sense because I noticed a lot of tunnels were closed off. And from some images I’ve seen on the web, I suspect there’s quite a lot that the public doesn’t get to see – some very beautiful monuments and sculptures. Click here if you want to see more.
Through more tunnels and then suddenly I’m standing at the entrance to the ossuary itself, with an inscription on the lintel that says “Stop! This is the empire of death!” And there before me, rows upon rows of skulls and bones. Many, many winding stone corridors of skulls and bones. It's actually not a creepy place at all, more kind of stunning. I felt a sense of quiet respect. It is, after all, a cemetery. You are not supposed to use your flash when you take photos here (although many people ignored this), so I don’t have a lot of photos to show. But you can get an idea from the few that I have. There are over SIX MILLION Parisians buried in the Catacombs! ‘Nuff said.
After the Catacombs, I didn’t want to spend my last few hours in Paris standing in another line, so I decided not to see Notre Dame as I intended. Instead I went to the Tuileries, the gardens where André Le Nôtre trained before designing Versailles, and had a delicious lunch of croque monsieur. Ever see the movie IT’S COMPLICATED? Meryl Streep plays a bakery owner and in one scene she makes croque monsieur for Steve Martin’s character. I’ve always wanted to try it! Just obscenely buttery bread toasted with cheese and sometimes ham, I think, but she made it sound so good! I think hers might be better, but it was yummy. Then I walked along the Champs Elysees toward the Arc de Triomphe. Think of a large, concrete outdoor shopping mall where you can’t afford to buy anything. Just sat on a bench and people-watched for a while, enjoyed the breeze, looked up at the Arc. And I’m not sure, but I think I saw some of the riders in the Tour de France race down the Champs Elysees! They came down the street as I was walking toward the Arc and everyone started cheering. I just read that the last leg of the tour was supposed to come through there on the day!
Then, alas, it was time to say goodbye to Paris. One last pic of the Metro that so graciously got me around the city. And back to London on the train.
GUEST WRITER'S BIO
Vicki Speegle is an award-winning screenwriter whose feature script LOVED ONES was in development at Amazon Studios and was a finalist for best screenplay. Her screenplay DEAREST was a finalist for the 2011 Sundance Screenwriters Lab, and her television pilot THE WAKES OF WILBUR POE recently placed in the finals of Slamdance.
Vicki grew up the daughter of a gay single mom turned pastor in Akron, Ohio, where she helped take care of her two younger brothers, an experience that provided fodder for a number of short stories and scripts. Her infatuation with storytelling began at the age of five when she sent a love letter to Donny Osmond, and since then she has worked an eclectic mix of jobs to support her writing habit, including 4 years in the U.S. Navy tracking nuclear submarines on a tiny island called Adak, Alaska, assistant to a very eccentric New York City artist, and a brief bout as the world’s worst waitress. Vicki studied music performance and education at Akron University before making the move to New York University, where she earned her BFA in Film & Television Production. During her studies at NYU she interned as assistant to the editor for Ken Burns’ production of THE WEST. She wrote, directed, and produced several shorts, including her thesis film OLDER, which went on to screen at the Tribeca Underground Film Festival and won 2nd place in the Pioneer Theatre Short Film Slam in New York City.
After graduating from NYU, Vicki joined Rigas Entertainment as assistant to the Director of Development, helping in the development of feature films with directors Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) and Maggie Greenwald (SongCatcher). In 2005 Vicki began shooting a documentary about her mother’s struggle to reconcile her faith as a pastor with her advancing Alzheimer’s. The project is currently in post-production and has garnered the support of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). In 2007 Vicki’s screenplay LOVED ONES placed in the top 5 of the Bluecat Screenplay Competition and won Screenplay Live at the Rochester Film Festival. Her works have placed in several other competitions, including Women in Film, Chesterfield, and American Zoetrope. Vicki’s credits include a teen comedy for Applause Films and radio scripts for Wynton Marsalis, Director of Jazz At Lincoln Center.
Vicki lives and works as a writer, filmmaker, and web producer in New Jersey. She is still waiting for Donny’s response.