Spooky Scary Skeletons

A few days ago was the day I’ve been most looking forward to in this trip: Catacombs day.

The Catacombes de Paris, located in a former sandstone mine that supplied stone for many of the older buildings in the city, is the home to the remains of over 6,000,000 people. The bodies were removed from their original places of rest throughout the city and relocated, in a process that took more than 3 years.

Almost immediately afterwards, the place became a major tourist attraction; almost like haunted houses today. Initially it was only accessible to the wealthy and influential Parisians, but today even American plebeians like myself can experience it!

Going into today, I didn’t realize how many people were interred here. I knew it was a large number but I was thinking thousands, not millions. I expected skeletons to be on display. Honestly I was expecting something like a troll tomb from World of Warcraft

A Zandalari Troll Tomb in Grizzly Hills, Northrend, in World of Warcraft. Screenshot credit: biobreak.wordpress.com

Clearly my expectations were off. Turns out, the vast majority of the people interred in the catacombs here in Paris didn’t even have the wealth to keep their bones in one place after they died. Instead, here the bones are arranged by type, without thought to who owned them. Femurs and skulls are arranged in artful rows, almost like the belt courses on the buildings stories above.

An image showing of how the femurs and skulls of the dead are arranged

All in all, the Catacombs proved to me what I already know: I’m really naive and there is so much I have yet to learn. My expectations of this space were completely off, and failed to account for how short, narrow, and sparsely lit this space would be (albeit very vast)

One last comment to make about the catacombs, however, is that it is an amazing example of adaptive reuse. Once the mine was decommissioned, this massive space could easily have lain unused and empty underneath the city for centuries. Now it’s the final resting place for millions of Parisians and a source of income and tourism for the city.

Here are more pics from today:

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Song of the day: “Spooky Scary Skeletons” from the Living Tombstone

There’s a Difference Between “Alone” and “Lonely”

I have clinical depression. I take good meds for it so I don’t normally show major symptoms. However, every now and then I still get what I call “the sads.” Basically I become more fatigued, more irritable, and more anxious. It’s a great combination.

Yesterday I woke up with a serious case of the sads. It was about 2pm (Paris time), and my roommate was on the way out the door for a shopping excursion with a few of our classmates.

I was alone. But I wasn’t just alone: I was lonely. I felt starved for intellectual and social interaction. I felt like I was undesirable and nobody would want to be with me anyway. I felt like I didn’t matter.

None of this is new, of course, as anyone else with depression and anxiety can tell you. But that doesn’t make the feelings any less significant.

So, feeling lonely and worthless, I did something unusual: I got up and left instead of moping around. I decided I was going to go do some shopping for things I needed, and screw the buddy system because “nobody wants to be with me/would miss me anyways”

It’s fortunate that exercise – like walking – does neat things to your brain; thanks endorphins! Similarly, chatting with friendly shopkeepers diminishes feelings of isolation, worthlessness, and social deprivation. I had a genuinely good time out shopping by myself, and even found a few of the things that were on my list!

I’m still not sure what brought on my sads, and I’m not entirely sure what cured them. I’m just glad they’re gone, and I got a good adventure out of the mix.

Sightlines are Important

A few days ago we went to visit Versailles, which is a French palace initially built by King Louis XIII and expanded upon by Kings Louis XIV through XVI. The palace itself is a seriously impressive building; these guys knew what they were doing!

The exterior of the “original” palace built by Louis XIII

However, as gorgeous and gilded and amazing as the palace was, the true gem of the estate is the gardens. In these are acre upon acre of green spaces, luxurious fountains and statuary, orchards, lawns, etc. And while there were as many people in the gardens as in the palace, some spaces were so remote that you could be alone in them.

One of the quieter spaces, the Collonade Grove

The true power of the gardens lies in its design; the way that the paths intersect, forming fun shapes and allowing sight across the entire vista. Several paths gave lines of sight from one major monument to the next (aka terminal vistas).

Example of a terminal vista: this is a view from the palace of Versailles to the very end of the garden, where Apollo’s Fountain is located

These terminal vistas are symbols of several things: for one, they tell the visitor that there was immense forethought into the planning of this enormous garden. These sightlines don’t occur by accident!

Second, the effect of these sightlines expands on the formality of the space. After all Versailles was, in the time of Louis XIV, a working mansion; it was where he hosted his courtiers and foreign dignitaries (when he wasn’t in Paris) and was essentially his seat of power. These main pathlines are perhaps not the place for a casual stroll.

Further on that point, the terminal vistas are ultimately a sign of power. To have created this space, the Louis’ must have had enormous power: to pay, to instruct, and to enforce the creation and maintenance of the garden. On top of the gorgeous palace, the garden would have signified to honored guests “this is the king’s territory.”

view of the Chateau Versailles from Apollo’s Fountain

And to top it all off, several of the paths ended with the sight of the palace, or the Latona’s Fountain immediately in front of it. To me this gave the impression that no matter where I was in the garden, I could be pretty easily tracked by anybody who wanted to track me… and from only a few choice locations.

view of the Chateau Versailles from the Neptune Fountain

All in all, I had a lovely time exploring the garden with my classmates; we had perfect weather, and it was wonderful to get out of the stuffy, packed palace into a more “natural” (albeit meticulously manicured) space!

Everything in Paris Means Something

Day 2 of Paris: we explored a little of the Ile de la Cite, stepped into Saint-Chapelle de Paris, and took a lovely boat tour down the Sienne.

The interesting thing about these adventures was the symbolism hiding in every inch meter of this city.

I’ve been through a few cities in the USA: particularly Fredericksburg, VA and Washington, D.C., and never noticed the level of symbolism that I am seeing here in this city. So I’m asking myself why. From my lessons I know that D.C. is a city fair riddled with symbolism, and yet I’m ignorant of most of it. Is it because I take it for granted? Or am I more cognizant of the symbols in Paris because they’re being semi-aggressively pointed out to me at every corner? Maybe it’s a mish-mash.

For instance, on our boat tour there were statues and images on almost every bridge we went under (of course, some of them were clearly for water-traffic and didn’t need explaining). Like the Paris coat of arms, which I would’ve assumed to just be pretty decoration. This is actually a symbol of Paris & all of France (but mostly Paris), meant to signify to visiting statesmen “We are Legion Paris, and we are the best”

I’m sure by the end of our trip I’ll scoff at my own naivety in writing this post 😉

Here are the day’s pictures:

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