Day Of Death

”Yes, it’s like this every day”, my friend David told me with a certain disdain on his face. As I looked around the carriage most of the other passengers seemed to have the same look on their faces, as a group of buskers started playing music in our carriage. Although it was the first time I’ve experienced it, apparently it’s quite common on the Paris metro to have musical buskers in your carriage.

I wasn’t sure, though, if the locals genuinely disliked their peaceful trip on the metro being interrupted, or if they just didn’t want to make eye contact with the buskers, just in case they felt obliged when the hat was passed around.

With well known tunes like “Take Five” and “Those Were The Days”, I couldn’t help but hum along silently to the piano accordian, the trumpet and the boom box which seemed to appear from absolutely nowhere. After the third or fourth time this happened, though, and as especially as the musicians got progressively worse and worse, I began to understand a little of the frustration many Parisiens must feel.

Deep down, though, I still think it’s quite charming. And I guess it says a lot of good things about the French that they would allow something like this to flourish, when in many other parts of the world (including Sydney and London), you’d have the transit police trying to stamp it out.

The other thing I noticed on the metro today, and commented to David about, was that I really like the informal way in which people touch each other. Back in Sydney, if you saw three young blokes sitting together on a train, they’d be at opposite ends of their bench seats trying to avoid any physical contact. Here, however, it’s not been uncommon to see young men have close physical contact with each other. And not in “that kind of way”…

We spent a fair bit of time on the trains today as we travelled from David’s village, which is located about eighty kilometres south of Paris.

First there was the car trip, though, through the glorious countryside, as we made our way to Fontainebleu to catch the train. Fontainbleu is the main town in David’s area with lots of shops, a national horse-racing centre, and what was once a French Imperial Castle. The castle is pretty impressive, and David couldn’t stop from commenting about how much work had been done to improve the castle’s inside and outside. As a place to visit, it’s really quite good, with terrific gardens which actually afford you a view inside the house into rooms you can’t otherwise enter.

Arriving in Paris, we came straight to Montclair where I checked into my accommodation. It’s a nice enough place, with the only apparent downside being having to lug my suitcase up six flights of stairs. And although fairly basic, it has a terrific view and it’s located in a really nice part of the city. I had to laugh, though, when I booked in tonight behind a young American woman who was travelling with six pieces of luggage (one backpack, one suitcase and four handbags). The bloke behind the counter was quite clear in telling her there was no way she could have that much luggage in a dormitory room. And, she’s also on the sixth floor!

After a bite to eat, a visit to the toilet (David went to what I labelled the Voulez Vous toilet because of the resemablance it bears to the cover of an ABBA CD), and a wander around a record store, we began our “Day Of Death”.

The first stop was the Catacombs of Paris where six million Parisiens are buried in a mass-grave underneath the city. “Are you at all claustrophobic?”, David said to me as we walked down the stairs and through the walkway. Although I do suffer a little claustrophobia, I hadn’t actually thought of it until he mentioned it, and then I began to have just a moment when I began to wonder if it was such a good idea to go under-ground to look at a bunch of dead Parisiens.

As you go under-ground, however, you begin to loose track of both time and place, and any sense of claustrophobia I had quickly disappeared. It’s as peaceful as any other graveyard you might encounter, except here you see literally millions and millions of bones and skulls laid upon top of each other. Everywhere you look there are bones, though I didn’t really feel any great sense of “death”, possibly because the bones are organised so neatly. Perhaps this was why so many people going through the catacombs were failing to recognise the space as the final resting place of real human beings? Or maybe they were just disrespectful?

We also went to Basilique Saint-Denis which is final resting place of most of the French Royal family, with many of those buried there dating back to the sixth century. Located within a “very Catholic” cathedral, you see the tombs of every French royal you might want to imagine.

And then late this afternoon, we went to the final resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte, Les Invalides. As it was late, we didn’t actually go in, but it was great to walk around the building and to enjoy the atmosphere.

Nearby there were lots of people walking around, playing soccer, and generally enjoying the sunshine. A great day.

And so here it is, my final Saturday night in Europe before I return home. Next Saturday night I’ll be in Hong Kong. And although I could go out and enjoy a bit of Paris nightlife, I can’t be bothered. At the end of this long trip, I’m feeling quite tired. Still, I have another three days in Paris, and there are lots of adventures still to be had. Tonight, though, I think it’s just me and my computer and a bit of French tele.

  1. How long after you get back do you have to start work?

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  2. Three or four weeks, I don’t actually remember. How terrible is that?

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  3. Behold the weary traveller! It’ll be nice to have you back James, although I’ll miss reading about your travel adventures.

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  4. Wow, the catacombs are absolutely fascinating. I’ve always wanted to visit some, as for some reason they always really grab my interest, and I wonder if in real life they are scarey/morbid/depressing/uplifting, or what? You’ve given me a little more insight.
    x

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  5. James, I am jealous, so many memories of such a beautiful city . Do hope you have time to visit the Memorial to the Deportees .
    Markets at Saint Ouen also a wonderful place to visit , but maybe you have missed the opportunity this trip … a good excuse to return!
    Loved your time in the Loire Valley , have not yet explored that part of the world, looks magnigicent .

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