Discover another side of Paris
NY Mama Ami Cadugan, here again writing my daily discoveries about the quirks of Parisian living. You can follow me on Twitter at @amitakesonparis
The first hints of Spring were in the air, so I put on my workout gear and decided to walk around the ‘hood’ to do some errands. After being cooped up all winter, it was nice to stretch my legs and enjoy the sun streaming through the picturesque blue sky that Paris is famous for. Wait! Did I just say picturesque? Uh oh, that’s a clue that the camera would be coming out, killing even more hard drive space on my slowly dying laptop!
So…after walking past the point where the “actual errands” were supposed to take place (don’t worry, I’ll get the milk and toilet paper later, people!) I came across a moss-covered brick wall, which stretched as far as I could see. Well, you could say that curiosity killed the cat, because I decided to push my ‘rollser’ cart around that corner and take a peek at my new discovery. I was hoping that it was a park, which would have been great for the kids to run around in. However, the sign said that it was actually the Cimetiére du Montparnasse (Cemetery of Montparnasse).
Since there were public hours listed, I decided to keep walking and I was rewarded with some of the most artisanal looking graves, tombstones and monuments that I had ever seen; all arranged along windy, tree-lined “streets” that were screaming to be photographed. In the middle, there was a roundabout with a winged statue surrounded by freshly planted flowers. And it all just seemed to stretch for miles (turns out it’s 19 hectares, which is actually only 0.7 of a mile), but SEEMED is the operative word here!
Regardless, I kept walking and discovering new things as I went along. Many different religions are represented and there are even some very famous people buried here, including Frédéric Bartholdi (Sculptor of the Statue of Liberty), Alfred Dreyfus (Dreyfus Affair), André Citroën (Cars) Simone de Beauvoir (Feminist Philosopher and Author) and Man Ray (Dada and Surrealist Artist and Photographer). One that I think our Mamas will really appreciate is Aristide Boucicaut, who founded Le Bon Marché!
It was a bit creepy at first, but I gradually became more comfortable as I walked along. Many other people were there enjoying these beautiful, historical surroundings, so why shouldn’t I? Mine was far from the only camera on site. So, next time you have to run some errands, you may just want to take a detour and check out this amazing place instead. The milk and toilet paper can wait!
Fast forward a few days. Even though the weatherman said that it was “officially” Spring, the temperatures took a turn backwards and brought forth a chilly and overcast day. Well, what better weather than that to pay a visit to The Catacombs? According to their website the official name for is the Municipal Ossurary, but that’s just fancy lingo for an ancient cemetery, coincidentally keeping with the theme of this post!
My husband had been to The Catacombs before, but the kids and I had not. So we woke up early on this chilly Saturday morning and he hustled us all out the door to wait in line for the 10am opening. This behavior was so out-of-character for my husband, a man who once owned a t-shirt that read “I Don’t Do mornings”, that The Catacombs had to be something really great. Well, he was right to hustle us! The line was already stretched around the building when we got there around 9:40am and we wound up waiting for almost an hour to get in. Being social butterflies, we enjoyed “chatting up” some of our fellow ‘wait-ees’, which made the time go a bit faster. We were very happy to get inside (so much warmer!) Then got some good exercise trekking down the 130 steps that began our descent to The Catacombs. A quick history lesson commenced : Quarrying for limestone over the centuries left vast areas of empty space underground as far deep as a 5-story building. The Catacombs were founded in 1785 after the Cemetery of the Innocents in Les Halles started infecting local inhabitants with disease; after that over 6 million bones were transferred from all other Parisian cemeteries between 1786-1814).
Now that the kids had actually learned something (and on a Saturday, no less) they just wanted to see some bones already! So we hoofed it down the long corridors and got to the good stuff.
The Catacombs did not disappoint. There were piles of bones and skulls stacked as far and wide as the eye could see. Along the way, there were famous quotes as well as some artful ‘bone arrangements’ and tombs. It was a new adventure around each twist and turn. You could really get “up close” to these ancient remains and the kids even noticed some skulls with gunshot wounds, cracks and stitches. Kind of freaky, yet cool at the same time.
After about 45 minutes underground, we climbed up another 83 steps to get back to street level. Turns out we walked over a mile and had worked up quite the appetite, as morbid as that might sound! But, prior to heading to lunch, we paid a visit to the Comptoir des Catacombs (aka the souvenir shop). Being a long-time fan of ‘skulls and crossbone’ accessories, I had a field day in there. So, if you see a Mama walking around Paris with skull laces in her Chuck Taylors, please give me a shout-out!
Love MLPMontparnassse Cemetery – 3 Boulevard Edgar Quinet, 75014 Paris The Catacombs – 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 75014 Paris
Follow Ami on Twitter at @amitakesonparis