Saturday, August 12, 2006

Lesson Number One

(Which I learned the hard way, as usual.) Finding a way into the catacombs that stretch beneath Paris is not difficult. With a bit of luck, a runaway monkey could find an entrance. Finding a way out is the problem.

Law abiding types can always take the official tour, which guides you past the past the bones of six million Parisians which are stacked in a tidy fashion in a small section of the subterranean tunnels. An ancient and ominous warning greets all visitors, (“Stop, this is the empire of death.”), but unless you try to leave with a thighbone in your bag, you’re unlikely to end up into too much trouble.

Those who would prefer to pay a less legal visit to the catacombs, however, have a wide variety of options. Climb down any number of manholes around Paris, and you may find yourself in a dark passage that’s more than a thousand years old. (The entrance to a theater built by the Perforating Mexicans, for instance, can be accessed through a drain not far from the Eiffel Tower.)

Once you’re inside, you may want to keep an eye out for the policemen who periodically patrol the catacombs, but odds are you’ll see no one. There are more than 180 miles of tunnels under Paris, and only a handful of people can find their way around them.

Which brings me back to the monkey. Among the many who’ve met their fate in the catacombs was an orangutan that escaped from the Paris zoo over 200 years ago. But perhaps the most famous victim of Paris’s “Shadow City” was Philibert Aspairt who disappeared in 1793. His body was discovered many years later, a few feet from an exit. In his hands was a set of keys that could have saved his life. He was later buried on the spot where he was found. For a picture of his tomb, click here.

So now perhaps you’ll understand how it came to be that I got lost on my very first trip inside the catacombs.

If you'd like a little more information on Paris's Shadow City, and you can't wait, click here. Otherwise, stick around.


Post a Comment

<< Home