Friday, 6 May 2011

Carpe Diem

Update: I am now a full-time babysitter. I get paid to sit in parks listening to my iPod while the kids play nearby. It's so unchallenging. I'm free until 4pm every day except Wednesday (and I'm still earning justenough to get by) and so profiting from the city has never been easier. So far this week I've seen a film (Norwegian Wood), had apéros with Alice twice, read a lot, mooched around on the Internet a lot, and slept in until 10 most days. Bel far niente, indeed.

I've been reading an excellent book on Parisian history called "Metrostop Paris" by Gregor Dallas. The author picked ten metro stops around Paris and wrote essays on each one about aspects of that area's history. The section on Trocadéro wrote about how the Chaillot Hill was apparently Hitler's favourite part of the city when he visited Paris. So naturally I had to go there (I have a lot of free time).

The Trocadéro is a building for exhibitions, built in a very neo-Classical style, and directly behind the Eiffel Tower. The courtyard overlooking the Eiffel Tower was filled with gold-plated lifesize statues. It was easy to see why this view appealed to a Nazi sensibility, weird as that is to say.

And as if that wasn't all morbid enough, today I visited the catacombs at Denfert-Rochereau, again on the inspiration from "Metrostop Paris". Thanks to reading that, I know that during the 18th century, the powers that be realised that Paris' various cemeteries and mass graves were full to bursting and that the remains of centuries of dead Parisians needed to be relocated. So for two years, carts transported the remains through the streets of Paris in the dead of night, to the sight of former stone quarries at Denfert-Rochereau. Apparently the actual ossuaries are much vaster than the small section open to tourists, but I felt like I saw thousands of remains anyway. Interspersed with the decorative displays of skulls and femurs are a lot of quotes in French and Latin on a fairly similar theme (see title). It's one of the stranger ways to spend an afternoon in Paris.

At the entrance to the catacombs is the following melodramatic inscription. "Stop! Here is the empire of the dead".

It was strange walking outside into the warm and alive afternoon afterwards. In another sign that I've read Metroland far too many times, I did just as Christopher Lloyd/Julian Barnes did during his walks through the catacombs, and "sweetly combined personal gloom and pre-Revolutionary history". This entry has been full of other peoples' observations, and I didn't take the photo above. What can I say, it's hard to think original thoughts when so many have gone before. 



  1. Sure, the catacombs were cool and all, but what about the Mickey Mouse skull postcard? Or the Michael Jackson skull candles? Much more impressive than the ossuaries, am I right? :P

  2. So that's where Sarko's re-election prospects are hiding!