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Report - Paris Catacombs - July 2010

Discussion in 'European and International Sites' started by Cardinal Awol, Jul 23, 2010.

  1. Cardinal Awol

    Cardinal Awol 28DL Full Member
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    Here we go; typing this on a French keyboard. Went into the catacombs for the first time with two cool Parisians I'd never met before named Phoenix and Rambo. They were very well equipped: hard hats, chest high waders, camo, ex-military bags, carbide lamps, etc. They were very friendly, but serious about the entry. I knew that if you were caught inside the catacombs you could get a 60 euro fine, but apparently getting caught just outside the entrance on turf owned by a certain unfriendly company can get you a 1000 euro fine. They instructed me to be very quiet and to cut my headlamp if they signaled me to. We approached the entrance very stealthily to discover a group of 15 to 20 high school kids taking their time sitting around pulling on their boots, snapping glowsticks, and blasting rap-reggae from a boombox.

    We anxiously equipped the rest of our gear and crawled in. Following the plaques which declared the names of the streets we were beneath, our first stop was a graffiti-covered room called "la plage" because you have to wade through knee-high water and crawl through sand to get to it. There's a big painting on the wall inspired by Hokusai's "Great Wave off Kanagawa". We met some more people in there. Someone put on some Bob Marley. Someone else went off with a megaphone, pretending to be the police to scare the big group of highschool kids as a joke. Three guys decided to come with us to a room less touristy than the beach. I'm not sure what it's name was, but we stopped for a bite to eat:

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    Then, Phoenix's brother and a friend of his joined us, making our party eight. We went off to see a room that some of the guys are working on; they bring in tubs of cement and fragments of mirrors, and eventually the entire room will be covered in a mosaic. They had only just started on it:

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    I helped them put some up. To get to this out-of-the-way room you have to crawl on your belly for a while, pushing your bag ahead of you, or pulling it behind, through low crawlspaces called "chatières". After this, I took fewer photos, and the ones I did take are grainy and blurry or have horrible flash because we went on a whirlwind tour and I didn't want to slow everyone down. We walked, stooped, and crawled a long way, for a long time, at a very fast pace. We saw the "library", a small niche with mouldy books lying around. Phoenix pointed out a plaque, which instead of having a typical date from the 1700s or 1800s simply said "4R" - meaning "4th year of the Revolution". We saw a huge new mural from 2010 by a guy called Sorce, as well as the annual murals of the mining school. Throughout our journey, one of the guys played music ranging from terrorcore to synthpop to some kind of traditional Asian music through his portable speakers. At one point we passed this Latin inscription of a biblical quote from Ezekiel:

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    Finally Phoenix asked if I wanted to see some bones. I said yes, and he sent one of the guys running ahead down the tunnel to show me where they were, and told me to wait a minute before following. Then I went running after him. I turned the corner, and there he was, sprawled on a heap of human bones, grinning at me. At their time of burial, the bones were thrown down into a well or silo and then covered over at the top. Since then, a portion of the silo's side near the bottom has collapsed or been dug away, and a scree of human bones flows out into the tunnel that passes by it. If you crawl up this scree and through the tiny hole into the silo, you can stand up in front of a wall of human bones that goes vertically from your toes to your nose and then curves over your head to meet the wall behind you. Cross your fingers and hope it doesn't collapse on you. Or take a photo:

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    That's looking straight up over my head. The bones just look like they're made of wood. Sorry again for the horrible flash photo. I'm not actually sure which ossuary this is. There are several. It's one of the smaller ones.

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    There's one of the guys waiting for his turn to crawl into it. The blur to the left of his elbow is one of the others already in the process. I do feel bad now, like it was disrespectful. It's one of those stupid things you very occasionally do just because everyone else is doing it, and then feel bad about it later. But who can forgive me? Only people who have been dead for hundreds of years.

    Speaking of dead guys; we also saw the memorial for Philibert Aspairt, who got lost in the catacombs and died. He is thought of as the first true cataphile.

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    Phoenix knocked on the grave and said, "Philibert, are you there?" and Philibert's ghost answered back! It was really just one of the guys who had crawled into a room behind the tombstone and was talking through the wall. One guy found a catatract. These are messages or cartoons hidden by previous explorers in cracks in the walls for other cataphiles to find. I had found one slightly earlier. The one I found was by Sorce, who is apparently quite a reputable cataphile. I will scan it when I get back to the states.

    Moving on, we passed some people sleeping in a room with two huge guard dogs who came out barking at us ferociously. We passed them quickly, and later had to come by again. After we got by them the 2nd time, the guy in front of me dropped a couple heavy rocks he had been carrying, just in case. Everyone else was getting tired, so we decided to abort our journey to the Nazi bunker, and exit the catacombs. We passed through a short section flooded with sewage, and also heard some subway trains rumble overhead through the rock.

    Then we reached ....

    ...Anyway, we got the signal, climbed out, and started hurrying down the street. I looked back and saw Phoenix trying to offer an explanation to two policewomen on bikes as five more filthy guys emerged at street level right beneath their noses. He gave up trying to reason with them and we ran for it. A couple blocks later, we changed our clothes in a park, said goodbye to some of our new friends, and had breakfast in a cafe. Phoenix's brother didn't believe that I don't drink, and forced me to have some pastis. We'd been 50 feet below Paris for about ten hours, and travelled from the very south edge of the system all the way to the north, miles away.
     
    #1 Cardinal Awol, Jul 23, 2010
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 23, 2010

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  2. Cardinal Awol

    Cardinal Awol 28DL Full Member
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    Thanks. Sorry about the exit details. I thought it would be ok since the chatières weren't actually exits, just on the way to the exit, and I didn't say which manhole shaft. I think it would be quite difficult to locate that exit from the outside, and even more difficult to actually enter that way. But I respect your decision. Oh, and I think they just couldn't be bothered to go around the sewage.


    And here are the details of my 2nd visit! A bit of a misadventure. Only one photo, but an interesting story if anyone cares:

    I came back another day for a 2nd trip with Cookie Monster. Of course he forgot to bring enough water and food for himself, and didn't go to the bathroom beforehand, and lagged behind, and I had to explain to him about not leaving trash in the tunnels, and I had to provide and hold the lighting for his photography, and he brought too much to carry somehow (despite the lack of food and lighting gear) and he was just freeloading off my hard work and preparation and correspondence again, but he was so happy to be there it made up for it. On the way in, we met two guys coming out. I took Cookie Monster to see la plage, but it was full of smoke because someone had burned something in there. He wanted to see some bones before leaving, so I located the nearest ossuary on the map. On the way there we passed a spiral staircase. I went allllll the way to the top (it was tall) to discover that it had been sealed off with concrete. There was a small hole through which I could see some steps, and a panel of circular glass skylights in the ceiling, the kind you normally see under your feet on the sidewalk - it was somebody's basement. Going back down, we continued in the direction of the bones, but before we got there, we came across two guys in the sculpture room:

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    You can't really see all the sculptures carved into the walls from that angle. Their names were Guillaume and Bart, and they seemed really friendly so we decided to hang out with them instead of leaving. Guillame offered to show us some cool rooms and we agreed. I have discovered that my map is amazingly accurate, and using it in conjunction with my compass, I was never lost. It was better than Guillaume's map, so he sort of hijacked mine - but he sucked at reading it! I didn't know how to say this without being rude, so I let him "lead". We went through a water-filled passage called "Banga", but it turns out the room he was looking for (Salle des Huitres) no longer exists! The chatière leading to it was filled in. Instead, we found a shovel, wheelbarrow, hardhat, some bottles of water, and electric lights with cables running up a well to the surface. The official catacombs inspectors had been at work. We left quietly.

    Later, wandering around, we were heard and approached by Marcellus, an oldish, stout but spry man in strange garb who lives down there and breaks all the locks, apparently a legend. He gave us directions and then zoomed off on his way, a benevolent spirit of the catacombs. Santa Claus of the underworld.

    Cookie Monster wanted to go, but Guillaume and Bart somehow persuaded him into going a long way to see some bones. This is where things started to go wrong. We got to Carrefour des Mortes and Bart started to stuff his bag with bones! I told Guillaume to make him put them back, and he did. Mentally I recalled how Bart had nibbled on one of the bones earlier. I decided that these two guys were not such great company after all, and that this would be a good time to leave. I got really impatient with Cookie Monster and his photography (strange having it that way around for once), and Guillaume was getting really impatient as well. I made Cookie Monster climb out of the ossuary, and Guillaume took us to a more spacious one nearby, and he and Bart climbed into it to rest on the carpet of human bones, which they played with disrespectfully. Guillaume said he would take us to a nearby exit in ten minutes.

    Turned out they wanted those ten minutes to shoot up on morphine, which they did while sitting on the bones. They made a bad joke about killing us. Then they started to take us to the exit - but it turned out the only exit they knew about was the entrance we came in by, a long way away! Guillaume would not give my map back. He basically stole it. I wasn't going to put up with that, and I had to physically grab it from him. Maybe if he hadn't just shot himself up on opiates he could have put up a better fight. Instead, he cursed under his breath and hurried off down a different tunnel with Bart to sulk. "Au revoir! Merci!"

    If you see those guys down there, be careful. They might be super friendly and cool at first, but Bart doesn't respect the bones, and Guillaume might try to steal your map. At worst (or best), they will just waste a lot of your time with bad navigation. Guillaume can be identified by a gnarly scar by one eye.

    We emerged about 11 hours after we had gone in. Cookie Monster was freaking out about getting caught and was being rather unpleasant but eventually just agreed to my plan of walking boldly out in broad daylight like we were supposed to be there. So we ran.









    There are the two contrasting visits. The first one was great and I met some really cool people. The 2nd was not so great and I met some really uncool people, but it was interesting nonetheless. I might be going back for a third trip soon. A nice brass carbide lamp is on my Christmas list.
     
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