They Reuse Everything Here

Throughout my morning walk, twisting and turning across central, Paris, I was I escorted by a bone-chilling fog. At ground level it was frigid but clear, but a few feet up, I could see where the mists lingered. I had been planning to visit the Eiffel Tower today, and as my steps progressed I maintained a hope that the brume would burn off.

I caught sight of the Tower, enshrouded in fog, but still continued to hope.

When at last I arrived at the Eiffel Tower, I was in most respects still dealing well with the overall conspiracy of events, but then my tour started and the situation deteriorated.

The guide, a young woman from Algeria, started talking, and the pace of the movement that had been supporting my body temperature up until now came to an abrupt halt. I tried to shift my weight discreetly from side to side, but as she kept talking over the history of the tower, my efforts weren’t nearly enough.

We started the climb up the grand iron pinnacle, the intricate iron weaving a delicate cat’s cradle around me, and things improved briefly, but again she insisted on talking and I shivered violently. I was merely on the first floor up.

M told me last night that Paris isn’t a tall city and the views from the first floor would be enough, so that I didn’t need to go to the summit. But I like climbing tall buildings so I still I stuck with the tour, and we continued up another floor. The fog persisted, although our guide was optimistic that it would eventually improve.

The views from the second floor were no better than the first, and even seemed to be worsening.

Finally, the guide released the few of us still present, and I dove into the snack bar for heat and a cappuccino. For once, I had no need to go to the summit. It wasn’t worth the cold and potential loss of digits. As I stood there sipping on the scalding-hot beverage, I called D and arranged for him to meet me at the Musée d’Orsay.

The museum occupies a former train station, and it is a spectacular space, with a magnificent arched vault along its length and smaller galleries off to the sides. Our objective here was to see one of D’s favorite works, a Renoir, which he has never seen in person.

The museum was featuring a Renoir exhibit at the time, but this particular work is part of the regular collection. And of course, in true Butterblogger fashion the target galleries (impressionists, for which the museum is most well known) were closed.

So instead we walked through the other galleries. The van Gogh’s were lovely, works that are beautiful in print, but in person are enrapturing.

And the furniture on display was show-stopping, much of it from the era of Art Nouveau, with voluptuous organic curves going anywhere and everywhere. Some of the pieces were even made by Gaudi, architect of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Impressively, D recognized it as his work immediately.

After lunch we sought out the catacombs of Paris. They aren’t like the Roman Catacombs, which were created as burial places for early Christians who could not be buried within the city.

Much like the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, this is a repurposed space. In this case, the excavations, which run under much of Paris, were originally created when stone was cut for construction of the city above. As the city grew, the graveyards became overcrowded and the Parisians emptied them out, organizing the remains in the underground tunnels.

Upon descending into the subterranean excavations, visitors first walk a long way through fairly unremarkable tunnels.

About halfway in, a sign announces that you are about to enter the empire of the dead, although I think most people would notice it even without the sign.

The workers clearly put thought into some aspects of the arrangement, creating walls with femurs and tibias, and interspersing skulls. Behind the walls, there seems to be just a jumble of some of the body’s smaller and less-substantial bones.

It’s a fascinating place to visit, more like the Capuchin Catacombs in Rome, where the skeletons are disarticulated and then artfully rearranged, than the more well-known Christian Catacombs. As we pass through I worry about visitors here desecrating these sacred grounds, and I recognize that our presence here is already having an impact, as moss is growing where the light shines.

With that we climb the long spiral stairway back up to the empire of the living (D’s ankle did great!) and enjoyed another divine dinner of duck.

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