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12 May 2005

about the ones still alive


my first paris morning. the leaves were damp and the air was thick and warm. a perfect day for the new city walk.

i chewed on another delicious ham and cheese baguette before walking down to the cimetiere montmartre, its entrance concealed beneath an overpass built after, the tops of the tombs almost touching, the steel built around the stone, too close i thought. i need explanation for those tombs above ground. what is the purpose of these structures? where are the bodies? do the tombs only hold the ashes or are the coffins buried beneath these structures? please, if you are informed, comment below.

she was striking, sparking thoughts about the ones still alive after, mourning, she looks so sad. usually graves don't sparkle like that, simply a name and a date. she was different.

mostly alone. the green trucks and the groundskeepers, some changing the bags from the many bins which interrupted scenes framed and then uncaptured, some in the same uniform, digging. in one case, where the ground was tiered i was able to walk on the tier next higher and look down below, into a deep grave, perhaps twelve feet below. i wish i had a picture, but in some situations, this being one, it's not appropriate to pull out a camera. in less than one thousand words: the sides of the hole as straight as possible [necessary in such close quarters], from ground level to approximately six feet down one side a slab of concrete [for support or division or a container of sorts?]. i leaned over. two men standing at the bottom [twelve feet] digging, placing dirt in a bin hanging from a machine lurking over the hole, it's engine churning, lifting and possibly ventilating [?]. the grave deep; i believe it's customary to bury the coffins one on top of each other in family plots. [?] research.

on the way out, i saw a cat in the distance look carefully around before jumping through a hole in a tomb; the hole just high enough to make it a difficult entry for her. i walked over and peered through the grating. an old wicker chair, very worn, and behind it, kittens crying beneath their mother. she looked up at me with wide wondering eyes, confused that i'd been able to find her after she'd taken such care to be stealthy, and asked how long i was going to stand there gawking. i apologized for the intrusion, complimented her on her choice of accomodation, and walked on out of the cemetary.

i decided i wanted the impact from the day before all over again. metro. concorde. [SMASH!] i hadn't had time to fully investigate the obelisk the day before and so i spent some time examining each side. modern day hieroglyphs described how it was brought to paris and pulled onto its pedestal. the stone, _so_ perfectly carved, symmetric, the flying wasps. something seemed right about this photo.

down the champs elysees, the long stretch of road which links the place de la concorde with the place charles de gaulle. lined with shops of all sorts, there i saw this futuresque bike, one of many i'd seen. others had two wheels in the back close together.

further, in the distance... rising out of the the world's largest traffic roundabout, the arc de triomphe.

more impressive (and older) pictures of the arc de triomphe:

courtesy of the us national records and archive administration:

photo 01
photo 02

courtesy of the truman presidential museum and library:

photo 03

amazing, and again i desperately tried to assemble the scraps of papers that are my high school french class memories of the arc de triomphe. right in front of me, larger than the words in the books, surrounded by a swirling vortex of cars. saw some people walking beneath... hmm, how the hell to get over there. i contemplated a mad dash across the vortex. no way, there had to be a tunnel. found it quickly [or maybe not] and down into the underground complex which also tied into the metro. seven euros to visit the arc de triomphe. seven euros. blah. i decided against it. back into the metro station, i decided to purchase a two day metro pass so i could wander freely. successful foreign language interaction. pass in hand: i was armed for massive citywide reconnaissance.

next destination: the catacombs. what's better than a crypt? a catacombs. THE catacombs. les catacombes. i found the location in my guide book and was en route. first train. second train. out and wandering the streets. after a few doublebacks i found the entrance. [internal scream: no!]. a sign indicated the catacombs wouldn't be opening until the first week of june. the internal scream died down quickly as i made tentative plans to return to paris to see the halls of bone.

next destination: place de la bastille, the location of the bastille prison, destroyed at the beginning of the french revolution on 14 july 1789. then a walk down to notre dame, rising from the seine on the ile de la cite. i grabbed a baguette from a shop directly opposite the cathedral [against the recommendation of the guide book] and ate it sitting beneath the stone. my mind assembled one of the paper jigsaw puzzles [click] which reminded me to check for the flying buttresses. i walked around to the front entrance... examining the beautiful intricately carved stonework, including the gargoyles, each unique and terrifying, and a man holding his own head, i assume saint john the baptist. those with bags were not permitted to enter; i'd come back another day without my bag to see the insides.

after a walk to the pantheon, i took the metro back to the hotel where i found nathan. we decided to walk up the hill to the basilique du sacre coeur. as we were talking in front of the amazing view of the city, the sun having departed, two high school girls approached us and asked us to take their picture. they revealed shortly after that they had heard us speaking english and wanted to practice. they were from belgium on a trip with their french class. had only studied english for four years yet they spoke almost perfectly. they explained that they'd grown up with american television with belgian subtitles. in belgium, bart simpson doesn't say 'eat my shorts'. i wish i remembered their translation. the girls were studying french, english, flemish, and german, in addition to their native belgian. foreign language is not stressed nearly as much as it should be in america; this angered me. anger might be a level too strong for my feeling; i felt somewhere between upset and angry, but closest to angry.

nathan and i decided to visit the eiffel tower before calling it a night. metro and then a walk. the yellow lights steady. the white beams rotating. later white sparkling, this only still but my movie requires a rotation before i post it. one of those 'wow, i can't believe i'm here right now' feelings.

a great ending to a very long and wonderful day.

posted by paul on Thu 12 May 2005 at 00:00:00 est (-05:00)


Paul - there is no 'Belgian' language. In the north they speak Flemish (sort of 17thC Dutch), in the south they speak French and in the east they speak German - though, Flemish and French are the national languages.

Also - if/when you go back - just pay the 7euros to go up the Arche de Triomphe - at night. Worth every eurocent.

posted by Cathy on Tue 07 Jun 2005 at 22:10:25 est (-05:00)

ah, the girls made it seem like they didn't know flemish, french, or german very well... that they were learning them in school, so i assumed they spoke some type of belgian language. i'll have to recon for myself. planning to hit belgium at the beginning of july.

i thought i could count on you to answer my tomb question.

posted by paul recon on Wed 08 Jun 2005 at 13:22:06 est (-05:00)

Nope, don't know why the tombs are that way. I know they're like that in New Orleans as well and thought it had to do with the low ground level. Turns out not.

"Burials in New Orleans are identical. The popular misconception is that above ground burials are done in New Orleans due to our high water table. Actually it is simply a tradition carried from one French settlement to another. "

Then again, maybe so:

"New Orleans has always respected the dead, but this isn't the reason the tombs of our departed loved ones are interred above ground. Early settlers in the area struggled with different methods to bury the dead. Burial plots are shallow in New Orleans because the water table is high. Dig a few feet down, and the grave becomes soggy, filling with water. The casket will literally float. You just can't keep a good person down!"

Though, I suspect maybe its more related to having limited space:

"The walls of these cemeteries are made up of economical vaults that are stacked on top of one another. The rich and wealthier families could afford the larger ornate tombs with crypts. Many family tombs look like miniature houses complete with iron fences. "

And then again, maybe its just tradition:

"Ever since the time of the Pharaohs, above ground interment in tombs and mausoleums has been the burial method of choice for those who preferred something other than earth burial. The name mausoleum comes from a grand tomb built for King Mausolus by his wife (and incidentally also his sister) Artemisia, around 353 B.C.."

posted by Cathy on Wed 08 Jun 2005 at 13:48:39 est (-05:00)

Maybe you can get back to the arc in time for the finish of the Tour de France.

What do you think about publishing your pictures/comments in a book upon your return? I have a book called "Get stoned and read this book" that was done by a guy that lived on Comm Ave. He took pictures of all his favorite Allston/Brighton smoking spots and interjected poems, thoughts, philosophy, etc. If someone will publish that you should have no problem.

posted by redpath on Thu 09 Jun 2005 at 07:22:03 est (-05:00)

several people have mentioned publishing a book when i get back, but i'm pretty much already publishing it on the web right now. i don't think anyone would pay for this sort of thing... it's mostly just random blathering.

posted by paul recon on Sat 11 Jun 2005 at 08:38:20 est (-05:00)

Considering the cult following you seem to be gaining, I'd have to say there is a substantial market for your random blathering. You're allowing those of us that are unable to partake to at least pretend. This web site is quickly becoming one of those books that you can not put down, where you wish the entries would come faster....

posted by NEAL DAVID on Mon 13 Jun 2005 at 16:03:35 est (-05:00)

thanks nd. been trying to catch up... i'd think it would be that much more fun for the readers if the stuff i was posting happened only a few days ago rather than almost a month. hard to find time to write, but i'm trying to keep notes.

haven't forgotten about our dinner in italy, by the way. :)

posted by paul recon on Thu 16 Jun 2005 at 00:25:49 est (-05:00)

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