Saturday, June 18, 2011

Paris: The Friends

We've had a pretty busy first week in Paris and its strange to even realize that it's only been a week. Everyday we are discovering something new and amazing about this city, not just in the museums and sights, but in everyday things like this incredible bridge.

Here's a different angle that is a great example of the views you get all over the city. Incredible, gold statues towering the pillars that base the bridge, a couple of boats that serve as floating bars, the already-mentioned gorgeous bridge, and of course, the Eiffel Tower just hanging out in the back.

Part of the reason why this week has been so busy is that we shared it with a couple of friends.

Casey sandwiched herself between her long time BFF Emily and Emily's boyfriend, Daniel, while we had a picnic on the Champs de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower. Emily and Daniel were hanging out in the south of France and ended their trip with a few days in Paris which luckily coincided with our time here.

We spent the last few days hanging out and seeing the sights with them. We saw so much, that I'm going to post very soon about the other attractions and focus on just a couple right now. Mainly, what we did on Thursday, June 16th.

We started the day early and met in the 14th arrondissement at the Catacombs of Paris. In the late 18th century, Paris was faced with big problem. The city had undergone a very large expansion and steady rise in population for centuries. Because of limited space and limitations of expansion, cemeteries became overpopulated on only the wealthy were able to afford church burial. For the rest, there were mass burials, most without coffins. This concentration of decomposing matter quickly polluted water systems and Paris was forced to address the problem.

The solution was to exhume over 6 million bodies from these mass graves and store the remains somewhere else, making more room for more burials. Beginning in 1786, workers exhumed and stored the bones of millions of Parisiens in an old underground mine for the next two years, thus making the Catacombs.

It was an unbelievable sight. Not just to see the remains of humans with my own eyes, but to be in the presence of the sheer volume of human remains.

When we first entered the mines, we walked through the narrow corridors of the dark, damp mine, seeing the hand chiseled stone where materials were harvested to build Paris. But soon we were upon what we came to see. Both sides of the tunnel were lined with skulls and, mainly, femurs neatly stacked on each other that reached to about my shoulders.

It was absolutely incredible. Not only where all these bones stacked up to my shoulders, and not only were there stacks of the bones behind the stacks of bones we could see; all of these bone lined tunnels went on and on and on. We'd exit a chamber thinking that was it, and then realize that there was more. Then later, realize that we were four chambers past where we thought the end was.

For me, it was also inspiring. It seems like such a foundational art school exercise to paint or draw a skull to understand the face. But I never got to do that, so it was fascinating to get the chance to see and "study" so many skulls. I'm excited to get back to my paints and a do a few studies of my own.

To lighten things up, we headed over the charming Montmartre after leaving the Catacombs.

Apart from the major attractions, that I'm sure most people are familiar with, Montmartre is a place in Paris that I was somewhat familiar with before visiting. This is mainly due to it being the setting of the movie Amélie and the number of times I have seen that film. It was great, reliving scenes in iconic Montmartre spots and taking a 360˚ view of where the film characters were. This eastern looking, castel like cathedral is the Basilique du Sacré Cœur, and from its steps was one of the best view points of Paris.

Being such a beautiful and iconic spot, there were a lot of tourists and folks trying to sell anything to this overwhelming market. But this guy, with the soccer ball tricks, was someone I could spare a bit of change for. He was beyond talented. He was 5 feet up on the this square topped pilar, juggling and bouncing the ball on any part of his body, spinning it atop a pencil and balancing it on his head, foot, elbow, knee and even butt, and at one point, we was doing a one handed handstand while balancing it on his foot.

We walked down the hill, Daniel and I lagging behind, to explore the rest of Montmartre to find the girls being best friends.

I'm not sure what the back story is, but they were determined to find an ideal spot (after missing the Eiffel Tower) to twirl and say "Ju suis la mayer fille!" (I'm the best girl!) I am certain that the agreement to do this in Paris originated in high school French class.

Montmartre was a fun place to explore. It is full of unique boutiques with smart and interesting designs. Sure, most things are way out of my price range, but it was still a nice neighborhood in which to walk around, and with its higher than city level view, it reminded me a bit of San Francisco. The picture up there is play on a very well known painting called the Oath to the Horatii. The themes in the original painting, which ironically we saw at the Louvre the following day, are loyalty and patriotism, saturated with machismo. This street artist tweaked it a bit and inserted football helmets, protein powder, and had the men swearing their oath to Gatorade. Pretty clever statement if you ask me.

Leaving Montmartre, we were delighted to walk past this three part jazz group. On a sunny day, with the carousel spinning behind them, the group just made this stroll through the square so much more romantic. I didn't mind giving them some change either!

1 comment:

celia said...

Emily and Casey - wow what a great meeting place! Imagine having this dream come to be

Oooh, the history of the Catacombs of Paris and the pictures - what a dilemma! I was gasping as I was looking at the pictures. I can just imagine your study when you get a chance.

I am glad you were able to support the guy with the soccer ball tricks - he was risky and extremely talented, as well as the jazz group.