Saturday, September 15, 2007

I see dead people

I’d been feeling a bit out of sorts lately what with the impending move and leaving people I’d just started to get close to and a place I’m rather happy. So, I decided to do something to cheer myself up.

No room in my bags, so that was out.

Hair appointment?
Just didn’t have the energy to have to chat to stylist and a colorist for hours on end in my crappy French.

Visit to the catacombs to meditate on the brevity of existence?

This translates to "Stop. This is the empire of death." in case you're curious. I'm thinking of putting it on a welcome mat. I'd never be troubled by religious wackos or avon ladies ever again.

The catacombs are actually a pretty good place to go to pull oneself out of a mental funk. They are full of all sorts of interesting opinions and observations:

(Sorry for the blur - long exposure. Anyway, it translates to "Happy are those who always have the hour of their deaths in front of their eyes and who ready themselves each day to die." Hmm. Not sure I agree with that one.)

They are a definite reminder that, no matter what minor little thing is causing you unease, life can always get worse - much worse. The whole thing would have been quite peaceful were it not for one small thing. The living. From heavy-footed Germans to frat partying American college students, the catacombs are one crowded place. Who would have thought death would be such a big draw? No matter how much I hung back, getting more than a few minutes to think was proving a tactical impossibility. And I thought the Louvre was bad.

But in the few minutes I was able to snatch here and there, I got a sense of what it must be like to be down here when everyone is gone. The sound of water dripping from the ceiling echoes through the caverns. The air is that clammy chill you always get when you’re deep underground. And even without the homilies spaced throughout, the bones are eloquent in their silence. Each one of the skeletons here had a life like mine once - fell in love, worried about their livelihoods, hoped for the future. But in the end, we’re all reduced to this. (Well, hopefully not all stacked in a vault being gawked at by tourists, but you know what I mean.) This idea of “as I am so you shall one day be” was a big thing in the Medieval period, and I’ve always been a bit fascinated by it. Because, morbid as it sounds, it is a comforting thought. It all gets resolved in the end.

So, feeling a bit better, I picked up the pace a little. An American college student struck up a conversation with me on the way out, and we talked a little bit about philosophy and a little bit about home. As we approached the exit, the guard asked us to open our backpacks. It took me a second to come up with a reason why. People don’t try to actually steal the bones in here, do they? For an answer, he pointed to a table with a few skulls in a neat pile. Good thing I don’t have much faith in humanity, because if I did it would be in tatters right now. Ah well, as I am you will one day be. And with that thought in my head, I headed out of the darkness into a perfectly sunny day.

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