Well, well, well. Bon soir, Monsieurs et Mademoiselles! I hope that you are all looking good and feeling fine, and have been keeping to your New Year’s resolutions. I know I have.
“Qu’est que ce your New Year’s resolution, Rick?” Well, I’ll tell you. My New Year’s resolution was to be an unstoppable force of joy and mirth. It’s been working out well, thanks. This resolution was made while Sarah and I were trying to exterminate our holiday homesickness by decamping to Paris and experiencing its storied delights.
Accompanying Sarah and I on this amazing mission was our ever-delightful pal Jackie. She was great company, even after I accidentally dumped a glass of wine on her lap.
The storied delights:
• The Arc de Triomphe
Hey, it’s just like being at Grand Army Plaza, except I don't have 20 pounds of overdue library books I’m trying to return. I tried hard to feel a sense of triumph. But you know, I kept thinking about that song “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” by that guy Napoleon XIV. Man, that was a good song.
The Arc de Triomphe is surrounded by a three-lane traffic rotary, so you have to find you way through these underground walkways to get there. In a display of brazen assholery, a tourist dad made his tourist wife and tourist kids hold hands and ran through the traffic, prompting irate French commuters to honk their horns.
We rendezvoused with our pals Ruth and Morgan, who we hadn’t seen in a while. Then we all went to go look at the sewer.
• Paris Sewer
Did you know that you can pay to go see the sewers of Paris? Voulez vouz, mes amis , it’s all true! The Paris sewers have long been a tourist attraction, and French society ladies used to ride gondolas through rivers of French effluvia. I can’t imagine what crippling ennui would drive the idle class to seek out such a revolting diversion, but I ponied up a few Euros to check out this disgusting miasma of waste product myself, so I’m not one to judge.
There is a tour, in French, that is probably very informative. I don’t know French, so I can’t say. There are exhibits and little informational placards, all suspended from the ceiling by counter-weighted pulleys. Why? Because the floor of the museum is a metal grating a few scant feet above a raging torrent of sewage. Should there be a sudden rainstorm, or if everyone in the city flushes their toilets simultaneously, the exhibits can be raised out of the way of the swelling fecal tide. Museum patrons are left to fend for themselves.
There were displays of all these medieval-looking devices that work to clean the sewer when it’s clogged. According to the little information placards, the sewer is most commonly clogged by . . . “hybrid mixture.” That’s how it was described. Kind of an awkward phrase, I thought, but the placard made it out to be the nemesis of your average sewer worker. I checked out the French half of the informational placard to see what hybrid mixture translated to in French. The French word for it is batard.
Much like zeitgeist is an untranslatable German word meaning something along the lines of “the collective culture and spirit of the German people,” I assume batard is an untranslatable French word meaning “the collective fecal matter of the French people.”
Needless to say, the smell was so strong that my eyes were watering. In the space of thirty seconds, I was lucky enough to witness poop, a used condom, and a few q-tips float by. I stopped looking after that. I still sort of can’t believe that I paid to go down there.
Stretching for several kilometers, the catacombs house millions of Parisian’s bones.
To get down there, you have to descend a circular staircase. The catacombs are really fucking far underground, so this takes a while. Then you get to an antechamber, with info about who is actually buried in the catacombs, and then you pass through this creepy doorway.
When I say there were a lot of bones, I mean there are a lot.
A seemingly endless amount, actually.
It took about two hours for us to walk through the whole thing. And that’s only the part open to tourists.
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that many of Budablog’s faithful readers are fans of, or at least vaguely acquainted with, the contemporary art world. Most of you have probably been to museums, galleries, etc., where you have come across installation art. The most poplular kind of installation is the “get a lot of something and put it in a room” installation. The artist takes a bunch of telephones, shoes, crayons—anything—and puts it in a room. Voila! It’s an installation. An insta-llation, really.
Still, for better or worse, there’s something inherently interesting in multiplicity. I’m no Jean-Paul Art History, but I think Warhol was the first guy to make a point about this. You can’t help but think differently about a whole lot of things. Even if those things are human bones.
I don’t know what other people were thinking (except for a pair of bovine Floridianoids, who announced to anyone within earshot that they thought catacombs were “a real hoot.”), but after climbing all the stairs to get out of the place, and emerging into the light, I found the experience strangely elating. It was a new year, and me and everyone I loved was alive. That’s a good feeling. Onward into the year with joy and mirth and etc.
* The Dick Clark moment occurred at Sacre Coeur. We watched all these fireworks explode and made a great number of champagne toasts. None of us knew the words to Auld Lang Syne, but it didn’t matter. People were singing, laughing, drinking, crying, and throwing their arms around one another. The whole year should be like that.
11 months ago