…but lately have been feeling pretty house-bound. First, there’s the fact that much of my work is done from my dining room table. So, I work and live (with my two-and-a-half-year-old son) in a not overly spacious but very homey 1928 one-bedroom apartment. Second, my current financial and work situation doesn’t allow me to get out all that much…except for work-related events. My going out has been much more limited recently as my mom, my mainstay, my main means of surviving this single mommy thing, has had surgery on both of her feet in the past few months and can’t make it up the stairs to my lovely flat, let alone keep up with the aforementioned progeny.
I am at once in desperate need of adult interaction and exhausted beyond being able to carry on a coherent conversation. I am a lonely hermit.
This, too, will pass. Mom’s feet are healing up, I am working on an office for Survivors’ Truths (anyone want to volunteer to head up that effort?), and AJ is getting more independent each day. A couple of friends have offered to try having a sleep over. We are planning trips for work and family.
But a part of me does yearn for the kind of easy by-the-seat-of-my-pants travel I used to know. A friend’s recent post of caving in the Southwest US reminded me of a magical evening in Paris. I looked up the email I sent to friends and now share it here…proof of the adventurer I once was.
Dove Goes Underground–October 26, 2005 (with some minor edits)
OK, folks, this is by far my BEST Paris story yet. It’s a bit long but, I think, worth the reading. Leaves being asked out by cops in the dust….Maya, you will be proud (and maybe a little jealous)!
So, yesterday, after waiting around for a long time for my friend Penelope to come from Brussels (Penelope, where are you? Are you OK?) I decided to go see some sights. It was already afternoon, so I headed down to the Denfert-Rochereau Station to see the Catacombs. This is a place where bones from various cemeteries were moved to underground tunnels in the late 1700s-early 1800s to make room for new dead people/buildings.
There are tunnels all over under Paris. Some are were originally made by miners taking stone from under the city to erect the city above, others are old sewers, still more are built-over Roman structures and medieval streets. The small section of the Catacombs Museum is open to the public, the rest technically illegal to explore. My plan was to have a peek at the Museum and then walk up to the Luxembourg gardens before going to check out a couple of bookstores with lots of books in English. I arrived just as the place was closing and was one of the last group of people to be let in for the day.
After descending a ten-meter spiral staircase, I was wandering around these tunnels, taking photos and generally enjoying myself. I overheard a woman in front of me saying she was named Heidi and was from California. I did not say anything to her or anyone else, but that bit is important to the story later.
As I was taking a photo of a sign in the tunnel, a young man who was sitting there (turned out to be an employee) said something to me in French. I responded ”Pardone, I do not speak French.” He spoke a little English, and asked me if I wanted to see the ”renovations.” I had no idea what he was talking about but he took me back into some areas that were behind locked gates to a place where someone ages ago had carved a replica of one of the Paris palaces out of the limestone. It was really cool. This was still within the “museum’s” area and well-lit, so I was not worried about going back there with him. We came back to the group and I thanked him. He said “No problem. If you like, I can show you the forbidden catacombs.”
Now, I am, generally, as sensible person (no comments from the peanut gallery, thank you), so my first thought was:
“It is probably not a good idea to go into underground tunnels with some guy I don’t know. If something happened i.e. he turns out to be a rapist/psycho killer, even if I kicked his butt, I would not be able to find my way out.”
Of course, my second thought was:
“That sounds really, really cool.”
And who wants to tell the story of how they could have gone to the forbidden catacombs?
So, I sidled up to the aforementioned Californian and said “So, you’re from California?” I think I kind of freaked her out because she responded “What, are you a mind reader?” I explained that I had overheard her talking earlier and then told her that this guy had offered to take me to the forbidden catacombs but I was a bit nervous about going on my own. She was very interested in going, so we agreed to act like we were friends. If he wasn’t thrilled to be taking both of us, forget it.
The museum closed and we were all led back up to street level. The other people from the tour left and we were standing there. The guy asked if the other woman was my friend and I said she was. He asked her if she would like to go to the forbidden catacombs and she said yes. Now, keep in mind that neither she nor I speak French and he really speaks a very little bit of English. So, after some confusion, he handed me a paper with his phone number on it. He said to call when we wanted to go. I asked when we could go and he said “Any time you like.” “Now?” I asked, and he, hesitantly, said “Sure.”
He was kind of looking at me funny and it occurred to me that I might not be dressed for such an adventure. I was wearing a white dress with a black and gray pattern on it, a black cardigan, black coat, blue scarf, and my new (very cool) knee-high high-heeled boots. I was looking very chic and Parisian, if I do say so myself. Anyway, I realized that perhaps this get-up is not really what one normally wears in the forbidden catacombs so, using sign language and a bit of Frenglish, I asked him his opinion on the matter.
He was emphatic that I needed different shoes–tennis shoes or hiking boots. I explained that I did not have either with me but could go buy some. He got on his mobile phone, made a couple of calls and said “Let’s go.” I surmised that he was arranging some shoes for me to borrow.
We followed him through the neighborhood to an apartment complex and went in. Turns out we were going to his house. It is actually the government-subsidized housing, what we in the US would call a “project” (in the area that, a short couple of weeks later, was in riotous flames) but it is very nice and clean (unlike most of our ”projects”). His mum was home with three babies–she has a little day care operation going. So, we played with the babies while he made some arrangements. Then, he gave me some tennis shoes (think they were his mum’s) and clothes–camouflage cargo pants and a huge t-shirt. I changed and we were off.
We walked along the street a bit and then, with little warning, he jumped over the wall. I followed, though I can’t say I really jumped, more like scrambled/clawed/pulled my way over, then Heidi. We walked down some steps to some old train tracks then about 1/2 a kilometer into an old unused metro tunnel. It was about then that we introduced ourselves to each other. Turns out our tour guide was a 22-year-old named Charles.
It seemed we were going to be in that tunnel forever when Charles suddenly stopped and pointed out a (seemingly very small) hole along the bottom of the wall with “HELL BOUND” scrawled above it in graffiti.
We crawled through that hole into a tunnel. Charles, thankfully, had brought torches (AKA flashlights) because it is really, really dark underground. A couple of times, we turned our torches off and it was darker than any dark I have ever experienced. We walked along corridors and through smaller tunnels where we had to crouch down. We walked through underground streams with very cold water up to our knees. I expected to feel claustrophobic (tend to be) and generally nervous, but I wasn’t.
It was also completely silent. If we all stood still the only sound was our breathing. Every once in a while, there would be a rumble of a metro train nearby…but even that sounded very distant. At one point, there was a loud knocking sound. It sounded almost like someone drumming but different. It is the only time I felt a bit scared. We kept walking and came to a place where there is a man-hole cover some 30 meters up through a tunnel and water was coming down and hitting some coke cans someone had dropped down there. The sound of that was really loud and echoed through the halls. We passed that and were in silence again.
Some of the tunnels are marked with the names of the streets above. There are lots of side tunnels, some that open up into rooms. In several places, I was sure we were looking at the remains of old Roman baths…I had seen some at an archeological site near Notre Dame and the structures seemed quite similar. Some of the rooms had amazing graffiti, one had a bunch of fake plants and flowers with a sign “PLEASE KEEP OFF PLANTINGS SPRING BULBS ARE PLANTED HERE,” one had a large stuffed bunny rabbit and a deflated blow-up doll (really creepy), and another had a large carved castle and gargoyles (really cool). A couple of times, we stopped and lit a bunch of candles (Charles the Prepared had also brought a bag of tea light candles with him). It was really beautiful and amazingly comfortable, sitting there with these strangers, far below the Paris streets.
Eventually, we were really hungry and decided to go out. Charles led us along a ways and then we climbed maybe 20 or 30 meters up to a man-hole cover which then refused to budge. We climbed back down and went back the way we had come (i.e. a long way). We ran into some of Charles’ friends who were going in. Apparently, there is this whole sub-culture of tunnelers. They seem quite nice and friendly. Anyway, Charles asked if we wanted to stay and hang out with those guys but we were pretty tired and hungry so we went on out (emerging about 4 hours after we went in), back to his place where I changed back into my own clothes (Heidi had to stay all wet and muddy), and then Heidi and I took him for a nice Italian dinner in the Ste. Michele area.
All in all, it was one of the most surreal experiences and the most fun I have had in a long time.
Update: I recently came across this email from Charles, sent then next day. Poor boy was confused by my misuse of the the phrase “se bon.”
good day my dove
goes then your satisfies of your soiree yesterday?
that is this you do beautiful I want to see you. I
want to pass a soiree in tete has tete with you. I you
had that I have to crack for you you so pretty and
great sympathique.I do not know if you have a boy
friend but me I fell in love with you I does only
thought has you you know. kiss has you my beautiful