Bone Dust Woman

SEPT. 1 – PARIS – The circular stone stairway spiraled down two hundred feet, back two hundred years and on into oblivion. We trekked along for hundreds of yards through the narrow passageways of an old gypsum mine when suddenly we arrived at the imposing portal marking the entrance to Paris’ catacombs. “Stop, here is the Empire of Death,” warned the sign, but Michelle was already trembling. Piles upon piles of bones lay heaped at either side, skulls grinning at us for over half a mile: the remains of six million Parisians who had lived and died hundreds of years ago.

In 1785, city officials finally responded to complaints about the overflowing Cemetery des Innocents. Partly as a solution to that problem, and partly to free up some needed real estate, they decided to transfer the remains from the cemetery to the gypsum quarries below the city. A visit today makes for an eerie and awe-inspiring experience. Walking through such dark and narrow corridors underground is itself unnerving; being surrounded by mountains of bones at the same time is positively creepy. It’s an experience I won’t soon forget, but I’m sure Michelle will try to do so as quickly as possible.

It wasn’t until we reached the light of day that we discovered that our shoes were covered in white powder. Was it gypsum, or was it bits of long-dead Parisians hitching a ride back to the world of the living? Though I suspect it was the former, Michelle wasn’t as easily convinced. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t resist calling her “Bone Dust Woman.”

Next: Paris - A Beautiful Blur

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