Death & decay; war & treachery

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Yesterday and today’s highlights were both the choice of my daughter, both possibly not what you’d expect to be on a 13 year old girl’s list of French holiday priorities.

First up was the Catacombes de Paris, a maze of 780m of corridors running 25 metres or more underground in the 14th Arr. in the southern part of the city, set up as an ossuary to house the bones of millions of Parisians, relocated from the overcrowded cemeteries around Paris in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

You might think it would be sad, or creepy, or disturbing, or even gruesome, to visit such a place, but I found it fascinating, knowing next to nothing about the Catacombs until we descended down the 130 steps after an hour and a half wait in the queue to the entrance.

The skulls and femurs were placed in decorative patterns forming walls, behind which the other bones were piled. Pithy sayings about human mortality, Bible verses and tombstones and other grave decorations were also added for effect. The overall effect, for me, was one of a shared humanity with millions of people from times long ago, and a sense of my own historical insignificance, and at the same time an appreciation of the significance and respect owed to each individual on the planet.

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Today’s expedition was to see the Bayeux tapestry, a 70 metre long embroidered pictorial account of the lead-up to, and the events of, the Battle of Hastings. It was incredible that a 1000 year old piece of fabric had lasted so well, but I was also impressed with the embroidery techniques used and the artistry expressed in the scenes depicted on the tapestry. Harold’s treachery against William and its aftermath are depicted realistically and beautifully, to such a degree that you hardly notice the limited colour pallet and the green horses until they are pointed out to you.

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