The Catacombs of Paris are, perhaps, one of the most interesting places to visit in Paris. They are eerily beautiful and still. Yes, the catacombs are touristy, but no more than any other attraction in the city. In fact, you will find many locals there, as well. This spot is such a gem that you have to arrive extremely early to avoid the rush of people trying to get in to see it, as they only allow a certain number of visitors down within the tunnels at one time.
Lucky for me, my hotel was less than a block from the entrance to the ossuary. Since I was going on a Saturday, I arrived at the entrance of the catacombs at 9am, despite this famous attraction not opening until 10am. If you want to get in at a reasonable time, you must begin waiting about an hour before opening. I was approximately 20th in line when I arrived. By the time they opened the gates, there was a line wrapping around the street. People that arrived upon opening would already be waiting a couple of hours to enter.
As we crossed through the gates to pay for admission, I had no idea the extent of history that we were about to discover. Upon entering the catacombs, you find yourself going down a very narrow, spiral staircase that never seems to end. You keep looping down further and further into the earth. Finally, after having gone down 5 stories underground, you make it into the tunnels.
To me, learning the history of the tunnels was the most interesting thing about the catacombs. The tunnels were created in the 12th and 13th centuries. They stretch on for 200 miles under the city of Paris, and they serve as the primary reason why Paris can’t build its city up higher than it is, as it no longer has the foundation to support itself! Believe it or not, the tunnels were forgotten for years until the 1600s, when they started caving in. Once the city began falling in on itself, they were discovered again. How can such an enormous maze be forgotten so easily? What else could be down there? My mind wandered on all the possibilities. The world really is a crazy place.
Upon having a problem with the cemeteries smelling and overflowing in the 1700s, the bodies were moved down into the tunnels. For a long time, the bodies were just thrown down there until Louis- Etienne Hericart de Thuy, head of the Paris Mine Inspection Service, turned the tunnels filled with bodies into a visit-able mausoleum. Some question his taste levels, as they bodies are arranged in very interesting ways, and, above the entrance to the ossuary, there reads a sign that says, “Stop! This is the empire of the dead.” You used to have to be blessed to go inside. Now, I believe that all the tunnels have been blessed so everyone can visit.
As I made my way down into the tunnels, I went through several passages that were dimly lit with water slowly dripping down the walls around me. The floors were slightly damp, and the air was stale. These tunnels were interesting and adventurous. They really allowed me see how the folklore of Paris- such as the Phantom of the Opera living under the city- can be so fathomable. Upon arriving to the section with the bones, I discovered that of the 200 miles that the catacombs stretch, only 1.1 miles of it contain bones. There are over 6 million bodies packed into 1 mile of passages. As you enter through the arch with the sign that reads, “Stop! This is the empire of the dead,” you immediately, on both sides, see walls of femur bones and skulls packed up onto each other, coming up to your head level. As I walked through them, I couldn’t help but feel how eerily still everything was around me. I noticed that most of the skulls did not have jaws. I noticed how packed together all the bones were, and I noticed the strange arrangements in which they were placed. Somehow, it was eerily beautiful. As you went deeper down, you would notice that headstones and monuments from the old cemetery were placed in there with the bones filling in the space around them. The bones were stacked on each other one small piece at a time. There were walls where the skulls were laid into cross designs, hearts, and other strange patterns. As we reached the end of the ossuary, there was a large round column made of bones, as well. The further you went through the passageways, the more you begin to question the taste level of the man who did this, treating the dead like art. It was beautiful, but it was definitely strange. As I had said, many had questioned the taste level of the design, and you’d have to be crazy to not start doubting that just slightly.
There was a cool breeze in the naturally still air as I reached the end of the catacombs. Upon arising back up another 5-story spiral staircase, I couldn’t help but stay in awe of what I had seen. I emerged on the streets of Paris directly above everything, and it was so lively. How surreal it was to know that there was a stagnant, cool system of tunnels stretching completely under the city, and the lively, loud city above it contrasted with that world entirely.
If you are ever in Paris, I really encourage you to check it out! It was something that I will never forget.
While looking through old documents on my computer, I stumbled upon a letter I had written for class upon traveling abroad to Belgrade, Serbia and Herefordshire, England. Upon re-reading this so many years after the event, I found this to be a pretty remarkable piece that addressed our process and lives as we found ourselves living and studying theatre over in Europe. I thought it would be fun to post, seeing as how I’m going back to Europe for the first time since this event in two weeks. I hope you enjoy!
Study Abroad-Serbia and England
June 15, 2009
Thank you so much for giving me this wonderful opportunity. In so many different ways this has been life-changing. It completely affected my work and my life. From the streets of Belgrade to the fields of Kinnersely, I wouldn’t have changed a single moment of this incredible journey for the world!
I have to say, when we first started driving in that bus from the airport to our apartments in New Belgrade, I realized how different this experience would be. I was absolutely shocked to see how similar but how different life there was. I couldn’t believe that there was graffiti all over everything, and I was astounded that there were still buildings, such as the Chinese Embassy that Marita showed us, that were in ruins from the bombing. It took me a while to adjust to the fact that we had no air conditioning or hot water where I was staying and that mosquitos would randomly swarm in the living room. I realized how lucky we had it at home. After a while, though, I was completely used to it, and none of those factors even phased me at all. It was a nice change to who I was to really accept that and learn to live like that. So, needless to say, in Belgrade, I learned about my work and my life.
I realized how strong I could be. I was able to push myself past physical limits that I didn’t know I could cross, and it felt fantastic. The first time we did Chi-gong, I thought that I was going to fall over. My muscles started shaking. It really felt like such an accomplishment to hang in there until the end and to realize that it wasn’t even hard to do it by the end of our trip. It was just an everyday thing. Along with this physical achievement, the Dah showed me how important movement is in acting and gave me training that would apply to my work. I took musical theatre, so I don’t have as much movement training as I should. I feel that Dijana’s training on moving separate parts of your body at different times plus the drum training plus three step all really helped me get into my body. They put us through those training exercises on a daily basis, so it’s now an impulse of mine to turn my eyes before my head or my head before my body. More importantly, though, I learned that it is so beautiful to combine different forms of art to make a show through watching the Dah’s shows.Their shows have dancing, singing, acting, and actual art in them, and they are the most powerful things that I have ever seen in my life. In fact, they are so unbelievable! The Story of Tea literally left me breathless. After The Story of Tea, I sat in the audience with my tea cup filled with emotions that I couldn’t even describe. It was baffling. I realized after a long time of sorting out my thoughts that: I sing. I dance. I paint and sculpt. I act. Why haven’t I ever combined those talents? They’re all art forms. Combining different forms of art into one masterpiece creates beautiful finished products. I mean, when we were left observing that “sculpture-like” set left behind from The Story of Tea, we had to just sit there to soak it in. There were literally twenty people that just sat in there with me for about ten to fifteen minutes after the show had ended just staring at the set or the candle in their hands. That’s fabulous. That’s art that changes lives…makes change. I hope I am being clear. To make sure I am… to sum this up, theatre and art don’t need limits. Once you’ve trained yourself, you should be as creatively free as you possibly can be. That’s the Dah. They are the most creatively free and limitless group of people I’ve ever met. The more free you are, the less limits you have. The less limits you have, the better the outcome or final performance winds up. This was a life-changing epiphany for me, and I’m so glad that I experienced it.
Along with my work, I found that living in Serbia taught me a true sense of widespread independence and responsibility. Now don’t get me wrong- I was responsible before, but there were days in Serbia where I would be off in the city by myself. I had to know what time it was, what time I needed to be at a show and which bus to take to get there, and how to get home. I was on my own in a foreign country taking care of myself, and that really brings forth a trust in myself that I didn’t have. Originally, I allotted a lot of time for each place I had to be at because I’m overly cautious, and I didn’t really trust myself to get and find everywhere I needed to be at. I divided my time up because I didn’t really trust myself to get to places on time. After a while, though, I could enjoy myself and let it go and just know that I knew exactly where I was going….and I would be on time! I can trust myself to get where I need to be at appropriate times. That trust was something I needed because I am very paranoid, and I tend to be overly cautious and not really trust myself. It was very nice to find that trust.
England seemed like another completely separate trip to me. It was like another world on the opposite end of the spectrum from Serbia. Where Serbia came across as an epitome of strength and energy all the time, England was like a deep meditation. I was very connected to the Earth in England. I enjoyed just sitting out in the lawn or on the hammock and drinking tea. It was the perfect topper to the Serbian lifestyle because it calmed me down from the city’s crazy pace and relaxed me. I was the most relaxed I’d ever been in the three hour breaks we had the first few days where I was able to just sit outside with everyone in the sun in the castle yard. Tony and Cooper played music, and we all laid out towels and sat or laid in the grass. I was able to just be without having to worry about anything. As I sat in the yard and wandered the castle and traveled to Stratford I felt a deep-seated sense of connection to history for the first time. We were somewhere that’s been around since the 1100s! It’s 900 years old! I could just imagine and almost feel all of the people who had lived or walked on that land before me. Stratford was a great example of this. When I was in Stratford, I really felt connected to the people who had walked there hundreds of years before me in Shakespeare’s time. It was unbelievable. I had such a fun time. I mean, being at Shakespeare’s birthplace and grave connected me with that sense of history, as well. His grave actually really impacted me. I can’t explain how, but I felt so happy in that chapel. I loved all of the beautiful shading on the art in the stained-glass windows, and the sculptures on the walls of the chapel where the grave was were absolutely beautiful. It was so beautiful and enjoyable. I just didn’t want to leave the grave. Actually right after the grave, we went to the Hall House where the tour guide liked us enough to talk to us about the history of the house for a good twenty minutes (and he let us sit on the “Bench of Repentance” too, hah.) He told us a lot of stories that really put us in the history of the house. For instance, he described the events of the painting that was on the wall of the house. It wasn’t in relation to the Halls, but it was crazy that such an in-depth story could be taken from just an image.
Because of this great imagery of the past, it was definitely the perfect environment to connect to our imaginations and do archetypes. I really appreciated archetypes (probably because I have such an overactive imagination). I found myself really experiencing these journeys we went through, and I felt those characters living inside of me. Each one was obviously different. The lover was the one that was the most vivid to me. All of the bright colors and scents really put me into the story. I could feel the grass at my feet, and I could see the sun setting in front of my eyes. I was really there, and that was a fabulous feeling. I was actually very surprised, too, that I found myself going off a little bit on the journeys accidentally. I would just wind up doing something that I did not expect and surprising myself every time. For instance, when we took the spiritual leader journey, once I was given the begging bowl the first time, I could not get myself to beg. I was just walking the streets watching those who used to be my people. Once I found the little child and had nothing to offer her, I began to beg so she would have something to eat. It was really odd. I did not expect to stray away from everything like that. It just happened, but I thought that it was really neat that it did. After that happened, though, I wound up right back on track with the story of the journey. It was a great experience, and I feel that it really showed me some about myself, too.
The application process we learned, too, will be extremely beneficial to my work. I can’t believe that there were so many ways to apply the archetype work, but they were all so helpful. The song I wound up applying everything to was Another Suitcase in Another Hall from Evita. I had worked on it in Musical Theatre class, but it wasn’t quite how I wanted it to be. By applying archetypes to what I had, it brought it where it should be. I found that it gives an actor those little magical moments of flavor in your work that makes it fantastic. For instance, my song was done mostly as a child. At times she was trying to be a lover because she was trying to make herself older and more experienced than she was. I found that putting hints of Lucifer in there really gave it a human reality and made it more interesting. It showed that she was mad and not completely innocent to what was going on, and that made the song so much more interesting than it was originally.
The other little silly thing that I was learning to deal with was my fear of planes. We took four plane rides, and two of them were ridiculously long. I can’t say I’m completely better, but I am getting used to riding on planes, and I’m not fearing for my life on them anymore. When we went up the first time on the plane in the beginning of our trip, I didn’t breathe all of takeoff. I held my breath and did not breathe again until we were up in the air. I almost cried when we hit turbulence then, too. However, once we made it to the last plane ride, I was okay with the whole ride. I was a little uncomfortable, but I’m getting better.
I was very sad to leave our trip, because it was like a fun, different life in Europe. It was an experience I will never forget, and I wish that it didn’t have to end; however, I did need to get back to my life. It was such a weird adjustment coming back. I feel as if I came back to the states as a completely different person. My craft has evolved and become stronger and richer. I feel more mature and more aware of things (and the world) around me. I needed this experience for my craft. It shaped me and got me ready for a new chapter in my life. I cannot completely express what I felt and learned and experienced in words, but this is a start. I feel as if I have learned so much, but I will continue to realize and learn more and more about the trip by looking back on it in the future. Thank you so much for everything, again. I am different in much better ways after this great trip. I will always remember it, and I really hope that we can go back again next year like we were talking about!
While it isn’t necessarily about travel, this is a health and wellness topic that is becoming popular everywhere. It is a unique experience that I felt inclined to write about.
The other day, I visited Just Float in Pasadena. It was my first time floating, and I was interested to see if floating was as “life-changing” as everyone had said it was. For those who don’t know, floating is a new way to relieve stress and reach perfect meditation. You float in water with a high concentration of Epsom salts, which keep you afloat. Most floating tanks or pods will take away all light and sound so you are completely alone with your thoughts and left without distraction. You are simply, floating.
I was lead into a very cozy room that had a shower, a little changing/touch-up area, and the floating tub. The floating tub looked like a large tank. It sealed with a door that reminded me of a safe door. The tub had, roughly, 10 inches of water, and I will attach a link to a photo here so you can see the layout and size of the tub, as they vary at different places. Just Float’s floating room was large enough that I didn’t feel claustrophobic in it.
When I first touched the button to begin my session and spread out on the water, the music turned on, and the lights began to fade. The first few minutes, I was trying to get myself completely comfortable and relaxed in the water. During the next ten minutes or so, I was trying to get over my fear of being in absolute darkness, as the tank is sealed so tightly that no light can contaminate the space. Then, I tried to push my thoughts away. For me, it was hard to turn my brain off, so I focused on my breath to try and do so. I, initially, got distracted because the natural ingredients in the water kept me from pruning. (So, if you go, just know that’s a thing so it doesn’t distract you.) Then, the music faded away and the lack of sound made it so I only heard my own breath. When you are deprived of all sound, your own breath becomes surprisingly loud. It was all I could hear. That helped me slip more into the meditation. Whenever I would start to let go and just exist, I would start to ask myself “Is this is? Am I getting there,” and I would snap myself out of it. However, even if you have a very distracted mind, you will get to that deep point of meditation. It may take a while, but you will get there. Once you get to that point, it is truly worth it. You are not worrying about anything in life anymore. Your brain is only existing. There is nothing else you are experiencing except basic existence. There was a brief period of time where I was truly there. It helped me to open my eyes. When I couldn’t see anything, I would be able to just stop and lay there. I’d stop breathing for a bit, and I wouldn’t even notice or need air for a decent amount of time.
I would break out of that feeling every so often, and it made me realize that, maybe, I wasn’t content with just existing. I like feeling happy and excited, and, without that feeling, life isn’t worth it to me. Just existing at peace wasn’t nirvana for me. But, it was comfortable. It makes since that this would be comfortable for the human brian, as it almost stimulates being back in the womb- floating in total darkness.
As I got towards the end, it helped me touch back in with my body at times. I would move around a bit, and I felt comfortable back in my own skin. Once the process was over, they put the music back on, and the lights gradually came back. It was like being reborn. Being introduced to light and sound after an hour of being deprived of it was almost as exciting as the float, itself.
It was a remarkable experience, and it has been proven to help people with anxiety, depression, and mental health disorders. If you have anxiety or issues of that kind, it will make a difference in your life after you have been floating for a while. For me, it wasn’t something I would always do, but I see it being very helpful when I am having a stressful or anxious week. It will definitely be something I will do again in the future.