The Paris Catacombs are a story of multigenerational effects: the mining of limestone for Paris’s characteristic buildings, the collapses of buildings into the voids the mining created, the efforts to reinforce the cavities, and ultimately the decades-long project to transfer the remains of six million Parisians to the space. At this point, it has earned the name “Empire of the Dead”.
So many people have a connection to Notre Dame, and in the hours after the fire was announced, it seemed like everyone had their personal Notre Dame picture to show. The number of visitors explains the ubiquity: 30,000 people per day, 13,000,000 per year. That explains why the crowds in this picture, even on a rainy night in late November.
From a catacombs’ portal to one with a bit more life: the back side of this clock face at the Musée d’Orsay is apparently (from the cell phone screen in the foreground) the perfect location for a social media moment. In the window, the view across the river to the classiest parts of Paris provides the right counterpoint.
Of the people standing in the dusky light and the long line to enter Notre Dame, it was actually those at the end of the line who were luckiest: they were still outside a few moments later when the lights illuminating the outside of the cathedral activated.
I took eight years of French classes as a middle- and high-school student, and those courses’ textbooks inevitably had charming pictures of Parisian locales throughout. In trying to cover a wide range of French experiences, those books tended to show “everyday” life alongside the expected pictures of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, and so I came to associate all of these images with a sort of “imaginary,” idealized Paris.
Imagine my surprise when I arrived in France and found that it looks exactly like my books.