Tuesday, October 27, 2015

other autumn odours

It was perhaps the most stunning week I have ever spent in Paris. Late summer spreading into early autumn, gentle light and every day blue skies and 20 degrees. It was buttery toast weather, crisp, decadent, soft and delicious.

So where better to head than the damp, dark, pungent sewer system under Paris' pretty streets in search of pneumatic tubes?

As the last traces of light filtered behind us, my husband and I descended into the sewer museum of Paris, Musée des Égouts de Paris, where I had a sense we might find some traces of Paris' postal pneumatic network.

We were not the only ones seeking out Paris' infrastructural splendours that day - there was a father and his two daughters in front of us, father with clipboard in hand furiously taking notes, while the girls became increasingly bored; a young couple who sped through the museum at lightening speed; a group of Dutch tourists sleeves to their noses.

As we worked our way through the tunnels we found magnificent microbiological paintings, a gallery of living art. The cool limescale smell was gradually replaced by tendrils and whiffs of what one may expect from a working sewerage system and soon we encountered the flowing rivers under our feet, washing away the city's waste. But where were the tubes?

We looked everywhere, and in the dark, couldn't see them. But they were there all along, pointed out to us by the man selling postcards near the exit. We turned our flashes on and there was the sign, "Reseau Pneumatique: Pneumatic Network" modestly hung on a winding pipe.

We followed the pipes as far as we could, until we found their sawn-off ends. It was a little glimpse of that vast network that carried millions of petit bleus at its zenith. Just like 19th century tourists of the sewer system, we marvelled at these infrastructural wonders, now rusty and calcified. What will the tourists of the next generation visit - our underground fiber optical webs, another network hidden from view?

All images my own.

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