Keith and I stood on a busy corner poring over our map. A beautiful, elegantly dressed woman approached and offered to help us. Her face said it all when we told her we were going to “Les Egout”. She looked us up and down and pointedly asked ” You’ve been to the Luxembourg Gardens?” “Oui Madame”. “Le Louvre? Saint Chapelle? Le Pompidou? Montmartre? L’Orangerie? Musee D’Orsay?” Oui we responded to each question. Finally she said “Well, you might as well visit Les Egouts.”
A few weeks ago, I had asked my Aunt what we should see while in Paris. “You must go to the sewers”. I thought I had misheard her. “You mean take a boat trip along the Seine?” I asked. “No, I mean, the sewers – its an important part of Paris.”
Visiting the sewers had not been on my list, but it was interesting to see the underbelly life of Paris. Every city has its hidden side. There are parts of life that we avoid thinking about and talking about – we pretend they are not there – things such as pick pocketing, homelessness, prostitution, poverty and disposing of waste. They are all here in Paris and you don’t have to look far.
Back to the sewers. Paris’ sophisticated system of pipes were built by Haussman – of course – he was an organised man and had an eye for detail such as efficient waste disposal.
There are 2,400 km of pipes that run beneath Paris. They are large enough to stand in and walk along. Indeed, we could walk all around Paris – underground. A population of 4 million rats inhabit these tunnels and when their numbers grow excessively, they are disposed of. These tunnels are used for water, waste removal, electricity and internet cabling. Our tour guide was informative and interesting – and I learnt much about this hidden secret side of Paris. After 160 years, they are working well. It was an aromatic visit and I confess that I was quite relieved to return to the sunshine and fresh air.
This is a new example of street art – I think, we watched it being painted.