Sunday, February 22, 2009

Don't give me that crap, this shit's not art

(Pardon the cursing.)

All joking aside, I don’t think Fabienne should be allowed to reimburse me for my visit to les égouts. Before we went, I had the impression that we would be seeing clean, tidy, artfully-designed sewage facilities. I thought to myself, “this is Paris” - meaning I thought  that even if it was a tour of the treatment centre, it couldn’t help but be beautiful.

Wrong. I don’t think that there was much artistry involved in any aspect of the Parisian égouts. First of all, it was hard to understand what was going on. Nearly all the signage was in an inaccessibly high form of French. Either that, or it was a poster meant for kindergarten students describing the way water and evaporation works. If I can’t even understand what I’m looking at (in this case), I’m bound to not gain a deep appreciation of it.

Les égouts was underground. We went to Pont de l’Alma, took the stairs down, and ended up in what looked like caves. The walls seemed to be perspiring, and the smell was atrocious. The passages were unevenly carved, and seemed to have been planned haphazardly. There were grills set over open sewers, and before I realized I shouldn’t stare too long at the open grates, I saw a few things float by that I wish I hadn’t. The sewer museum was a tourist trap. There was no guide, no pamphlet to read, no nothing. There were cheesy light-up boards showing where water comes from and which pipes take it to the Seine, as well as creepy mannequins decked out in sewer-worker attire. There were also stuffed rats for effect. I didn’t need to go down into les égouts to read all of the suspended bristol boards covered in text describing the development of the sewer system. I could easily have googled it on my computer, instead of reading it in a poorly lit, nondescript cave.

The one aspect of the tour that I found interesting was seeing the giant ball that they use, Indiana Jones-style, to scrape off all of the sand and déchêts that have accumulated on the bottom of the tunnels. I thought it was impressive that these seemingly-archaic practices have survived until 2009.

After typing that, I suppose I could say that there is a certain artistry in les égouts. After all, Victor Hugo was a close friend of a sewer worker (either a manager or a planner or a worker, I can’t remember) which has been shown to have inspired his character Jean Valjean in Les Misérables. I also think that there is a certain notion of setting for me, that I find quite interesting about the égouts. Although I don’t think the museum itself has much merit, as a creative writer, I could see the some potential for the dark, moist, sinister atmosphere to inspire some unique work.

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