Sunday, December 7, 2014

Coat Crazy (So Many Vintage Coats, So Little Time....)

Good evening!

Phew, the time has flown by again since I last told you about my scores-- I had a minute here and thought I would bring you up to date with the latest things dragged into my house from the outside world. Did you have a nice Thanksgiving? We spent ours up at my mother-in-law's house with a mix of Matthew's family and mine-- it was a raucous, but totally sweet, time to catch up with loved ones. I made sweet potatoes and apples, and black eyed peas and greens from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Post Punk Kitchen website-- as usual, that girl is my go-to jam for vegan-food-that-doesn't-taste-like-you're-missing-out-on-anything. Having everyone together for the holidays makes me super excited about holidays. 

But I digress. To the subject at hand, which is-- winter coats.

I'm be fresh as hell if the Feds watchin'....plus beloved persian lamb turban.
If you're a fellow hoarder, do your collecting habits vary with the seasons? My favorite things to collect, in no particular order, are lamps (the more figural or fringed, the better), framed pictures (preferably of your Victorian forebearers or historical figures made out of painted gravel), hats (all kinds), sequined anything (esp. black or gold), vintage dresses (ones that fit me and ones that don't), coats (see below), and weird/macabre stuff (yes, thank you, please wrap that coyote skull and 1920's mourning memorial picture, stick them in the bag with the horror comic books, I'll take the lot). A trip to St. Louis the other day found me hauling back everything from thirties' hand painted china to men's platform shoes to a sixties' holographic picture of a poodle that appears to pant if you look at from differing vantage points, but also three, count 'em, three coats, when I said I was buying zero, yes really, zero coats from here on out a couple weeks ago. My closet runneth over! Having oversized feet and an accompanying dearth of shoes in my size out there in the wide world, I think I collect coats the way some women do heels-- for every outfit, turn, turn, turn, there is a vintage coat, turn turn turn...and a time to every purpose unto heaven. That purpose is probably buying more coats.

While I've been able to lay off the gas on picking up every single lamp that strikes my fancy (I'm looking at you, huge primitive sixties' lamp of criminally low price at Robinson Flea Market last weekend), again, outerwear has been messing with me in the last month or so. One, because it's the time of the year you would need a coat-- two, because the universe has been practically throwing them at me. Here I am at the aforementioned Robinson Flea Market (in its new home across from St. Joseph's on Gallatin Road) having my mom take a picture of me in the absence of a full length mirror, in the coat above:

Caught in the act... and check out that seventies' dress to my right, killin' it!
It's hard to see the detail, but it's a low-pile velvet with soft faux fur trim at the lapels and cuffs with a matching belt...in other words, an almost irresistible combination of luxe materials that remind me of a Stevie Nicks 1920's flapper coat. Yes, please. I carried it around the store for fifteen minutes and finally succumbed to its fanciness and fifteen dollar price tag. "I told myself I didn't need anymore black coats and then I decided that I did," I confessed to the cashier, and went out with it bundled into a grocery sack under my arm. At the time, I was already wearing this coat:




Which was one of the guilty St. Louis three. Six years ago or so, we visited Matthew's family for Thanksgiving in Missouri and I came with a cute cloth coat that was entirely useless against the kind of midwest winters for which the Show Me state is apparently famous. I hie'd forthwith to a Goodwill first thing and picked up a sensible sixties' black wool coat that I literally wore to tatters in the ensuing years. Only this winter, having sewn the arm hole linings for the fifth or sixth time and having lost one of the distinctive buttons, did I finally give up on the Guess-What-Missouri-is-a-Very-Cold-State coat as my go-to winter outerwear, just in time to find this one at a Savers in St. Louis. Go Cardinals, and thank you for my coats, Missouri. I had to sew up the lining of this one, too, but I guess it comes with the territory. How sharp are those lapels! I also like coats to fit me so tightly they're almost too small, and this one is per-fect (if unsuited to me raising my arms above my head or performing other stretching tasks). That hat is one of the ones from the Dickson sale in my last post, aaaaand I love it.

Me joking with cameraman Matthew about how Sears catalog models are always in mid stride and smiling...it turned out
surprisingly well! Maybe that's why they did it so often! 
Unconnected to the St. Louis weather incident, and stemming from my history of riding the bus to my old job at the library, I have a latent fear of being caught in the rain or other inclement weather in insubstantial or unsuitable attire. I was wearing a full length cotton dress one time and was caught in an unexpected summer down...POUR on Church Street a couple years ago...I can remember wringing the dress out like a dish rag and looking like I'd jumped into a swimming pool when I got to the Music City Central. Keeping that in mind, I am very conscious of non-all-weather gear, which is why I haven't worn this gorgeous thing out yet, but by Godfrey I intend to, and soon! Check it out:


This was $20 on the half off day of a BLVD estate sale off of Franklin Road-- it's real rabbit fur and I think homemade? But very professionally put together. Another vintage enthusiast slash maybe reseller was adroitly slinging hangers from a rolling rack at the end of a dark hallway, I positioned myself at the end of a rack as she was at the beginning of it and sharked this guy like whoa. While she may have won the battle with a bunch of sixties' print dresses on her side of the rack, I feel like I won the war with this gem of a forties' coat. Check out the belled sleeves and slightly raised shoulder pads, I am serving Joan Crawford realness in this sucker.



St. Louis coat #2 came from another Goodwill-- I was licking my wounds after finding out a seventies' Sears Fashion Store tan suede coat with faux shearling collar was freakin' $45 (IN WHAT UNIVERSE, PLEASE, MERS GOODWILL...I was in such a foul mood after finding this price sharpie'd into one of the pockets) when I bought this weirdly poncho-like, drapey, high fashion as anything eighties' wool coat for $10. I sat on it the other day when I took it off in a too-hot-car on the way home from work, but ignore the wrinkles and embrace the drape there. While, as said before, I usually hate coats with even an inch of breathing room to spare, this one is cool because I can wear outfits with blazers under it-- plenty of room to fit a sleeve within its commodious sleeves, AND it's well draped enough to look almost tailored when I come sashaying into work (more like half awake power walking into work as I should have showed up like ten minutes earlier). The hat is McHenry's Nashville label topper with a distinctive split brim in the back-- remind me in the next couple of weeks I need to tell you what I found out about the label's history, which stretches back to the 20's in my very own home town.


Last but not least, I about lost my damn mind when I found St. Louis Coat No. 3. Things to consider:
  1. It is made to fit someone about a foot shorter and thirty pounds lighter than me.
  2. It noticeably sheds some disintegrated part of the lining when worn.
  3. My mom said it looked like a Santa Claus costume when she saw it at my house last week.
  4. "I do not even care WE ARE IN LOVE AND NOTHING CAN STOP US," said me with regard to this coat.
When I was a wee lass of thirteen running around the greater Nashville area to thrift stores and vintage stores, wanting desperately to emulate the style of my beloved David Bowie in the late sixties'/early seventies' pre-Ziggy phase, I remember finding an amazing...an AMAZING...Woodstock Jenny from Forest Gump looking shearling coat at the now defunct Flashback Vintage on Elliston Place in downtown Nashville. It was hanging from part of the railing outside the second floor balcony of the shop, waving undulously in the breeze at passersby and me in particular. I can remember even now that the hand written price tag cost was $60, and my dad, admittedly lenient enough to take me to the place in the first place, would not budge on fronting me six weeks of allowance to buy the thing. "What do you want it for?" he said, doing a characteristic my-dad sigh and appraisal of the coat. "It looks like that coat Jenny wore in Forrest Gump. And it's old." "YES I KNOW DAD," I said through gritted teeth. Usually, he is 110% on my side with "if you want it, get it"...in a rare case of dissonance between our sympatico hoarder natures, we left coatless in 1998, and I don't think the loss of that coat has ever left me. While my style is more late forties' now and I do stick to tailored, tiny, black velvet style hats and jackets and nipped waists for the most part, there is still a part of me that pines for that ultra-boho look of the 1968-1973 period. That part of me slapped down a credit card with moxie for this $7 purchase (among the earlier mentioned poodle print and a thirties' tin cake carrier and a repro painting by Dyf) without hesitation. It doesn't suit me at all and I'm gonna wear it anyway. Do you see the metal linking closures? The white faux fur? I was helpless. Also, St. Louis has better thrift stores than us, hands down, no contest.




As a coda, don't think my coat buying is limited to just to myself! Oh, no. Matthew brought two coats home from St. Louis as well, and was nice enough to model them for me in a rare turn before rather than behind the camera (#willworkforhugs). This first coat is from a Goodwill after a nourishing, non-diet-friendly-but-oh-so-delicious meal of the local Imo's chain pizza:


Bad, right? Bad as in good!! This coat was hanging in the ladies section but was definitely a piece of gentleman's attire. What I loved about this was trying to discuss the (again, sharpie'd) price with the cashier:

Soooooo...10? 19? 109?                
It ended up being the much ballyhoo'd $10 price, which was nice, along with this, $9.99 find from Savers:


I could buy these suede and wool jackets ALL DAY for Matthew, he looks like the little 1980's celebrity he should have been in another life in them. I'm glad he doesn't mind me dictating his wardrobe because I feel like even if I chose it, it sure does reflect his "cool dude" personality!!

Well, I have to get gone, but what do you think? Which coat is the best? Do you have a particular weakness for a certain item this winter or do you still indiscriminately pick amongst the picking sites for whatever catches your eye? Do you have a go to cold weather look? What have you found lately? Let's talk!

That's all for today but I'd love to hear from you. Have a great Sunday night and we'll talk again soon! Til then.

                      

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Here a Hat, There a Hat, Everywhere a....(Dickson Estate Sale, Vintage Hats)

Hello again!

How's tricks? Are you getting ready for turkey day tomorrow? I've just got a minute here but as heavily hinted at in the last post, you know I am almost dead from not being able to share the good word about some of my estate sale hauls. I thought I'd pop over and tell you a little before I have to start dicing, slicing, peeling things for tomorrow! Ready? Steady? Let's go! And caveat: I hope you like hearing about hats an eighth as much as I like talking about them because, spoiler: there are a whole lot of hats going on in this post.

It's...so...BEAUTIFUL...
Because I've been trying to take this gym routine kind of seriously, and because the time of one of my favorite exercise classes falls smack in the middle of that tiny estate sale window on Saturdays when you can still get things half off, I've been scrambling lately to hit the sales and still make it to the dance floor by 11:45. In the last month or two, I usually pick my folks up around 8, run around to only the best sales, run home, change, and dash back out to the Y. It's close scheduling but it's not too bad. About two weeks ago, Michael Taylor, who, in spite of my abiding love for all estate sale agents in the Nashville area, is definitely a KING among tag sale runners, was doing a sale in Dickson, TN, a good hour-ish drive west from town. I thought, "Eh, that means I'd have to be like at my folks' house around 7 to get to the sale by 8 to get back to town by nine-thirty and hit maybe two other sales in time to drop them off by 11. Thaaaat is kind of cutting it." A few seconds of poring over the preview photos elapsed before I was texting my parents, "7 AM REPORT TIME DO YOU COPY OVER" on Friday night. Do you see....all the hatboxes....at the above left? I KNOW YOU DO. And I know when I did, this ol' heart of mine, been broke a thousand times, swelled up a tiny bit again in anticipation of the picking I was about to do.

Did I cut it close? Girl, you know I did. Did I come home with a haul? Also, affirmative. But first, let's look at the interior of the house, because honestly, the whole place was kind of amazing:


Fiestaware, chandeliers, patterned wallpaper, oh my! The house was just off the square in downtown Dickson and nestled among a spattering of thirties' or forties' slightly Tudor cottages. When we rolled up in the Civic around 7:55, there was already a line of dedicated salers standing out in the blustery November weather, baskets and reusable shopping totes in hand. I queued up with the rest of them and checked my cell phone at least four times in anticipation of the 8 AM start time. When the glass paneled, dark wood door swung open to invite us in promptly at eight, I clambered up several brick steps to the porch and into the house itself. A TIME CAPSULE. Stately, turn of the century furniture mixed in with forties' and fifties' pieces, and oh, the wallpaper. Each room had a different pattern, more baroque than the last! My favorite was this colonial courtin' and sparkin' pattern in one of the bedrooms, but really, they were all my favorite, when do I move in?


In spite of the generous appointments of each room, with twelve foot ceilings and parlor-into-formal-dining-room-into-kitchen dimensions larger than probably the sq/ft of my entire house, there was the to-be-expected traffic jam of people who don't understand that if you stop in midtrack to examine an heirloom clock, people behind you may also have to stop...I sidled past a dawdler or two as I've been sharked out vintage baubles I don't know how many times by someone who was there just a few minutes before me. Not long after the doors opened,there was the sound of breaking glass from the left side of the house in the honeycomb like layout of bedrooms...I was too busy standing, maw agape, at this wallpaper and the hats that were remaining on the wall in the front room to rubberneck the unfortunate maladroit shopper. Lord have mercy:


"She had enough hats, didn't she?" an older woman in a windbreaker opined as we both looked once and twice over the over-the-top toppers. While these pictures are yanked from Estatesales.net, know that there were at least that many hats there the second day, as the stock must have been replenished. There were MORE HATS THAN THERE WERE PLACES TO DISPLAY THEM. I don't know if my mind will even properly wrap around that idea. A card read "VINTAGE HATS $15", and it was half off day, so I carefully weighed my shopping options. As I was looking, one of the sales ladies who always greets me by name came up and touched my elbow. Sotto voce, she intoned: "I hoped you were comin' to this one! Go on upstairs, there's a ton of vintage dresses." And upstairs, she was right! Two closets and two rolling racks filled with clothes from no later than the eighties'. While I was sad that a lot of the preview stuff was gone with the wind (goodbye, kaleidoscope of color fifties' crinoline; 'til we meet again...), everything left was five for a dollar. Wait, five for a dollar, you say? Uh, yes, twenty cents apiece, every stitch of clothing in the house. I promptly pulled anything of vague interest to me off the hangers and into a SOLD box on the first floor. But there was still the question of hats.


Things we may have talked about before....a) I have a wild and untamed passion for vintage headgear...limited only by b) my extremely large, contemporary-azz head. I always like to cite the big-head-little-body formula of thirties' movie actresses (hallowed Joan Crawford prime among them), but even their outsized craniums were vintage ladies' outsized craniums. As few six foot tall women as there were in these olden days, I'm sure there were an even fewer percentage of women in that tribe with heads like casaba melons. All that not to elicit pity but to explain-- if I could, I would buy ALL the hats. Few are the hats I've ever seen and not gone ga-ga in my oversized head about. But I know from the heartache of a beanie-that-was-supposed-to-be-a-cloche too many that there are hats you can "make work" with this hatband size and ones you can't. I promptly started scouring the house for those that fit in the former category.


Rumbling down the narrow central stair of the house back to the checkout counter to claim my pile of polyester dresses and collared shirts, another of the sale workers took notice of the pair (yes, sadly, just two) hats I'd grabbed, again, in considering size, practicality, and the $7.50 price tag. "Is that all you got?" he said, then, "Go back and get you some more hats. I'll give you a deal." Me: "How good of a deal?" He: "Five bucks a pop. Go on, get you a couple more hats." Is that salesmanship or what (the what being am I sucker for a good deal and a hat)? Both, really. Before I was done, I walked out with seven hats. SEVEN HATS. Am I sorry? I am not.

My hair wasn't cooperating with me today so I borrowed this gorgeous bust of an African American lady I found at Goodwill a couple years ago to stand-in for me as a hat model. For balance, the center shows her sans chapeau and the lower right hand, Elizabeth-Taylor-in-the-sixties' hat is from a thrift store in St. Louis. But all the rest were from the sale!

Some of these look better on her than they do on me...but only by a little! :)

Looking at the hats in panels here all on one head, I was thinking about all the different outfits over different decades the lady of the house must have worn them! From flapper decadent (bottom row middle) to 1940's My Girl Friday (middle left) to Streisand fabulous (bottom left), there's a LOT of style going on here. Can you guess which is my favorite? Oh, I'll spare you the suspense and let you get a look at this thing stuffed on my oversized head: 

"There is nothing like a turban! Noooothing iiiin the wooorrrld.
There is nothing you can name that is anything like a turban!" Apologies to
South Pacific.
Ugh! Could you die! My usually non-plussed-at-my-purchases mom went, "Oh my goodness, that is so cute" over the gold turban and I'm on #teamturban right there with her. It's a tight fit, but if I stuff all my hair up into the recesses of the interior....well, don't I feel just like Nefertiti on her Nile. Oh! And clothes! I forgot to take pictures of all of them but rounded up a couple from my closet, here's dresses:

The center dress is killing me for how much I love it. TWENTY CENTS.
And here's shirts:


Again, there are four or five other shirts and one dress getting laundered but these were on hand in my closet. The woman for whom the estate sale was being held was no-o-o-ot afraid of standing out in a crowd! And I think that's a fine thing. I'm looking forward to taking these babies out on the town (or...just to a regular Tuesday work day)!

At any rate, I came back to the car positively beaming and my folks were excited for me that I'd found so many goodies. We goofed and laughed all the way back to Nashville, went to another sale, and then I was able to drop them off, change, and get to Zumba just in the nick of time! Best weekend I've had in a long while.

I've got to scoot, but tell me-- which hat is your favorite? Had any looney tunes deals out at the sales lately? What have you scored while I've been away that has a story and a half behind it? I'd love to hear from you!

Have a happy, HAPPY, happy Thanksgiving and I'll be back at it with more vintage chatter next week! If you don't already follow She Was a Bird on instagram and Facebook, check back there too for the next time a post comes up! I'll talk to you soon!!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Where You Been So Long? (Back in Action)

Hello!!

Wondered if I'd wandered off forever from this corner of the blogosphere? Not to fret, I've been meaning to make my way back to you guys for awhile now! And what's more, I've been out in the vintage wilderness dragging home kitschy quarries for AT LEAST half of the time since we spoke last. The rest of my weeks have been devoted to this book slinging business, which is keeping me briskly occupied but sorely in need of catching up on this much neglected blog... But enough with the excuses, how are you? What've you been up to?



I thought I would catch you up to this life of Riley via the above Brady Bunch style collage. Behold, highlights of the last month in offline Birdland (grâce á Instagram, and clockwise from left).

In October and November. Iiiii.....

  • ....discovered the wonder of Turner Classic Movies on demand (and On Demand app!!); binge watched as much Robert Mitchum as possible (helloooooo, handsome...this is a screen shot from The Lusty Men, 1952).
  • ...ate a lot of black bean burgers and drank a lot of mimosas for Sunday brunch at Mad Donna's with my bub (I've been going to zumba pretty often though, so it almost evens out).
  • ...found this INSANE waiter pin at the flea market; talked seller down from $16 to $10, ran home and immediately paired it with this cocktail pin already in my collection. IT WAS MEANT TO BE. I can't get over his jaunty legs.
  • ...made milk jug skeletons for Halloween with my sister and her husband and Matthew over at my mom's house (full disclosure, he is still sitting on the leopard print couch in my den, seasonality be hanged).
  • ...lucked upon this 80's does 50's illusion top at an estate sale (one US dollar). Feel exactly like Rita Hayworth in it.
  • ...busted out this Persian lamb turban for dinner with Matthew, Emma and Tyler out in Edgefield (as usual, they were similarly "did up", adorable, and we had a blast :) ).  Spoiler alert, bought so many blamed hats an estate sale weekend before last they deserve their own post. And soon!
  • ...acted like I was taking a selfie at the Southern Festival of Books' "Authors in the Round" dinner, but only so I could surreptitiously get a photo of one of my favorite authors and me in the same frame (you sure' is a pretty man, Conrack...I read the most dog eared copy of The Water is Wide circa 2000 in a day, all in one greedy gulp).
  • ...realized Matthew was wearing his CATS t-shirt while hugging a very similar looking cat (bonjour, Merci!) at Ciciley and Bobby's house...took photo accordingly. Have improved tremendously at Mario Kart but still come in fourth after our gracious hosts and my husband. I can't be good at everything (yet!!!).
  • ...and last but not least, was the first to show up in costume at work, as George Washington... only to find no one in my cubicle group had dressed up....AT ALL. Later, holiday bedecked cohorts from different departments straggled in, but I had a real life Bridget Jones panic moment for the first thirty minutes I was a) in knee breeches and b) at my desk. Definitely one to file under "at least it makes a good story"!

Would you like to see some of my latest catches? I hope the answer is yes as I sure have some to share with you! I have to scoot for now but let's meet up back here later this week so I can show you those crazy hats (and the crazy cool house they came out of!). Deal? Deal.

Meanwhile, let me hear from you! Are you still out there? Have I missed any wild and out goings on in the vintage blog world? Are you ready to build an igloo yet with this suddenly brutal winter weather? What's the neatest thing you've scored since last we dished? Any tips for fabulous new hunting grounds in the metro Nashville area or beyond? I'm all ears.

Hope you've been having a wonderful Novermber thus far and that the vintage lines are biting. Talk to you soon!

                      

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Le Fantôme (Guest Post by Matthew, Parisian Pac Man Bar)

Hi everybody!  Its me!  Matthew!  I haven't done a guest post in quite some time, but Lisa thought this one was right up my alley.

"We are about to encounter robots!  Try to blend in!"
So one thing we did a LOT of in Paris was walk.  We walked here, we walked there, we walked pretty much every dang place, which was great because there was so much to see!  So we were walking down the street from our hotel one morning to go have breakfast and I see this cute sign with what I though looked like a little Pac-Man ghost.  So I says to Lisa, I says "Hey look!  Its a Pac-Man ghost!" and as she's about to tell me to quit being silly, she looks at the sign and realizes it IS a Pac-Man ghost.  The name of the establishment was Le Fantôme , and as we stopped and looked inside I saw what is basically my vision of heaven.

Inspired by Pac-Man, my hunger for pizza was endless.

Hearkening back to the pizza joints of the 80's where you would commonly have a number of classic arcade games, Fantôme offers a delightfully festive atmosphere where you can sit down at a cocktail style Pac-Man table and enjoy some cocktails and a fancy french take on Pizza!  I basically lost my mind.














Le menu (pour les foodies)

Lisa and I sat at one of these cocktail tables and took turns exploring Pac-Man's Sisyphysean struggle to sate his endless hunger while being at all times pursued by the ghosts that represent his regrets and tortured inner longings.  I looked up from our table to see further evidence that they built this place exclusively for me in the form of a decorative wall display of various robots from 60s and 70s sci-fi. My people!

Pictured: my people.
I also got 2nd place.  Just for good measure.
Pictured:  Juggernaut going HAM.
In addition to the cocktail tables, which are what I wish I ate EVERY dinner on, there was Street Fighter as well as X-men vs. Street Fighter which could be played on my dream anniversary present, an actual Sega Astro City cabinets.  These are high quality Japanese cabinets where you sit down to play, and I am obsessed with them.  I am trying not to go too deep into my own personal video game nerdery, but let's just say I freaked out.  Also let's just say that at this moment, in Paris, there is an X-men vs. Street Fighter arcade cabinet where my initials are in 1st place.  Boom shakalaka.  They must have known Lisa was coming too, however, because how else could you explain the Monsters of Rock pinball table.  Note: These were not the Yngwie Malmsteen variety, but the Dracula, Wolfman, Creature from the Black Lagoon variety.  It was adorable.  Why isn't it in my house.  It looked like what Lisa's soul would look like as a pinball table.

Lisa and I walked out to "Mummy Mayhem" at our wedding.

There was a lot of great stuff about Fantôme , but hands down the best part of it was going with my best friend, my beautiful wife who makes me laugh until I can't breathe, and accepts my constant hugging.  Because of this, no one can possibly enjoy Fantôme as much as I did.  Sorry folks.

Game Over, but the party is just getting started!


Ms. Matt-Man, before and after Chardonnay consumption.
"I don't always eat ghosts, but when I do, they're blue ones."

It was nice talking to all of you!  I have a big day of being lazy ahead of me (it's my day off!), so I'll see you next time!

Best regards,
Matthew

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Catacombs, Graves, Taxidermy...You Know, the Usual (France, Part Three)

Hello again!

Well, I've finally got another moment to sit down and catch my breath this week, so I figured the natural thing to do would be to gather together some of the spooky portions of our trip to France into one, suitable-for-almost-Halloween post. Guys! I saw some seriously spine-tingling (and spectacular!) things  when I wasn't stuffing my face with French food or trying to take the wrong metro. I'd earmarked three ghoulish spots as must-sees, and that's what we're talking about here at The Bird. Warning: skulls ahead.

To ease you into it, here are our non-skullified heads waiting outside the Catacombs.
One of those things that pop up a lot on reddit's /creepy feed or other similar click candy sites I unabashedly spend too much time on is les catacombes de Paris, an underground "city of the dead" that was Paris's solution to the overcrowding of city cemeteries in the early 19th century. The horror appeal of the place is such that they're making a movie just called Catacombs, posters of which we saw several times in the subway. I was super excited to see the mile of legbones, neckbones, hipbones, all unconnected to each other and stacked up in neat piles-- so excited, that I was unconcerned with the serious line that was already queued literally around the block as we exited the Denfert-Rochereau metro stop. "How long could it take? I think it'll be fine," I optimistically opined. Turns out, it takes three hours. THREE HOURS. Which would have been bad on its own, but was considerably worse for the fact that the most New Yorker cartoonish bourgeois father and son from the states were in front of us. I wish I had written down some of the exchanges they had, but just know that it bordered on self-parody, and you couldn't drown them out for love or money. FOR THREE HOURS. Oh, and a busker with a guitar, amp and a cd of lite rock 70's and 80's classics he may or may not have ever heard before, judging from his performance, was also playing the entire time we were in line. YES, FOR THREE HOURS. Somehow, I didn't die of pique (I think it was mainly in view of how completely chill Matthew was to wait in line for three hours for something I wanted to see), and we arrived at the front of the line around 1 PM. The front of the line looks like this, btw:  

And this looks like sweet, sweet victory. And Matthew.
When you come in, you pay your twelve euros (I think it was an extra euro or two for the audio tour, which was decent), and begin a loooooong descent down a series of spiral concrete stairs. Down, down, down, down...until you reach a little alcove that tells you the history of the catacombs, which, thanks to the website, is essentially this:
The Catacombs, which form a veritable labyrinth beneath the very heart of Paris, were created in the galleries of the former quarries whose stone was used to build the capital.
Situated twenty metres below ground, the ossuary contains the remains of approximately six million Parisians, transferred there gradually between the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries as graveyards were being closed because of the risk they posed to public health. The first of these was the cimetière des Innocents graveyard in 1786 in what is now the district of Les Halle.
Obviously, I took a photo of this 1860 engraving reproduced on a placard on the wall, because, well, look at it:

"No, I know, this place is seriously metal, right?" says well dressed 1860's Frenchman 1 to well dressed 1860's Frenchman 2. How much more terrifying would this visit have been conducted ONLY by torch light? Conservatively, about 1,000,000 x.
 You then walk through a lot of non-bones, quarry wall, subterranean passages like this. If there is one thing I have learned about Paris, it is that you are always walking and never stopping:


This is a model of a French fortress called Port-Mahon that was carved out of quarry rocks by a former quarry inspector who (wait for it) died in the quarry trying to get more materials for a followup masterpiece. Or...something like that. The audio tour was definitely geared towards scaring you more than you already would be naturally 20 meters underground surrounded by skeletons, soooo....thanks, audio tour.


Finally, you get to series of passages that lead to the ossuary, starting out after you cross this threshold, which helpfully warns you in French, "Stop! This is the city of the dead." Did we stop? We did, but just to take a picture. Then we went the frank on into that mess.


And saw this. LOTS, and LOTS of this:


As much as I understood that there would be miles and miles of bones down there, it's not until you SEE a stack of bones and skulls like this, in real life, that the enormity of it hits you. We're talking SOLID walls of bones that used to be all connected to one another in their individual units, and walked around the above ground France of the 1600's.  I started to feel weird about taking pictures, but as everyone and their mom was getting a selfie, I figured, when in Rome...


This is me having a "I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks, I do I do I do believe in spooks," moment from The Wizard of Oz. Do you see skulls with holes in them? Also, think about the fact that these remains have been around for aaaabooout four hundred years, and have yet to from-dust-to-dust themselves. Isn't that amazing?


Matthew makes the best reaction faces, and continues to impress here:

"Skullford?! Is that you?!"


We have a ton more pictures of different alcoves and sober pronouncements carved into the walls (very "one day you too shall be as we!", as if you needed to be more igged out than you already were in a world of bones). But we have more creeptacular places to survey!

Up next, Père Lachaise cemetery:


One of the most famous cemeteries in the world and the largest in the city of Paris, Père Lachaise has its own metro stop directly across the street from the grounds themselves, and talk about a lot to see. We popped in a restaurant next to the metro stop, ate a croque monsieur apiece, then started our journey through the cobblestoned walkways between monuments. And OH, the monuments we saw. 



Lots of luminaries, French and not, are buried in Père Lachaise, but even the graves of the myriad of anonymous-to-us inhabitants were memorialized with SUCH style. Museum-grade statuaries seemed to be around every corner.


It was overcast the morning we visited the cemetery, with a wind rustling some prematurely felled leaves along the cobblestones. Oh, and did I mention ravens just live there, in the cemetery? A French person I was telling about this later joked "Oh, yes, we have those flown in for ambiance", but seriously, atmospheric as ALL GET OUT, as these ravens walk along the crypts. Here are two  I caught as they alighted onto a memorial, sure, business as usual:


"What're you lookin' at, Bub? Nothin' to see here...." PS the inscription does in fact read "rest in peace" in French.

You could buy a map of the layout of the cemetery outside for two euros, but I saved the scratch by instead photographing the map at the entrance and referring to it instead. That's a mini bottle of Chardonnay we can have instead! :) As usual, I took about five wrong turns on the way to some famous graves, but along the way, saw some gorgeous memorials:


One of my big things about going on vacation is TAKING PICTURES WITH US IN THEM, as I always get home with 1,000 pictures of things and places, and none of us, which is what I'll want to show our kids some day! So here's another of me among the tombs, right before I advised a French family on where Edith Piaf's grave could be found (in French no less! I don't know if I've ever been so proud):


And Matthew looking particularly pensive and handsome (he's probably thinking about food):




Several of the crypts had these interesting little "come inside"...grave parlors? I don't know how to describe them. You would possibly go inside and sit in them, and think about your loved one? The spooky part was definitely that some of the crypts hadn't been maintained in recent years. You think about how many times at estate sales you see stacks of old sepia tone photographs for sale because "no one knows who they are or how they're related to us" anymore, and apply that to a grave, and I guess this is what you get. One was complete with an upholstered Victorian chair that was broken down from rot and exposure, just....sitting in the tomb. This one, however, has withstood the weather and ravages of time pretty well, and isn't it gorgeous:








Of course, we did have to hit some of the highlights. Here's Oscar Wilde's grave, covered in lipstick kisses in spite of a sign, in French and English, that says "Please do not deface this tomb, the family is responsible for the upkeep and cleaning of it." All I did was stand in front of it, so I'm in the clear. How Art Deco is this, by the way? Seemingly years before its time, too (I think it dates to 1909. when Wilde was re-interred here from another cemetery?).



I have gone to the mattresses I don't know how many times on people who talk trash about the Doors-- about 100% of them have never listened to a Doors record beginning to end, or else they would have a healthier opinion of one of the most exciting bands of the sixties'. Mythos aside, I am hugely into Jim Morrison, so of course I had to swerve to pay respects to the Lizard King (bleh, I hate that title! But I typed it anyway!). I did think about, though, on the way, how many business men and city officials and otherwise important and good people who spent a lifetime building up a family, a career, what have you, only to have a memorial that is pretty much tripped over or whizzed by so that someone can stick a piece of gum on an American rock singers grave, a couple crypts down, must feel- wouldn't that tick you off if you were a spirit in the material world? I guess that's kind of the point that it doesn't matter any more, but still. I pressed through a throng of fellow tourists to snap a few pictures from where the cordoned off area would allow you to snap pictures.


La môme herself, Edith Piaf, was buried in this nondescript place along with I think two other family members. I took special care to tell the French family, "Not the row next to the road, but two rows off the road," because I really would have missed it if two Japanese tourists weren't snapping photos on top of it as I walked by. That cemetery map is seriously confusing! Still, it was nice to see it so well kept. Do you notice the little round placard there at the foot of the grave? There were those everywhere in the cemetery-- they seem more popular than wreathes for decorating a loved one's final resting place.


And of course, Sarah Bernhardt, France's most famous theatrical export around the turn of the century. At this point, we ran into what I guess you would call a "grave hustler"? A gregarious Frenchman rushed up to a group of Australian tourists and began giving them the bum's rush off the main drag and towards Bernhardt's grave (which, again, was in a somewhat hard-to-find spot). "Ici, you zee, de grave of the PLUS FAMEUSE artiste of de stage, Sah-rah Beuuurnhart! She is de most known actress of the Père Lachaise!" "What about Simone Signore?" asked one of the Australians. Listening to these accents coming one up against the other was pretty amazing. "You want to see Simone Signoret, voilá, Madame Signoret. Et ici, Yves Montand!" he said, gesturing at Matthew and me. "Je prendrai le compliment!" I said, and beat a path for the road as I heard one of the Australian women whisper harshly to the other "He's not expecting us to pay him, is he?" as their non-consensual tour guide exhorted them to follow him to the next celebrity grave.


Last but not least, on the same day as the cemetery we hit the world renowned house of taxidermy, Deyrolles. I've wanted to go to this place ever since I read Still Life by Melissa Milgrom, which I think devoted a chapter to the almost 200 year old business. Outside of the Smithsonian Natural Museum of History, this is the most impressive taxidermy you will see in your life. All my pictures are kind of foggy as I was afraid someone would tell me you couldn't take pictures and I snapped them all as surrepitiously as possible...but I hope they'll give you an idea of how cool the place was. Oh, and EVERYTHING you see is for sale. Remind me to come back here some day with like Elton John's bankroll, I could really use, um, all of these things in my home.



I was too worried I wouldn't be able to bring them back through customs into America, but I really would have loved to at least grab a mayfly or some huge, gorgeous moth to take back home. The work on these specimens were so exquisite you waited for something to breathe on you or flutter off.





Look at how realistic this bull is. And then look at the butterfly viewpanel. Juxtaposition much? It was so gorgeous and strange to be in this old building, with such a small space crammed with every species you could think of. I felt a little bit like I was in a Roald Dahl story-- a cross between his children's work and his creepy crime thrillers.






All right! I think I've probably eeked you out enough for one day, but I still have some more sights and sounds of Paris to share with you as time permits. Two more posts and then I promise not to talk so much about going to France AT LEAST until the next time I get over there. :)

Are you into creepy sights when you go sightseeing on vacation? What kinds of places to do mark as must-sees? What kind of tourist attraction has little appeal to you (right answer in my case: NO TOURIST ATTRACTION IS TOO UNAPPEALING). What do you think of the spots we saw in this post? Let's talk!

I gotta get on with my Sunday, but I will see you again! Have a great week, and we'll talk soon. Til then!


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