Halloween is approaching and soon we are going to be flooded with recipes for pumpkin soup and pumpkin pie, so I thought that I would get in early with a pumpkin curry – well actually it is ‘Butternut squash and chickpea curry’, but a pumpkin would do just as well.
Halloween conjures up images of witches and ghouls, (though in France ‘Toussaint’s’ is a little different and I will talk about this closer to the time) so what better place to go ghost hunting than in the Paris Catacombs………….
The Catacombs, or to give them their official name ‘The Municipal Ossuary’ date back to the end of the 18th century, when the ‘Cemetery of the Innocents’ near the present day ‘Les Halles’, became overcrowded (not surprising as it had been in existence for around 1,000 years!) and a health hazard.
All burials stopped there in 1785 and the process of moving existing bones to another site began in 1786 after the ground had been consecrated.
The transfer of bones and bodies took place at night and the procession of carts covered in a black veil to shield their creepy cargo from curious onlookers, was accompanied by priests chanting the ‘services of the dead’ along the route to the present site in the ‘Denfert Rochereau’ area in the 14th ‘arrondissement’ of Paris and took 2 years to complete moving all the bones from all the ancient cemeteries in the city.
There is thought to be the remains of around 6 million people entombed here, giving the Catacombs of Paris the reputation of being ‘The World’s largest Grave’!
Today they are a major Paris tourist attraction and queues in summer can be quite long as there is a limit on how many people (200) can be underground at any one time (for obvious difficulties of evacuation in the event of an emergency) and visitors are meticulously counted in and out.
There are 2km of tunnels and galleries and a visit takes around 45 minutes
N.B. – THEY ARE NO TOILET FACILITIES ONCE UNDERGROUND and there are 130 steep steps to go down and 83 back to street level (the exit is in a different location to the entrance).
The temperature in places is around 14 degrees, so even if it is hot outside, take a cover up.
The visit is not advised for people with cardiac or respiratory problems, young children or people of a ‘nervous disposition’. The Catacombs are not accessible to persons with limited mobility and children under the age of 14 must be accompanied by an adult.
I found it thrilling, descending what seems like forever down long narrow corridors which are adequately lit for safety purposes, but not so bright as to spoil the atmosphere. I was fascinated to see that it is actually laid out like a town underground, with ‘streets’ (along with name plaques!) mirroring actual streets above.
These tunnels (streets) open into a series of galleries (squares) and here I was surprised to see the carvings and frescos made by the workers who excavated and reinforced the site (most was part of former stone mines), as I was by the meticulous order of the bones.
The Catacombs are one of the ’14 Musées du Paris and I have given practical information on opening times, access and prices, along with a list of the other museums and the end of this post.
Forgive me my macabre imagination, but I think that the chick peas resemble little skulls………..
Serves 2 generously as a main meal with rice, or 4 as a side dish
1 medium pumpkin or butternut squash (potiron/citrouille)
1 small onion finely chopped
4 oz / 100gm fresh baby spinach leaves
425 g can of chick peas (pois chiches) drained and rinsed
½ pint / 250 ml of coconut milk
½ pint / 250 ml of vegetable stock
1 tablespoon (2 cuilliers a soupe) of fish stock (optional)
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
1 small red chilli finely chopped
1 inch / 1.5cm fresh ginger finely chopped
1 teaspoon (cuillier a café) of cumin
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1 teaspoon of curry powder
Freshly ground sea salt to taste
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sauté the onion until soft, taking care not to brown.
Add the ginger, chilli, curry powder, cumin and turmeric and a little salt and cook gently for 1-2 minutes to release the aroma of the spices
Add the pumpkin and coat with the spices, then stir in the coconut milk and vegetable stock and fish stock required.
Simmer (mijoter) gently uncovered for around 15 minutes to reduce the stock to a thick soupy consistency
Add the chick peas and continue to simmer for a further 15 minutes until the pumpkin is soft and the chick peas tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed (add a little more water and cover if becoming too dry)
Add the spinach leaves a little at a time and wilt before adding the next batch
Season with freshly ground sea salt to taste and serve immediately with Jasmine rice and/or naan bread.
Simple, healthy and tasty dish to warm you up after ‘Trick or Treating’!
The Catacombs – Practical Information
Open daily from 10am to 8pm (last entrance 7pm) except for Mondays and May 1st
Entrance fee is 10 euro full rate and 8 euro reduced rate
BAGS ARE SEARCHED AT THE EXIT AND ANYONE FOUND STEALING BONES WILL BE PROSECUTED
There are 11 free museums which form part of the 14 Musée de Paris (there is an opportunity to give a voluntary donation to help maintain these museums, 5 euro per party is gratefully accepted)
City of Paris Museum of Modern Art Balzac’s House (except when a temporary exhibition is programed) Bourdelle Museum* Carnavalet Museum – History of Paris (see my blog post) Cernuschi Museum – Museum of Asian Art Cognacq-Jay Museum – Museum of the XVIIIth century art* Museum of the General Leclerc and the Paris’ Liberation – Jean Moulin Museum Petit Palais – City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts (see my blog post) Museum of Romantics Victor Hugo’s House (see my blog post) Zadkine Museum* * Only a section of these museums is free when there is a temporary exhibition
There is an entrance fee to the remaining 3 museums:-
The Archaeological Crypt of Notre-Dame
Galliera – Museum of Fashion
Entrance fee at the Catacombs is 10 € full price, 8€ reduced rate. Entrance fee at the Archaeological Crypt of Notre-Dame is 7€ full price, 5€ reduced rate. Combined ticket for Catacombs and Archaeological Crypt of Notre-Dame: 15 € full price, 10 € reduced rate. Entrance fee at Galliera-Museum of Fashion depends from one temporary exhibition to another