If you want to avoid traveling with relatives, tell them you
want to visit the Parisian sewer system. There's a real tour, I
swear, complete with guides and informative videos. Our intrepid
correspondent, Cash Peters, braved the underground on this
surprisingly popular, Bad Taste Tour. Now, as always, please be
forewarned--some folks find our Bad Taste Tours, well, distasteful to
say the least. Just remember, we didn't invent this one. It's even
in the guidebooks.
Bad Taste Tour: The Sewers of Paris
by Cash Peters
Believe me, if there was a list of places I never wanted to visit, ever, the Paris sewer system would be right at the top of it, second only to Hell. Although the man from the Parisian tourist office, Herve Bucaille, got quite defensive when I said so.
Herve: Well, it's one of the attractions of Paris.
Cash: It's not an attraction, it's horrible.
Herve: "No. We can't say that. People want to discover unusual things, including the sewers. Many people want to discover all the aspects of Paris."
Well not me, pal. I mean, why on earth would you pay money to see other people's droppings?
Video voice: "The Paris sewers are rather like a river system with local sewers feeding into the main drains..."
That's their incredibly cheerful video, called 'Who the hell cares?" On the tour, I had a personal guide (who didn't speak much English) and an interpreter--Melanie Fecteau--who didn't speak much English either, as it turns out. She tried to make sense of this ridiculous excursion.
Melanie: "It's interesting to people to know, when they use the toilet or take a shower, where it goes and what they pay taxes for?
Cash: But I'd trust them. It goes down pipes into the ground. That's fine. Why do Parisians want to know?"
Melanie: "They want to know what's happening and how it works, how the town is clean and everything...they don't mind if it's hot and it smells bad."
Cash: "Is it a good place to bring a date? I'll take that as a no.
Frankly, they may as well print the words, 'you will be disappointed' on the ticket before you go in. Once you're underground you enter a vast barforama of concrete tunnels filled with a continuous gushing river of...human waste. Are we all clear what 'human waste' is? Good. Because there's miles and miles of it."
Melanie: "Now - you smell it? Can you smell?"
Cash: "Oh yes. Yeah I can smell."
Melanie: Now we're here, inside."
Video voice: "Under each street more than 2000 kilometers of the easy-to-visit galleries collect domestic waste water and rainwater..."
I love his enthusiasm, don't you? Anyway, every house throughout the city is numbered, not only in the street, but underground too just next to the waste pipe. So, take a dump in Paris, and there's every chance that a bunch of tourists will be standing underneath watching it drop. I learned that from my tour guide, Jose.
Of course, many European tours are interactive. This one's only interactive if you fall in.
Jose: "The horrible thing is when you fall down in the water. You have to close your mouth."
Cash: "Well, obviously you have to close your mouth."
Jose: "It's not good."
Keeping the drainage channels clear is only one of Jose's duties. He also has the enviable job of searching the rivers of filth for lost objects.
Cash: "What's the most unusual thing they found down here?"
Cash: "Teeth and what else?"
Jose: "A crocodile."
Cash: "And what else?"
Jose: "Fish, keys, babies..."
Cash: "They put babies down the sewers? Babies, crocodiles, teeth, keys."
Jose: "A lot of keys."
The length of the tour is tailored, I guess, to how sick you're feeling. Frankly, after twenty minutes, you're ready to throw a bag over your head and tie it at the neck. The secret, I discovered, is to keep walking and just hope you don't catch something.
Cash: "This smell is now overwhelming. I'm feeling quite strange."
Jose: "You will collapse?"
Jose: "I'm feeling okay."
Cash: "Oh, good for you. I'm feeling a bit ill."
Jose: "Because of the trip?"
Cash: "Because it's hot and smelly and pooey."
Video voice: "Through the gravitational effect of the natural incline of the land, this whole system carries 1300 cubic meters of waste water to d'Achese Sewage Treatment Plant every day."
I wonder if he knows that what he's saying isn't the least bit interesting. But hey, perhaps I'm being too harsh. It's possible some people do find things like this fascinating. Well, it is! To double-check, I cornered a few foreign tourists before I left to find out what they thought of the sewers.
Cash: "What do you think of this?"
First Tourist: "It's something to visit once in a lifetime."
Cash: "But never again."
First Tourist: "No."
Cash: "What about you? You have a leaflet over your nose. Is the smell too bad for you?"
Second Tourist: "Yeah, too bad."
3rd Tourist: "It smells too bad."
Cash: "And you know what that smell is?"
3rd Tourist: "No. Not really."
Cash: "It's poo."
3rd Tourist: "Poo?"
Cash: "Ah, c'est poo, oui."
So what did I learn? First, that I hate sewers. And second, well, that's about it really. In some ways, the tour is unforgettable - though I've been told therapy can help -- so if you're interested in going there yourself, then...oh, come on, who are we kidding, that's not going to happen.
In Paris, I'm Cash Peters for the Savvy Traveler.