A cunning combination of drizzle and cold wind made walking down my wee street less than an enjoyable stroll. Wind whipped my navy blue cloak in a frenzy around my legs; slow fine rain dampening everything before me on this black winter’s eve..
Sardine has snuggled deeply into my bag, covering my treasured book in the process, giving me comfort in the certainty that the parchment and vellum pages within the black and iron clasped tome are safe from the rain.
Moving through the night, I enter the Pigalle area of Paris; 20 bis, rue Chaptal to a theatre of relatively short history that today specialises in plays done in sign language. This was not always the case, and is certainly not as recall it, yet here I stand.
Death had spoken to me of ‘time slipping’ or ‘flitting’ when she had cut my necrobilical cord earlier. After due consideration of what she had said, I stood and stared at the old theatre; concentrating on a window I recognised as being original to the first opening.
Very little happened initially. My eyes watered slightly, although I believe the inclement nature of the weather may have been the cause. Sardine had begun to shift within her nest, and I was about to say something to her when the light gave a small flicker, and the facade of the theatre changed before me. It was very much like watching stop motion film. The drizzle and the cold wind vanished; the odours of horse and sweat and dirt increased immensely; and the people wandering past had stepped back one hundred and fifteen years in fashion.
There in all her glory was ‘Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol’ and this the 1897 I had been hoping to find. By appearance I had done so successfully; and had managed to do it with Sardine still intact.
‘Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol’ had been a favourite of mine from 1897 until the late 1940’s. It was a theatre that showed rather macabre plays that, whilst scaring the pants off the general public, was an absolute hoot to those of us that were infected with an abundance of life. Specifically as the blood, gore, and innuendo, though real enough by appearance, was a far cry from the horrors we ourselves had encountered first hand. Our laughter was oft derived from the reactions of the crowd, more than the plays themselves. Especially as the theatre was in an old chapel.
At one stage one of the directors hired a playwright, and an experimental psychologist to write plays on insanity and the amoral in general.
There were plays about nanny’s strangling the children in her charge; another about a surgeon who discovers his wife’s lover on the operating table in front of him. He then turns the man into something of a zombie, only to have the man come zombie stab him in the head with a chisel. The list goes on, and they would pump out five or six plays a day. We roared our way through all of them.
It wasn’t actually the theatre I specifically came to see requiring the time slip I had to make to get here.
It was not the audience.
Nor was it the staff.
My reason being what lay within the tunnels below it.
Sardine had just begun to squirm.
The leftmost front door of the theatre was exactly as I recalled. Pressing the appropriate parts of the door in a sequence I am astounded to recall, caused, as I had dreaded it would not, to open inward ever so slightly. Forming enough of a gap to fit my hand and arm into, allowing me to undo the chain secreted there.
Sliding through the door I close it behind me, reattaching the chain as required. The passage I was in was entirely devoid of light, and I extended my arms out either side of me, touching the walls at my greatest extension. There was a musty smell about the place, and the dampness that clung to me was not entirely as a result of the rainfall I had just experienced.
Before I start my journey down this ancient brick walled and stoned floor tunnel, I sink to my knees and extract a sleeping Sardine from my haversack. In the same movement I place her on to the floor in the inky blackness before me. Stepping forward with care, I run my left hand against the wall as I go. After a good ten metres I found what I was after. A dozen or so dark lanterns suspended on hooks, placed there for the traveller, for the use of all. I lift the first one I feel, and gently brush the top of the lantern with the back of my hand, I happily find it is hot to the touch. Knowing now that my little lantern is lit, I opened the front, and a gentle yellow light seeps out ahead of me.
The walk I begin to walk will take me at least an hour to complete, and cat and I make a start down the narrow sloping passage.
After about half an hour of nostalgia filled strolling, the path begins to dip further; five minutes later it changes direction altogether, and makes a break toward the Seine. Another fifteen minutes finds Sardine and myself turning into a narrow tunnel to our left. There, a steep and lengthy staircase awaits us, a hint of the eldritch begins to unfold around we pair. The stone stairs we descend are heavily worn in their centre; century’s worth of use transferring them to a basin like shape.
Reaching the bottom, the less inviting aroma is heavily evident, and I quicken my step with the excitement I am beginning to feel.
After passing through two more doors and a crumbling set of downward running steps, we reach our target. The sewers.
There is light enough now in the gloom for me to hang my borrowed lantern on a hook, purposely built for it. Placing my satchel on the dry and dusty floor, Sardine slowly, languidly, strolls over and steps into it. Whilst she curls herself into a catty ball of fur; I throw the flap of the bag over her, and stand all in one motion.
The sewers themselves aren’t actually as revolting as one may have thought. Yes they were not overly kind to the nose, but they were not entirely over bearing. Bricks, the colour of terracotta, form circular walls. These tunnels running away in an octopus like fashion, beneath the most beautiful city in the world. Floors, or lack thereof, contain the detritus and excrement of humanity; but again not in any particularly large amount. There is more dirt and mud than anything else, all thanks to recent heavy rains.
Turning left I made my way along a narrow stone path jutting out of the wall, roughly a metre above the mud and deluge. A scum of semi luminous algae that coated these walls, allowing light enough for me to move along at a steady place. Ten minutes further I reached a heavy, ages darkened door. My target and destination; I rapped heavily upon it and waited.
To my absolute joy, my knock not was only heard but answered. The youthful face that peered from behind let out a squeal of unabridged joy, throwing the door open completely; to then embrace me in a hug that took my breath away. Releasing me, she held my face in her hands, kissing me on either cheek, sniffing a tear away in the process.
Her name was Cat. She was the dearest friend I had had back in Then. Not only was she beautiful in face, body, manner, and feline form; she was a fellow Scot, and tales of her exploits, mostly fanciful, yet occasionally accurate, are known throughout that magnificent land. Sadly, she, like so many of us is no more than a scratching in the regional histories of mythology and folklore. Cat, her full name being Cat Sidhe, is a witch with the ability to transform into a black cat with a white belly. Locals believed she could only transform back from being a cat eight times, and on the ninth transformation, she would remain a cat forever. Other peasants and the like for 500 years between the dark and middle ages, believed that if they left a dish of milk out for her on the Hallows Even, their house would be blessed; should they not, then the milking cows would dry.
When I questioned her about this three or four hundred years ago whilst in Prague, all but pickled on Absinth, Cat burst out laughing, spitting the potent spirit everywhere. She then transformed with a ‘pop’ into the most beautiful black cat; white tummy included and easily the size of a large Great Dane. She then stood, walked around the table, and with another ‘pop’ there she was back in human for. Albeit, a very naked human form.
“Bast my beautiful friend, like you, I too am a witch. Also like you I have been cursed with an abundance of life.” said Cat in a voice of drunken good humour. “The only things the peasants and farmers got right with the things that were said about me were, putting a dish of milk out on Hallows Even meant their bothie would be blessed. The peasant children would generally steal the milk, giving them something in their belly for once. And I can change form whenever I like, not the standard nine lives thing. The rest, my friend, is as they say, ‘history’.”
TBC. This is the last I will be posting from ‘Bast’, should you have an interest in reading more, contact me via the links below and who know’s what could happen. Click the lower picture above, Bob Gleldof could watch all nation’s die, and he just doesn’t care at all.
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