The Empire of Death (Paris, FR)

“So are you coming?” asked my father as he started to slowly descend the spiral stairs into the dark hidden area below the Pisa cathedral. I hesitated for a moment as the curiosity of what was below collided with the fear caused by my imagination.

“They’re just inside large-decorated marble and stone boxes,” my father explained trying to convince me. “No way,” I replied.

While I waited for my father to resurface I walked around relived that I had escaped the experience of being chased by resurrected decomposing priest and rich monarchs buried in those roman sarcophagi below. I walked around the large cathedral staring up at the large frescos and vaulted ceiling. Then, I reached a black marble alter and froze in awe. There it was: the very thing I had just said no to. A tall glass-paned sarcophagus with a spotlight on a skeleton of an important priest.

“Is that real?” I asked one of the workers. They politely smiled and replied in Italian, “Si, guarda i piedi.” “Look at the feet?” I thought puzzled.

There they were the white long skinny bones of a human foot peaking out from the decorative sheet covering the rest of the body. I was so distracted by the ornate golden mask placed over the skeleton’s face that I had missed the truth. Now I was staring intensely at this body inside a display case waiting for it to animate. I walked away intrigued at the fact that this skeleton was displayed like some kind of show, while all the others were hidden underground. If death was so prominently displayed out here than something much darker must be in the crypt kept out of sight.

Several years later I stood at a large dark green entrance at the top of a spiral stair case. “So are you coming?” asked my friends excited by the thought of heading down below the streets of Paris. “Of course!” I said. This was my chance to finally see what I had missed in Pisa and stare 200 year old death in the face. Surely by now I was old enough to not be terrified by dead bodies in old boxes, besides these bodies had been dead for so long that all that should be left was bone.

The tour began in small white rooms whose walls were covered entirely with information and photographs of the catacombs. This served as a last point of calm. As you stepped out of the last room into the low ceiling path of the catacombs there was a feeling of having less oxygen in a cramped space and nothing but darkness ahead. Our feet crunched on the gravel-covered floor. We passed two large columns painted black and white and reached a marble doorway with the inscription “Arrètte! C’est ici l’empire de la mort.”

Empire of Death Door Paris CatacombsI pointed up and told my friends, “Well, I guess we are entering The Empire of Death.” “That is terrifying,” replied one of the girls as she walked slowly through the doorway. “No way!” a friend ahead of us in the path exclaimed, “Come look at the skulls.”

As promised past that doorway were innumerable bones perfectly staked against both sides of the path. Some stacks were taller then most of us and seemed to be perfectly organized in layers arraigned by bone type. Farther down the path we reached slightly bigger sections of the catacombs, which were still covered in bone stacks, but this time there were designs: crosses, hearts and arches all made up of precisely placed remains. “The poor workers who had to move all these bones from the cemeteries must have been pretty bored down here,” I said to my friends who were inspecting the designs more closely. “I guess,” one of them replied seeming a little disgusted. “What if they did this on purpose? Maybe this place was meant to be visited,” replied my other friend who was trying to get a good picture of one of the designs.

We continued on the path which got smaller again and surprised you every so often with a pitch black opening beside you were anything could be waiting to grab you. We were nearing the end now, but there was one last surprise. Carved into the left portion of this limestone path was a large scale and very detailed model of what looked like a very expensive French chateau. This perfectly lit museum quality display reminded me of that glass paned black marble sarcophagus in Pisa. Death was on display above and below here too without any reservations.

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Not So Scary (Orlando, FL)

Growing up in Florida I somehow had avoided going to Horror Nights In Universal Studios Orlando for years. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of paying $85+ to get the shit scared out of you, like who would voluntarily put themselves through such torture. So yeah I was scared, but I had been living on campus at UCF when an old high school friend just happened to be driving up to go to the parks with his family and wanted me to tag along. I was curious and scared but mostly excited because he said my hotel room was already paid for which included breakfast. Yay, free stuf – I mean friendship!

On my way to the park I was all in my own head thinking of the worst case scenario, hitting an unsuspecting employee that just jumped out at me. I knew that when it came to fight or flight response I always chose to fight; this was a certainty as I will never forget the time that my mom thought she’d be cute and jump out at me at home and my first reaction in the face of danger was a high kick that went up over her head and came down hard only missing her as she stepped back to avoid the hit.

Turns out though that the night was actually hilarious. See the trick to not getting chased by a bunch of recently escaped prisoners with bloody-loud chainsaws is to mostly remain calm. The ghouls and insane people feed on your fear and the louder you scream or faster you run just causes them to focus on you while others sit and laugh in enjoyment.

Horror Nights was filled with many haunted houses of varying themes, but my favorite had to be the one with the classic movie monsters where everything was black and white and accompanied by strategic strobe lights. It felt like you were in those old school monster flicks like Nosferatu, the Mummy and Frankenstein (Frankenstein is the doctor that animates the monster not the monster itself). After, having crawled under the Mummy’s low hanging crypt I was at the front of the group when we entered a black room at the end of which you could see the Bride of Frankenstein in obvious spotlight. The fact I could see her reassured me that nothing more than her trying to scare me was bound to happen, I was mentally ready for her to attack.

I walked towards her eyes totally fixated and tension rising and I had been forced to the front of the group somehow. As the strobe light intensified and the music rose I saw a huge shadow barreling toward me from my left peripheral. Once, I realized it was too late I felt paralyzed as one part of me wanted me to run away and the other knew there was no point because the lady Frankenstein was blocking my way. I braced for the biggest scare of the night as Frankenstein jumped up before landing in front of me and letting out an extremely loud scream and all I could do was stare at him right in the face and taunt him with a charming kiss and a laugh.

 

 

Flamenco Vs. Flamenco (Seville, ES / Granada, ES)

If you think there is only one type of Flamenco in Spain you’d be wrong. As a trained dancer in more contemporary dances all I knew of flamenco was what was taught at one of the many dance schools I attended; red dresses with polk dots and a rather large fan. My trip to Spain however taught me that although Flamencos was heavily influenced by the French Ballet it can be performed in varying intensities.

The Flamenco that is danced inside small white caves in Granada I would describe as having a more leisurely and adagio pace. The space felt cramped not only because of the amount of people they crammed into such a small space, but because the dancers took turns sitting and waiting for their turn to perform just to the left of the stage. I did not enjoy this Flamenco as it lacked, in my opinion, the emotion and intensity I was expecting and it did not hold my attention. The performance was accompanied by plenty of wine and a stage lit with color changing lights like a cheap ploy to get you to “look over here!”

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Seville though, oh Seville delivered! There’s a clear reason why Seville has it’s own Museo del Baile Flamenco and dance academy because after you see one show you’ll want to learn this performing art too. The Seville performance was held in a large atrium, the center piece of the museum which was built inside of an 18th century building on the foundations of a Roman temple, on a raised all black stage. The show began with a single female dancer performing in a beautifully adorned black outfit with lace detailing accompanied by beautiful guitar music that slowly built to a greater intensity in response to the dancer’s movements. Then a male dancer performed solo, highlighting the pronounced differences in female and male Flamenco movements. The whole show reached a climax, after a quick costume change for both dancers, in a battle of marked and precise movements perfectly complemented with guitar and intense shouts and wails of tragic agony intermixed with a story of a love lost performed by the guitarist. It was truly one of the most beautiful dance shows I have ever seen.

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