Photo Of The Day: Day Of The Dead

photo of the day - Paris skulls
Hope you all had a happy Halloween, and came up with some creative travel costumes (my family and I went as Matryoshkas, or Russian nesting dolls). Now that the calendar has flipped over into November, it’s a time to honor our beloved who have passed on All Saints’ Day, or as it is known in Mexico, Dia de los Muertos. Skeletons and skulls are a pretty common theme in Day of the Dead decor and art, as demonstrated by our own Pam Mandel’s Halloween costume, continuing on the scary feel of Halloween. The skulls in today’s Photo of the Day aren’t Mexican, they’re French, from the Paris catacombs, which contain the bones of millions of Parisians. The remains are made extra spooky with the company of a devil, of the stuffed toy Tasmanian sort, though I suspect he was an addition by Australian photographer BaboMike.

If you can’t make it to Mexico this year, Denver has some Day of the Dead events too.

We like being scared year-round, so add your spookiest shots to the Gadling Flickr pool for an upcoming Photo of the Day.

[Photo credit: Flickr user BaboMike]

Video: Bones And Art In The Paris Catacombs

You’ve probably seen videos or photos of the famous Paris Catacombs, with their miles of ossuaries holding the bones of some six million Parisians. The catacombs were created in the 18th century from existing underground quarries, and these quarries, tunnels, and other mysterious underground spaces create a network under Paris measuring more than 180 miles. It’s truly a city under the city, with its own secret life.

This video, created by some intrepid urban explorers, shows parts of the Paris Catacombs you won’t see on the official tour: rooms filled with graffiti and giant murals, even a large stone model of a castle. Despite their reputation as burial places, the tunnels and rooms beneath Paris seem to have a lot of life in them.

The Parisians who make these works of art, called cataphiles, also sponsor underground parties, meetings, even a cinema. To learn more about these interesting folks, check out this article.

The catacombs of Rome


“There were 500,000 people buried here,” my guide whispers.

She leads me down a dimly lit, narrow passage that seems to go on forever. To either side the rough walls are lined with small niches.

“These are where the bodies were kept. There are twenty kilometers of tunnels, and while most of the tombs are now empty, some are still unopened.”

We are in the Catacombs of Domitilla, one of the largest of a half dozen underground burial places dug out by Christians during the second and third centuries AD, when most of the Roman Empire was still pagan. My guide, a knowledgeable young Polish woman, is leading me through a warren of passageways, rooms, even subterranean churches. Incredible facts drop from her mouth every minute.

“This is the oldest of the catacombs with some of the earliest Christian paintings anywhere. There’s even a painting of the Last Supper that’s 1,800 years old.”

The frescoes are tucked away in little vaults built by wealthy families, or on the domes of small mausoleums. They show simple Christian scenes–the Good Shepard, baptism, the saints, painted in a capable but not overly talented hand.

“Since most people were pagan, the early Christians had trouble getting good artists. You can see it with the inscriptions too. They’re not done in orderly lines and clear letters like you see on monuments above ground.”

Somehow that makes me like them more, that these paintings were done by common people, not famous artists. The ones showing prayer are the most evocative because they seem to portray real individuals as they looked in life. They all take the same pose–with arms flexed outwards, palms up.

“This is how everyone prayed back then, both pagans and Christians,” my guide explains.

“Shi’ite Muslims still start their prayers in that pose,” I say.

She gives me a narrow look before leading me down another hallway. We pass a vertical shaft where we can still see small footholds cut into the side for the original builders to climb to the levels above and below us. The walls and ceiling of the tunnels are rough, with traces of the last cuts of the pick clearly visible. The stone is volcanic tufa, a rock so soft that it can be scraped with a fingernail, yet compact enough that it can support an immense amount of weight.

My guide stops in the middle of the hall and points to the wall.

“Look, this one is still buried here.”

One of the niches is sealed up with a rectangular slab. I know I’m not supposed to touch but I do anyway, pressing my hand against the cool, damp stone. Inches beyond my warm flesh lie the cold bones of one of the earliest followers of the world’s biggest religion. What I’d give to talk to him or her for just five minutes. My guide notices what I’m doing and smiles.

“Most of the bones were removed in the Middle Ages to protect them from relic hunters, but a few hundred tombs still remain unopened,” she explains.

%Gallery-102540%Sadly this slab is blank. Some have the person’s name carved on them. In some sections of the tunnel fragments of these tomb facings have been plastered onto the wall by later hands. The earliest inscriptions are in Greek, the language of the New Testament. Later ones, dating to the fourth century when Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, are in Latin.

Pagan Romans cremated their dead, but Christians believed in resurrection and practiced burial so the body could rise up on Judgment Day. The Roman Empire was generally tolerant of other religions, incorporating new gods into the existing pantheon, but it looked upon monotheistic Christianity and Judaism with mistrust. While followers of Jupiter or Mithras or Ra acknowledged the existence of other gods, the monotheists dismissed all other gods as impostors or demons. Even worse, they refused to sacrifice to the deified emperors. Several emperors persecuted them, although the extent and violence of these persecutions have been exaggerated by early Christian chroniclers. The image of thousands of Christians being thrown to the lions is myth. People were sometimes killed, but more often their churches would be destroyed and property confiscated. The main victims were church leaders like bishops and early popes, some of whom are buried here; regular Christians were generally left alone. Many of the biggest catacombs were built right under the Appian Way, the main road leading into the city and lined with the tombs of wealthy pagans. While everyone knew where they were, most pagans were content to leave the Christians to their strange rituals as long as they kept out of sight and didn’t cause trouble.

Two other networks of catacombs along the Appian Way are popular with visitors. The Catacombs of San Callisto are as impressive as those of Domitilla and have several good frescoes. The Catacombs of San Sebastiano, under the church of the same name, are smaller and less well preserved, yet there’s an interesting room used for funeral banquets where early Christians carved their names or the names of their departed loved ones along with prayers. All three catacombs can be seen in a single day.

The catacombs stay at a constant 15°C (59°F), so it’s best to bring a long-sleeved shirt or light sweater. Photography is not allowed. I won’t ask how GerardM at Wikimedia Commons got the above image, or how the photographers who took the pictures of the frescoes in the attached gallery got theirs. I’ll assume they went through the red tape to get permission from Papal Commission of Archaeology. I’ve heard that if I do the same I can get a papal archaeologist to guide me through parts of the catacombs closed to regular visitors. My guide warns me I need a valid reason and lots of patience with bureaucracy. Perhaps next year I’ll be back.

“We’re nearing the end of the tour,” my guide says, “but I have one last thing to show you.”

We come to a large, empty tomb that has been converted into a display case for artifacts found by the archaeologists. Through the metal grille I see oil lamps the Christians used to find their way through the dark, shells that were pressed into the wall near a tomb to help identify the occupant, and bits of cheap glass jewelry.

In one corner are a collection of little ceramic animals, dolls, and rattles, simple toys put in front of the graves of children.

Don’t miss the rest of my Vacation with the Dead: Exploring Rome’s Sinister Side.

Coming up next: The Death of Paganism!

19 perfect dive bars

We need dive bars more than we care to admit. They are the counterweight to a world overflowing with upscale lounges and designer “mixologist” cocktails, a way to keep it simple, hang out with friends old and new and tip back our favorite beverage. Gadling is a big fan of dive bars too. That’s why we’ve put together this list of 19 of our favorites. Where’s your favorite dive bar? Leave us a tip in the comments.

Crystal Cafe – Raton, New Mexico
The most remarkable thing about Crystal Cafe is the light up dance floor. That and the decor make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time, and that a disco maniac in a polyester suit will walk through the door at any moment. The bar is entirely retro, but not because they’re trying — the owners just haven’t changed anything since when the small town its located in was more happening.

Norma’s (a.k.a. the Domino Club) – St. Croix, USVI
Norma’s
is famous for two reasons: beer drinking pigs and a local brew called Mama Wanna. Animal rights concerns resulted in the pigs getting switched to non-alcoholic beer, but the patrons aren’t so restricted. Mama Wanna is some kind of wonderful spiced rum drink, and the local proprietress of this island hut tucked away in the jungle hasn’t even been tempted to sell the recipe yet. It packs quite a kick, so the locals use Elephant beer as a chaser.

Madam’s Organ Blues Bar – Washington, DC

With a slogan like, “Where the beautiful people go to get ugly,” how could you not love Madam’s Organ Blues Bar? Despite the popularity this bar enjoys, they haven’t managed to clean it up too much. There’s live music most nights, and more old couches upstairs than a used furniture store. After the bar closes, the local tradition is to grab a giant slice of pizza from one of the nearby all-night sliceries.Salty Dawg Saloon – Homer, Alaska
The buoys strung up on the outside of Salty Dawg Saloon, found inside a plain log and thatch cabin, hardly scream party time, but the partiers on the inside sure as heck do. The walls have thousands of dollar bills stapled to them, each one uniquely decorated by the patron who posted it. In true Alaska dive style, the floors are covered in sawdust. If you’re feeling frisky, you could even order a Salty Dog. The bar isn’t named for the drink, but they do serve them.

Neptune’s Net – Malibu, California
Despite this bar’s location in upscale Malibu, Neptune’s Net is a bit of a dive. You’ve got to fight (sometimes literally) for a table, it’s crowded with bikers, and the restrooms are of the portable variety. But it’s got some amazing fried seafood and beers a plenty. Plus, the outside tables have gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean.

Crossroads Bar & Grill – South Royalton, Vermont
It’s dark, it’s dank, and it’s darling. Crossroads is the perfect dive bar where you could wile away a night, or an entire winter, given the local weather patterns. Set in the small and idyllic town of South Royalton, this bar is a meeting place for long time locals and cerebral students from the nearby Vermont Law School. There’s even a collection of offensive bumper stickers posted behind the bar, if you forget your reading material.

Gentleman Jim’s – Gaithersburg, Maryland
It’s not often you get a dive bar with two floors of drinking, but they’ve managed to make it happen in this industrial complex tavern. Upstairs is a small, windowless bar with a bit of a Cheers feel, since the variety of the patrons tends to be limited. Downstairs is the restaurant area with a service bar open to the public. What makes this place worth mentioning is the pizza — square, with sweet tomato sauce and a swiss cheese blend. Try it on a Monday or Tuesday for half price, and the happy hours are competitive as well.

The Alley Cantina – Taos, New Mexico
If it weren’t for the local crowd, a ratty old games collection, and $2.50 margaritas every day from 5 to 7, the Alley Cantina might not have even qualified as a dive. But thanks to the shuffleboard, crooked pool table, and some old french game where you’ve got to flick checkers around with your thumb, this is the perfect place to hang out and have a beer, or five. They’ve even got food, if you’re into fried.

The Broken Spoke – Austin, Texas

The Broken Spoke has become legendary, perhaps regrettably to its loyal local clientele. It’s claim to fame is its long affair with country music, with legends like Willie Nelson having made regular appearances through the years. It’s got a country dance hall vibe, and they even offer blue plate special lunches to stick with the theme. Not a bad place to have a couple beers and get rowdy.

Norton Rats – Cusco, Peru
You might not guess that you could find a biker bar in a South American town at an elevation of 11,000 feet but, lo and behold, you can. There is simply no explanation for Norton Rats other than divine providence. They offer a wide selection of beer, and a view of the main plaza in Cusco from the narrow balconies. Flags from a hundred countries are nailed to the ceiling, giving you something to look at when your drinks get to you early due to the altitude. Even if the place has a bit of a divey vibe, its a welcome respite for travelers who have made it this far into the wild.

– The above was written by Writing Kimberly, Seed contributor.



Malachy’s – New York, New York
Malachy’s might be the most miserable place on Earth. Horrendous lighting, depressed staff, despondent clientele and a perfect Guinness every time. The fat, juicy 1/2 lb. burger is real good too. Somehow, the cook has been spared.

Nolan’s – Long Beach, New York
A free standing shack made of old cedar, Nolan’s looks like even the faintest ocean breeze will knock it over. Trashed motocycles and cars litter the adjacent lot. Every lifer in the place is crusty and pissed off. Coldest bottle of Bud ever served. Step out into the sun, across the street and stumble to the beach.

The Goat Hill Tavern – Costa Mesa, California
The Goat Hill Tavern, an out-of-the-way hole in Los Angeles Southern California, might be the region’s greatest anti-attraction. Hundreds of tap beers, cramped quarters, stale smoke and that God awful dive bar smell. Top it all off with the wannabe screenwriter next to you stirring his vodka with his finger while plotting his next “murder the movie exec” thriller at one in the afternoon. Lights, Camera, Misery!

PJ’s Pub – Baltimore, Maryland
Is PJ’s Pub the best daytime watering hole in history? Homemade Bloody Mary’s and baskets spicy Old Bay dusted steamed shrimp at noon chase away any hangover. Hours pass effortlessly until the Johns Hopkins engineering geeks and Lacrosse studs start to file in for their nightly revelry. Guys, if you’re lucky, maybe a girl will even show up.

Mission Hill Saloon – San Francisco, California
Mission Hill is the “Cheers” of dive bars. Dark, dingy and depressingly plain – but the misery stops there. Ice, ice cold beers served by good people. Excellent jukebox and locals that have no problem making you feel like a local.

The Cat’s Eye Pub – Baltimore, Maryland
Ah, the Cat’s Eye Pub. You can’t move, you can’t breathe. Old salts stare you down and threaten with daggers. Old cougars troll for new meat. Killer blues bands play way too loud, right in your ear. The lost leg of a dead sea captain hangs above the men’s urinal. Fun!

The Bronx Bar – Detroit, Michigan
The Bronx Bar is in the “happening” part of town, whatever that means. Great tunes, cold beers. Ultimately, it just looks real cool and divey from the outside. Pure American depression. Rejoice!

Catacombs Bar – Boulder, Colorado

Catacombs Bar is huge hole in the ground – literally. On a weeknight, it feels like “Land of the Lost.” Spacious and desolate, an alcoholic paleontologist’s dream. Tunes echo from the juke, drinks are served by pretentious, cruncher wannabes who are too cool for school. “Is there anybody out there?”

McSorley’s – New York, New York
Step down off street level and into history at McSorley’s. The oldest operating saloon in New York. Dingy, quiet – reverent even. Don’t go for the music, the TV, the pool table. Go there to drink, lament and repent. That’s what you do in a dive bar.

– The above was written by Drew Moss, Seed contributor.

Related:
* The 24 greatest cities in the world for drinking beer
* 15 more great cities for drinking beer
* The 20 greatest cities in the world for foodies
* The 25 greatest cities in the world for drinking wine

Paris catacombs vandalized, closed for repair

Paris’ catacombs, underground passages full of neatly stacked human bones, have been temporarily closed to the public after being vandalized.

A spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor’s office would not go into detail on the extent of the vandalism, which took place over the weekend, but said that the site would be closed because in its current state it was hazardous to visitors. According to the AP, a photo in a Paris newspaper showed “bones and skulls scattered along the walking paths”. There was no word on when the catacombs would reopen, but as they are a major tourist attraction visited by over 250,000 people each year, it seems that the city would do its best to clean the mess and repair any damage as soon as possible.

The catacombs open to the public are just one part of an 186-mile network underneath the city. The bones of over 6 million Parisians are contained here, having been moved to the site in the 18th and 19th centuries after the city’s cemeteries became overcrowded and contributed to the spread of disease.