Deep underground

Deep underground

I’m interested in deep holes. Passages underground. Attentive readers will have realised as much from the last few months of entries. When I was in a certain north English town almost a decade ago now, there was a deep well in our back garden. It went, so they said, down to the level of the river. We were on a hill, the river was many metres below. One of my friends, an avid climber, descended into the hole, going down instead of up, towards the core. But at the bottom there was nothing, not even water. The hole was not deep enough. We carefully covered the well. Sitting outside on one of the few evening where one could sit outside, chairs above the void, nervous thoughts would pass through my mind about the mysterious dry not-so-deep well under my feet when I should have been enjoying my coffee and toast.

Here where I live all manner of strange things can be seen even at ‘God’s own noon’ as a friend would have said, if one looks at things in the right way. A few metres from where I am writing this, chalky footsteps cover the pavement, leading away from a small one-story building. What happens in there? This building is just a portal, a door. These people who crowd the pavements come from underground. It is the exit to Paris’ Catacombs, that fragment of the city’s immense subterranean network transformed into a charnel house sometime in the nineteenth century. It took one and half years of funerals to move the bones from the city’s most insalubrious locations, such as the Cimitere des Innocents at Les Halles. Ack! Today all this is a tourist attraction.

Last weekend I was in Heidelberg, visiting a friend, and we climbed the hills surrounding the town. At the top, a well. A very very deep well. Or was it really a well? The hole descended 80 metres, and there was no water at the bottom. The druids perhaps had dug this hole. A direct entrance to somewhere else, or more likely an exit, if you were unfortunate enough to be shoved in there on the night of a full moon. I thought of that other deep hole discovered in the foundations of Chartres, at the zero-point of the cathedral, the reason why the building is where it is. Was it that in both cases some weird “psycho-geographic” (as Iain Sinclair would say) confluence of forces had led people to believe that digging this deep hole was just exactly the thing they should do? But I suspect their constant hunger and abject fear of nature and natural events had probably more to do with it, I say from the viewpoint of the rational 21st century astronomer.

The point of all this? There is a parallel Universe, perhaps metres from our own. Of which we are normally completely unaware. There’s a world going on … underground! As Mr. Waits sung many years ago. But is that Universe really just a bunch of abandoned tunnels left behind by mediaeval Parisian stone masons ? Just deep dry wells dug by murderous undernourished druids? For reflection.

Leave a Reply