While I was watching Les Miserables, I never once thought of the sewers of Paris as having a major role in the story. Even though I watched how the heroic Jean Valjean carried poor Marius to safety through the filthy and dark tunnels, it wasn’t until I decided to go to the Musée des Égouts, that I gained a greater appreciation for what’s below the elegant boutiques and cozy cafes of Paris. The museum is dedicated to everything that has to do with the sewage system, and what makes it so special is that the exhibits are right next to an active sewage channel .
“Paris has another Paris under herself; a Paris of sewers; which has its streets, its crossings, its squares, its blind alleys, its arteries, and its circulation, which is slime, minus the human form.” (Les Miserables, Jean Valjean; Book II, ch.1)
It was after a string of cholera epidemics in the 1830s, that the system of new sewers were constructed, and it quickly became the pride of Paris. During the late 1800’s, the sewage system became so popular that the sewers had mechanized carts for the tourists.
The museum is organized in a way in which you are actually standing over an active sewer channel and I must admit that it is difficult to ignore the smell. At one point, the ceiling was leaking, but even with semi-wet floors and murky water flowing underneath your feet, it was really interesting and definitely worth it. The good thing is that museum is relatively small, so I saw everything in about an hour.
After having exposed my sense of smell to the sewage system of Paris, I made it my mission to buy a french perfume. I wanted to explore some of the small perfume boutique you see in the movies (Annick Goutal and Fragonard), but I ended up in the Sephora store located on the Champ-Elysee which had an extremely large selection of french perfumes (I didn’t know Sephora was a French brand).