A series of glitches allows the infrastructure of Paris to be accessed through various portals. Along with our ever generous host Marc, I joined Brad and L’Ottoire for some Parisien place hacking, with Dsankt, Mrs Dsankt and Olivier joining us at times across the weekend too. I use the term coined by Brad as I felt that at times we were not exploring as such; the places we were accessing had been previously ‘hacked*’ and we were enjoying the fruits of the hard work of others. On the contrary, at times we immersed ourselves in the unknown and pushed for the new, when Paris’ delights are well known to many.
*To program (a computer [a place]) for pleasure or compulsively; especially, to try to defeat the security systems and gain unauthorized access to a computer [place].The verticality of the city has been discussed by Brad and has become a theme of our exploits of the last month in particular, with several subterrannean environments being exploited both for our pleasure and to satisfy a curiousity, along with a renewed interest in the construction sites that push cranes and scaffold into the night skies. Paris offered opportunities for both the high and low, and in true form, Marc started our trip by driving us to a crane and suggesting that we climb it.
A security cabin sat in the corner of the site, the crane shielded by three corners of the almost complete structure. Perhaps 30 stories was the crane, and as we climbed from the base we moved slowly to the top, the winds picking up around us causing us to take extra care with the cold metal ladders against our already cold hands. The reward at the top of the crane was a view across to a hazy La Defense, with the iconic Tour Eiffel glowing in the distance. We stayed for maybe 30 minutes on the crane, enjoying both the view, the serenity and the immediacy of the experience’s rewards, before bouncing across a walkway into the building itself to climb around the exposed roofspace.
We moved away and descended into the recent extension of the Metro, a giant concrete tunnel allowing Ligne Douze to extend into one of Paris’ many suburbs, and giving extra space for a workshop at the end of the line. Despite the jitters that seem to follow me when I descend into subterranean transit, we navigated to the end of the tunnel and back towards the part built station. The digging technique allows a quick setting mud to cake onto the roughly dug tunnels before a more permanent concrete panel is installed, making up the tunnel walls.
L’Ottoire described the height and shape of the tunnel as being reminiscient to that of Confluence, except lacking the junction and the red brick. No wonder the Canadian hydro-electric masterpiece is held in such high regard, for this was sizeable enough. I couldn’t imagine the intensity of a tunnel slightly larger than this with the Niagara falls behind it. The glitch at Confluence has been rectified by concrete 3 metres deep, so the closest you’ll get to experiencing it is through the various writings and photographs online Back in reality, we posed like ninj0rz and did one, hitting the hay within seconds of walking through Marc’s door.
The subsequent night, we joined with Olivier and Dsankt, the man who apparently holds les clés de la ville, accompanied by his wellyboot clad lady, to hit firstly a kebab shop (chips and vegemite?) and subsequently a manhole that led us to a bridge. Only in Paris would the key to the underground be a bottle opener. Into the tunnels we delved, stopping for half an hour just to talk about the experiences and attitudes we have and have had following this pursuit of urbania. Chilling with some Maximator under and over Paris, where else would I rather be?
The structure of every city is different. London offers a rigidity that restricts yet also defines, Stockholm apparently has a system that allows one to traverse between sewers, service tunnels and metro lines. Paris defies all imagination to take one from the sewers to the water supply system, again passing over the river on the top of a bridge, and back into the subterranea again, in sewer form. It wouldn’t surprise me if the catacombs could be accessed from some point in this network as well, but we didn’t stick around to find out. Paris, Je t’aime.
The numbers were thinned slightly and the RER tunnels accessed, a warren of walkways, rooms, ladders and staircases passed en route to the attraction du jour, the tube like tunnels that serve the suburban trains. The hard work of others in accessing the more permanent sector of Paris’ underground (the catas somehow appear both permanent and transcient) allowed me to kick back and just enjoy being tens of metres below ground.
The risks in a train tunnel are of course obvious: Trains and workers roam the tunnels at an almost planned schedule of chaos. I’ve only really experienced London in this sense, having to go by the knowledge of Marc and Dsankt on this occasion. Being in there in the middle of the night always helps with the train issue, but the unease that workers would arrive and 5 of us would have to exit pronto was enough to keep us alert.
A stroll to the next point was promised and granted, and a stroll was all it took to get to Arsenal, one of the several abandoned stations of the system. Covered from head to toe in Graffiti, it is evident that access has been regularly feasible.
Although I had for some reason formed expectations that our adventures this weekend were going to be dominated by activities related to the Metro, I am always happy to leave a trip to Paris in the capable hands of Marc. Marc will always suprise, inspire and delight, and it is his infectious enthusiasm that assisted in gathering a crowd of friends in a foreign city to celebrate his birthday.
The glitch here is that you will never secure the system. No subterrannean network of train tunnels can be closed off in it’s entirety, for there are too many potential routes in. The passengers take a route in each day, and the trains surface on the periphery of the routes. These are portals to the outside, and it is through these differing types of portal that the glitches can be found. We have realised on this trip that to explore a system like this is to find the glitch, however that might be. Providing that the knowledge of the glitch in the system is protected, the system is open. Dsankt’s demolition of the Paris metro, published late in December 2010, will probably both crash your computer and inspire you to go and push for the glitches around you. What could be more rewarding?
Having had our mandatory metro moment, we prepared next by sleeping, awaking, dining on solid French food together, and donning no waders, for the sewers were what we were hitting next. Parking next to a building of substantial stature, we set about finding appropriate lids to pop, hunting specifically for the sewers that Félix Nadar had documented in the mid 19th century. We may think that what were doing is sometimes perhaps new, but there’s always somebody to rain on your parade. Nadar documented the underside of Paris with his camera to expose the relatively new Parisien system, and his photos were greeted with the bewilderment that I and many others have recieved myself across 2010-11, as well as the amazement of this city beneath a city.
What I noted about Paris’ sewers was the difference to those of London. Paris has much wider tunnels with deep channels running in the middle; carts once ran along the edges of the channels and the water supply pipes are fed through the same tunnels. London meanwhile is a system of separates. Nadar’s Dungeon was a chamber close to the collector, assumedly a former point of access for those that fitted the huge water pipes. Cobwebs brushed our faces and at one point hung thick across the room. These were brushed aside and all of a sudden, it felt like we were playing Tomb Raider.
Paris has a lot to offer to explorers, both physically and socially, and the populace were sufficiently uninterested in our activities that we could stand by a main road in a suburb at 5am, lifting lids without being stopped, approached or reprimanded. Already we’re planning another trip to exploit further glitches and to find some of our own.
Thanks to Marc, Brad, Otter, Ds, Mrs Ds, Olivier and Cat for making this weekend the weekend that it was.