Secret society of urban explorers in Paris

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Back in 2004, an art collective called La Mexicaine de la Perforation (LMDP) was in the news for creating a true "underground" cinema 60 feet beneath the streets of Paris. The spokesperson for La Mexicaine de la Perforation was Lazar Kunstmann, who has since revealed that LMDP is just one part of a large urban exploration group called UX. Kunstmann recently documented the secret society's efforts in a book titled La culture en clandestins: L’UX. The literary journal brick profiles Kunstmann and his co-conspirators' clandestine adventures, including their efforts to repair The Paris Panthéon’s 19th century clock, broken since the 1960s. From Brick (photo from National Geographic):

Although the catacombs are covered in graffiti tags, there are also sudden instances of art–amateur gargoyles, carved castles, life-sized sculptures of cataphiles. Crato brings me to La Plage, “the beach,” a large gallery with a sand-packed floor. Our flashlights sweep across wide murals: Hokusai waves and Max Ernst-like portraits. In the Hall of Anubis we sit at a table chiselled out of stone. We light candles, drink beer, share cookies and chocolate. I am absolutely enchanted. I have no idea of the time.

For the most part, cataphiles don’t dispute Kunstmann’s characterization of them. BVH says his friends enjoy “taking photos, exploring a particular area, repairing things, going to spots where no one has visited for a long time.” The community’s holy grail, he suggests, is to clandestinely enter the Catacombs Museum. I balk at this–the same place you can visit for just eight euro, six days a week? “Yes,” he agrees, “but that’s the goal of tons of cataphiles. And they succeed almost every year–every year there’s a hole that’s drilled.”

When cataphiles do stage large events, they tend to be one-off parties–not permanent “transformational” cinema installations. Crato remembers someone bringing down oysters–stupid, silly, “just as heavy on the way back as on the way down.” BVH has organized two Breton-themed shindigs, where more than three hundred people joined dancers, musicians, and amateur chefs cooking subterranean crêpes. Among the largest celebrations was a farewell to Commandant Jean-Claude Saratte in 2000. Head of the catacomb police for twenty-one years, Saratte was respected for his knowledge, instincts, and moderation–pursuing the drug user, vandal, or “tibia collector” instead of the gentle catacomb geek.

"The Lizard, the Catacombs, and the Clock: The Story of Paris’s Most Secret Underground Society" (Thanks, Vann Hall!)