Thursday, July 29, 2004

The Eiffel Tower


1. Destinations Fit For A Teenager   [return to synopsis]

When we planned this trip, a lot of our destinations were chosen with Ben in mind. You can't drag a 13 year old from from attraction to attraction, museum to museum, stopping to look for example at Dutch Masters one by one with their dark hues and somber subjects frowning down from massive gilded frames. You can't take a trip like that if you have a 13 year old. Heck, you can't really take a trip like that if you have anyone with you.

Climbing the Eiffel Tower. Going to the D-Day beaches. Crossing the Cher River in the galleries of Chenenceau. Spending a night on Mont Saint Michel. These were destinations we chose not only for ourselves, but also for Ben.

And the Eiffel Tower had been calling him for quite some time.

2. To The Eiffel Tower   [return to synopsis]

So after we had gobbled our sandwiches and guzzled our Oranginas and had rested our feet in our chairs along the sidewalk across the street from the Seine watching the setting sun... After that, we made our way to the tower.

We cut thru an alley as a shortcut. The Tower was now lit and stood shining at the other end making this the obvious route. We walked down the narrow street, weaving between parked cars and delivery trucks. And the alley abruptly ended as it hit the gardens under the Eiffel Tower.

It was here that Ben announced that he had to go to the bathroom. (This has been a 13 year long theme in my life, but at this point we are pretty much used to it.)

He was eyeing the bushes to our right. I was eyeing the two soldiers carrying automatic weapons ahead of us. And I was remembering yesterday when the guard at Les Invalides shouted to Ben and me (in English -- she knew we were Americans) not to sit on the grass. And I was also remembering yesterday when the police on the Champs de Mars told a father (no mere American, he) not to play soccer with his kids on the grass.

I think, I said, perhaps those soldiers wouldn't look kindly on it.

He looked at them and could see the silhouette of their battle fatigues and rifles. He agreed that it could wait.

3. At The Bottom   [return to synopsis]

To the southeast corner where one of the four legs of the tower came sweeping down from the sky and planted itself on its angled concrete foundation that for every ton of iron and steel weighing down from above pushed a ton back up (action-reaction stuff, you know)...

Around the corner into the plaza under the tower where people were milling around and lining up at the ticket booths at the base of each corner...

Ben went in search of ice cream, which he had found so refreshing at this very spot yesterday. We asked a ticket taker at the base of the southeast corner if there were bathrooms above.

Est-ce qu'il y a des toilettes en haut? I said pointing up.

Oui, he said, puffing his cheeks and rolling his head a little the way the French do to say, Sure!.

When Ben came back, he reported that the ice cream stand was closed. By that time we had bought tickets, so we got into line, gave our tickets to the helpful ticket taker (who now also pointed out that there were ground-level toilets under the northeast tower if we needed them), and we began our climb on foot.

4. To the Top   [return to synopsis]

One, two, three, Ben started counting each step as we went.

This was evidently part of his plan all along, as he began the count-up on the very first step. Hundreds of steps went by, and he counted out each one until we reach the first level.

Trudy and I took pictures and gazed out over the city. In the distance we could see Sacre Coeur and the now-lit towers of Notre Dame. Ben gazed with us for a while and then ran around a bit. We told him to go all the way around while we continued to gaze. He disappeared in a flash and was gone a surprisingly long time, but just as I was beginning to go look for him he snuck up and said, Boo!

We began the ascent to the second level.

I don't know where the count was at that point. You'd have to ask Ben. But it was somewhere above three hundred.

300, 301, 302, he continued until we got to the second level.

Somewhere along the way, as the people in the plaza below got increasingly small and our view over the city got better and better, he lost count, forgot precisely where he was, dropped (or added) a step or two. But he quickly compensated and resumed the count.

I don't know where it ended up. You'd have to ask him that, too, but it was somewhere above eight hundred.

So 800 steps or more above the city, we stopped and gazed again. On the hour at 11:00pm, the lights on the Tower began to strobe and flicker. From the platform on the second level, we could look up and see the rest of the Tower blinking in the summer night with a few clouds floating across the sky. And the stars. And the moon.

5. Stopping Short   [return to synopsis]

Ben wanted to continue up the steps to the top. He wouldn't believe me when I told him they were closed, until I showed him the doorway to the stairs and the barrier across it.

Then let's take the elevator, he said.

Now this stop was for him. So there was nothing a priori unreasonable with that request, although it was after 11:00pm and we were on the brink of exhaustion (having not yet recovered from the jet lag). Still, this was one of the destinations we chose for him.

But when we walked up to the elevator line with more than a hundred yelling, screaming, jostling, pushing, pulling kids waiting to go to the very top, I just said No.

So if you ever ask Ben about that night, he's certain to point out that we climbed the stairs of the Eiffel Tower but didn't go to the very top, because his dad didn't want to. Which is true.

6. Oblivion Again   [return to synopsis]

On the other hand, by the time we had descended back down those 800+ steps and walked back along the Champs de Mars, where the lawns were now filled with college kids singing, talking, drinking wine, taking pictures, juggling fire and laughing loudly... By the time we had done all that and finally found ourselves at the end of Day-3 back in our hotel room on Rue Cler at the top of five flights of stairs, we all three collapsed for the second night in a row into instant oblivion into our beds.

And at that point at least (just before our collective collapse into oblivion), I don't remember hearing any complaints about not making it to the top. So on the whole, I would say the we heeded the call of the Eiffel Tower well, leaving ourselves just enough energy to keep us going on the 12 days of travel we still had ahead.

Trip to France - Day 3

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The Hunger Was Setting In

Let's see... Where was I? Oh yes. A walking tour of the Louvre.

So by the time we did that... By the time we saw the Venus de Milo and Winged Victory and myriad Greek antiquities and (of course) the Mona Lisa... By the time we did all that, it was getting late and I was running on empty. And dinner seemed out of reach. Those who know me know that this was an ominous sign.

The hunger was setting in.

But it's not like I didn't try to put eating on the agenda. On the way out of the museum, before we had even left, I spied a restaurant on the bottom floor. It was undoubtedly overpriced. And I have no doubt that the food they served was unremarkable.

Still, the hunger was setting in, and the place and time seemed perfect.

I looked longingly in the direction of the shining lights and beckoning tables. I suggested that perhaps now might be a good time to sit down. Ben showed now interest. Trudy would have nothing to do with it.

We continued on.

I vaguely recall some sort of crankiness on the stairs of the Metro station near the Eiffel Tower. We were standing on the grey concrete steps climbing out of the tunnels. The walls and the ceiling were covered in white enamel tiles.

And the hunger was by now sinking its roots deep into me.

I was running on empty with barely enough energy to climb the rest of the way out. When we emerged on the streets, I looked around desperately in search of a cheap, fast place to get something (anything!) to eat.

And there it was.

There on a corner along the Seine with wisps of cirrus clouds glowing pink and white and lavender against an early evening sky, there with tables and chairs sitting empty along the sidewalk, there was a sandwich shop.

Is this ok? I asked.

Ben was silent. Trudy said something noncommittal. That was good enough for me. I walked up to the counter and ordered.

The man then looked at them, and they turned to me as if I was going to order for them. I wasn't. I had not an ounce of strength left in my body. I stood silently. The man was still looking at them.

In a rush, they ordered Hot Dogs and something to drink. The man gave us our food and drinks, and we sat down (collapsed?) into the chairs along the sidewalk.

Cars drove by, stopping at the stoplight at the corner. The people in them looked at us sitting there eating. Perhaps they were wondering why we were eating so early. (After all, it wasn't even 7pm.) Perhaps they were gawking at three tired American tourists. Personally, I like to think they were as hungry as we were and that they were eyeing our sandwiches enviously.

I devoured mine, which was nothing remarkable but did the job. Ben and Trudy devoured theirs, which evidently were remarkable and left them far happier than they had expected to be when I dragged them across the street in desperation as the hunger was getting the better of me.

And we all three lived long enough to continue on to the Eiffel Tower, as the last lingering light of day disappeared behind the city on the far side of the river and the sky turned deep blue.

Trip to France - Day 3

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