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Eiffel-ing at the Tower by Carolyn Donovan

Ah, there's nothing like the moment you realise you have Acrophobia (which is NOT a fear of reading PDF files...)

Paris: it's just so Parisian

I didn’t get to Paris until I was 40. There were 4 of us—the two of us, and the two of them—and we rented a 2-bedroom apartment in Montmartre. I have no idea how the people of Paris live, but I hope they live like we lived for that week. Let’s just say you haven’t seen a French door until you’ve seen it in Paris. Our apartment had French doors everywhere: in the dining room, in the living room, in our bedroom, and in their bedroom. And every one of them, each complete with little French balconies with French wrought-iron railings, opened onto a beautiful view, mostly of the grounds cascading down Montmartre hill, on top of which stands Sacre Coeur, a very famous church (if you know your churches) (we didn’t).

Being at the foot of Sacre Coeur, we walked up ALL the steps to visit it. But, excitement of excitement, once at the top, I spied the Eiffel Tower. There it was in the distance, basically on the other side of Paris, standing tall, graceful, French. And since the skyline of Paris consists of, well, the Eiffel Tower, you couldn’t miss it (unless of course Lisa is standing right in front of it...)

The ET is just behind Lisa's hat

Momentary Parisiennes

We intended to visit the Eiffel Tower first thing Sunday morning, but things being what they were ($5 bottles of French wine, anyone?), we didn’t get there until after lunch. Well, it was January, we reasoned, there won’t be many people there.

We waited in line for an hour. Standing in the bitter cold in new boots one size too small was an unwelcome intrusion into my fantasy of being a cool, sophisticated French woman.

The Moment of my Undoing

The Eiffel Tower is, in a word, huge. The four base legs are each as big as, I don’t know, a city hall. Each leg rests on a concrete base that’s (way) higher than your head.

I TOLD you it was huge

It wasn’t until we were in the glass-walled elevator ascending the Tower did I realize I had an excruciating fear of heights. I trembled in the corner, intently examining every one of the 2.5 million rivets that we passed. Could this be the day they all gave way from the stress of holding up such a monument to human endeavor? How many, exactly, needed to pop before the thing fell over? Just how good was the welding equipment back in 1887? AND LOOK AT ALL THAT RUST!

It's a long way up...

Sacre bleu! The ground was falling away so fast! Surely there was a problem with the hoist and we were going to smash our way through the top of the single most identifiable structure in the world, and, with a graceful wave of untethered cabling wires, let our Maker know we were about to Meet Him. But I haven’t been to Notre Dame yet, I thought frantically, I haven’t seen the Rose Window! Quasi-Modo, ding-dong, the backdrop to “Highlander: the Paris Years.” Today cannot be my day, now cannot be my moment! I want to eat paté in Paris first!

The ride ended at the second floor. I practically fell out of the elevator. The second floor was wide, and sturdy. Okay, we’ve done the Eiffel Tower, let’s go back to that café and write postcards. Wait, where are you all going? Another elevator? To the top?

I Know you Are, but What am I?

My acrophobia was compounded by my unwillingness to admit it. The other three were delighted by the, zoominess, of the second elevator. Once the second ride ended (and I surreptitiously wiped away the tears), He dragged me to each window while He took video. I read the descriptions of what we were looking at, without looking at it. Seeing Sacre Coeur from here wasn’t as exciting as seeing the Eiffel Tower from there.

Spot Sacre Coeur and win a croissant - and no, it's not the one with the gold dome.

“Where are you going?” I said. “To the platform,” He said. “Platform?” I said. “Yeah, the one on the next floor up,” He said. Next floor up? “You mean we’re not at the top?” I said. “C’mon, let’s go!” He said. For the love of all that’s on solid ground, I thought, don’t make me go up there! I declaimed a slight headache, and sank despairingly onto a bench.  Breathe, I told myself, all you have to do is breathe. He disappeared up the steel, and to my (perfectly rational) mind, obviously rickety staircase.

I was bested by a four-year-old girl, who said (in French, so I’m only guessing) “Mama, let’s go up to the platform, where we won’t have to look at that scaredy-pants American lady.” Dammit, I thought, I have a national reputation to uphold. Breathe in one-two-three, breathe out one-two-three. You gotta go up there! I implored myself.

I clung to the railing like a drowning sailor clutching half a piece of life preserver. I willed myself to go up there, only to discover — it was nothing but a platform surrounded by iron grillwork. I am over 920 feet off the ground and there are no walls! I stood at the top of the stairs. In one-two-three, out one-two-three. Finally, He noticed me. “What’s wrong?” He said. “I need some tea,” I said. He took a good look at me, and started laughing. Laughing! I couldn’t even get angry with him, I was so whacked out by being up there. All I could think of was that surely someone must’ve fallen off this damn Franco pile of…Legos, back when they were building it. He stifled his laughter, and took me to the little café on the floor below. For once, I did not care that in Paris a cup of tea cost three times as much as a cup of coffee. He bought me a little French pastry, too.

I do not remember if I bought anything Eiffel Tower-y at the souvenir shop. But I didn’t need to. Like I’m going to forget the Eiffel Tower.

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Photography by Wan Chi Lau