10 July: Le Tour Eiffel

Today, Thursday, I used the first day of my Batobus (Boat-Bus) pass to travel along the Seine and see the Eiffel Tower. It seemed the easiest way to get to it, as it’s way off the Route 1 Metro line. It was a little bit of a disappointment because the Batobus was all enclosed with a plastic shield, so harder to feel the breeze and take pics, plus it got quite hot in there when the sun shone.

This was also the day I got a good hit of what it means to be a tourist in Paris. There were all kinds of families on the boat, Parisian ones, both French and Arab, and lots of Americans with some very unhappy teenagers in tow, who really looked like they’d much rather be somewhere else. I was tempted to take their pics, but didn’t, especially after watching one daughter, about 16, hide her face with her hand for about 15 minutes while her parents tried to sneak a pic in, even using the younger daughter as a photographer stand-in. The younger daughter seemed to be having a good time with her slightly older brother humouring her. So much sadness in such a spectacular place.

Behind the Batobus to the right is the Ile St. Louis.

I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go to the Eiffel Tower, but as I got close it became harder to resist.

When I got off and started for the stairs, I saw what at first I thought was a small golden statue of the moon, just sitting there being ignored. Then I realized it was a living statue, like I’d heard about in New York. I had to take a pic. Then I decided that I should also make an offering and fussed in my purse to get a bunch of change, including a 2 E coin. I put in in his/her tin. As I got close, I could see there were dark, knowing eyes within the mask, so I bowed and to my delight, she bowed back. Then I walked a little way away toward the stairs and she turned very subtly to face me and I took another pic and bowed, and she bowed. That little interlude cheered me up for the whole day and even now I smile when I think of him/her.

Well, having gotten this far I decided I should go up in the tower. I first waited in a line that didn’t seem to have too many people in it, but the sign said Escalier and I decided that my motivation didn’t include climbing up a huge number of stairs, so I moved to another line.

I waited in the line for about 20 minutes before I finally decided to talk to the woman behind me, who was part of a tour. She had brown, bouncy hair in a flip and was wearing a dress with a white background and small, closely woven red vertical and horizontal stripes, like a plaid. She turned out to be from Kansas as were the teenagers accompanying her (one of which was her daughter). She said she’d decided to quit her old job and go back to being a principal at an alternative high school in a small town nearby where she lived. We ended up talking about meditation (because I told her I was a Buddhist, which is how I got the good deal on where I was staying). She said she’d tried meditation, but that it scared her and she just didn’t get it. I said that for me it took a long time not to see it as something too mysterious, but mostly an opportunity to see how my mind worked. She said she found it scary and wondered why. I said that I thought it was because we see impermanence and that we will die. She said she had seen that everything seemed to pass away, good, bad, everything, so that’s why she wanted to grab onto her life as it came up. I said something no doubt deep about relaxing the hold, when her tour guide came around bringing all of them their tickets and I had to leave for another lineup to get mine.

So, for my friend Sue, some factoids on the Eiffel Tower. From my Go-To book, “Gustave Eiffel, who also engineered the Statue of Liberty, wrote of his tower: ‘France is the only country in the world with a 300 meter flagpole.” Critics called it a “metal asparagus, but it was the tallest man-made structure in 1889 when it was built. It was almost destroyed when it’s 20-year lease ran out, but survived due to its importance as a communications tower (which Eiffel had foreseen and planned for), and during WWII captured many enemy messages, including “the one that led to the arrest of Mata Hari, the Danish dancer accused of being a German spy.”

One can buy tickets for walking up the stairs, or riding the elevator to the first etage (or stage), second, or third — the top. I wanted to get one for the top, but the cashier said they had stopped selling them for the day. It wasn’t until I was in the elevator going up got to stage 2  (it goes at a slant) that I remembered that I’m somewhat afraid of heights. After I walked around on the second stage for a while, I almost went for it, as from there they seemed to be selling tickets for the top, but I took a look and changed my mind. The above photo is of the top part of the tower from ground level and the one to the left is from the second floor. It starts to look quite different. Somehow I find looking up more vertiginous than looking down, but then again, I could quite imagine being able to look out the windows of the elevator as the metal structure started to diminish around me.

I thought I’d end this post with a few pics I took from the second stage that give an overview of Paris and how big it is. The photo to the right, and east of the Tower, is of the Hotel des Invalides, originally founded by Louis XVI in 1671 as a home for disabled soldiers and is now the headquarters of the military governor of Paris and still serves on a smaller scale as a military hospital. The photo on the left puts it in context as you can see how packed the city is with buildings and residences.

Still with a military theme, the green sward to the west of the tower is the Champs de Mars (Field of Mars) and was built as a drill ground for the Military College that can still be seen at the far end. In 2000, a glass Mur pour la Paix (Wall for Peace) was built at the base — two large panes of glass with the word “peace” in 32 languages. The sward is now used as a place to picnic and hang out.
And to the North is the Church of the Sacred Heart (Sacre Coeur) on the top of Montmarte, which is said to be about the same height as the Eiffel Tower and the highest point in Paris. I plan to go there next week (but didn’t make it. Hopefully next time).

And finally, last, but not least, is the true conductor of the elevator that travels the Eiffel Tower as seen through the mesh fence protecting him from us wayward travelers: