– from the archives – living in Paris – a visit from Debbie
My first trip to Paris did not foreshadow, in any way, my future connection to the capital of France. I came to a cold, windy, rainy city in early November, after I had just vacationed in sunny, beautiful Barcelona. We hadn’t planned our Parisian vacation very well, and all I knew was that I needed to see the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysses. So four of us started our Parisian adventure by going to see the Tower. We arrived alongside six or seven hundred of our closest friends, waited in a long line for tickets that would let us go to the summit, and crammed ourselves in an elevator to go to the first level. We disembarked, and looked out. It looked gray. We jammed ourselves back into the elevator and went to the second level. Still gray, but we found a place to buy gaufres (Belgian waffles) with nutella and whipcream. After a debate regarding whether to go to the top or not, we decided to go. Part of this debate took place in front of the elevator, during the 30 minute wait. I could tell that many other groups were having the same conversation. I could interpret the gestures – men pointing down to the ground, women staring fixedly ahead, children pulling at the hands of their parents, people looking up wondering where in the hell was the elevator, energetic youngsters searching for stairs – even though I couldn’t understand the words. Finally, the elevator arrived and we were able to shove ourselves inside. We made it to the very top, about two hours after we had started our journey. We looked out. It looked gray. Worse, it had started to rain.
After this experience, I heard several other similar stories, so I know I wasn’t alone in feeling like once I had “checked the box” on seeing the Eiffel Tower, I never needed to go back.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I was back in Paris on a whim. A friend wanted to celebrate her birthday and four of us decided to go abroad. We found a good deal to Paris over Bastille Day. Three of us had been to Paris before, and one – my friend Deb – had not. We negotiated experiences over a dinner to plan the trip (imagine! a dinner to plan a trip!) and debated the La Tour Eiffel destination. I conceded to go on a bus tour of Paris (I know these are very practical ways to see a city, and I’ve done them many times, but I always feel like SUCH a tourist), but flatly refused to go up the Eiffel Tower again. I offered to go to the Champ-de-Mars, and go so far as to look under the Tower, but on a three day trip, I said, I did not want to spend 2-3 hours with hoards of tourists on a hot July day. Two of my friends agreed, and Deb lost her dream of going to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
I give her a lot of credit for her ability to bide her time and negotiate over the course of several years. She has a very subtle style, so much so that it’s almost unnoticeable.
It started by her buying a ticket to see me in Paris, and casually asking what we should do. I offered a few ideas, skipping over the issue of whether to visit the tall metal sculpture near the center of the city.
Then, she checked in to make sure I was okay. Evidently the American press had been eagerly covering a risk of attack in Paris, and that the red zone included top tourist desinations such as the Eiffel Tower. We were joking around on instant messaging. I sent “You don’t have to worry about me being anywhere nearby there” at the same time she sent “Now you’ll never let me go there”. We laughed at each other’s jokes, but I knew that the dream was still somewhere in the back of her mind. Or probably at the very front.
So when she arrived yesterday and asked me to show her where we were on a map, I wasn’t too surprised to see her eyes drift longingly to the 7eme arrondissement on other side of the Seine. Unfortunately it was a cloudy gray morning. I suggested that we go to a few museums, because it’s an easier thing to do when it’s a bit gray, but also because when you are fighting jet lag, it’s good to be visually engaged and it’s an activity that’s not too tiring. I sensed a bit of disappointment, but she didn’t say anything. We started our day with a pause for coffee on Rue Montorgueil, then made our way over to the Rodin Museum. Next we decided to stop for a late lunch in the 7th district. Her eyes widened when I pointed to the Eiffel Tower looming in the background as we walked to lunch. I could hear the wheels turning in her brain, but it was kind of raining and grayish, and it wouldn’t have been a good time to go. After eating, we went to the Musee des Arts Premiers (Musee Quai Branly) and saw a very interesting exhibit titled “Baba Bling”. When we walked out, the weather had cleared, and we were only two blocks away from the Tower. Qu’elle chance! It was her moment.
We hustled over to the monument, saw that the ticket lines were not long at all, and hurridely queued. Right after we got in line, we saw bunches of tourists meandering towards the ticket office. Perfect, we beat the rush and bought our tickets in less than 10 minutes. We boarded the first elevator that arrived – we were the last ones on board, and there was still a bit of room to breathe! We went right to the second floor and exited to a magnificent view of Paris. It was dark, the sky was clear, and we had a wonderful view of the sparkling lights of Paris. After taking some photos, we decided to walk down the steps to the bottom, and captured some creative shots along the way. The evening was perfect, and I realized that sometimes it’s just timing that makes an experience good or bad. If you’re going to visit the Eiffel Tower, go on a clear evening in the late fall, and you will have an amazing view of Paris. And, if it’s something you’ve kind of avoided doing for a friend, you’ll also have a nice clear conscience.