04 July, 2008

Yesterday was phenomenal. In 1889 the Tour Eiffel was constructed as part of the great World's Fair, a symbol of the greatness of the 3rd French Republic. A very modern structure was erected in an ancient cultural center, and it was received very badly by the traditional critics, but loved by the people. It was a great innovation in structural engineering, as Professor Billington would tell you, but it had immense social implications, because it allowed the common people to rise up and see the world as they had never seen it before. Read more about all that here.

In the morning I successfully found the epicerie (grocery store) I have been looking for, for a long time. I bought milk and orange juice and a mug and other things I needed such as a baguette and cheese (The cheese stinks and I think it will go in the trash!). I also found the BNP Paribas Bank and solved my debit card problem. My pin code, which is 7 digits, would not work in the ATM machines here, which only seemed to accept 6 digits. When I had struggled through that explanation with the lady at the bank (and I assure you I had tried 3 ATMs in different parts of the city) she asked me to try again, and it worked that time! It seems like I’ll have to go to that same branch when I need money next.

I took the METRO to the Tour Eiffel. I am falling more and more in love with the metro, as I continue to master it. I love to see people in the metro, I love reading in the metro, I love how it gets me places, I love how I can blend in and not seem like a tourist at all, I love standing among people when there’s no space and listening to my iPod, I love rushing to get a transfer when I am getting late – it reminds me a little of New York. I guess it has just got to do with my love for a big city with a lot of people.

I got to the much-revered tower and it was as breathtaking as it had been described – I could see that it was old, and had stood there for very long, and that made it seem grander. There were a lot of people and the line was endless. By the time I got to the front the top floor had been closed because of overcrowding. I should have bought a ticket beforehand to avoid waiting for that long, but how could I have done that, there was such a visa problem. I didn’t even know until the day I left that I would be coming here for sure!

I’ll let the photographs speak, but as the elevator rose, curving its way up along the side of the tower, I felt elated, joyful, ecstatic, and I clicked on my camera.

The view of course was spectacular. But I especially appreciated the structure of the tower – the nuts and bolts that hold it together, the stairways, the terraces, the transparency of the steel structure that makes it a “park within a structure,” each turn presenting another aspect of the city below, framed in interesting metallic shapes.

It became really windy which I liked because it felt as if I was flying. In fact the weather was great. It would rain for a few minutes and then the one cloud would clear and let through strong, clear sunlight. It was also interesting to note that even though the view from higher up was generally considered more impressive, Paris is a flat city (compared to New York for example) and therefore, the view from the first level was more interesting because it let the city retain its dimensionality. I definitely want to go there again to see what the light does to the city at sunset, and to go to the top floor also, because there I imagine the city is turned almost into a map or an abstract painting. I climbed down the stairs.

Later in the afternoon (the sun sets here at 10:30pm or 11pm) I sat in the shadow of the Eiffel tower and made some sketches that I will complete in the next few days.

What I love also about Paris is a perfect balance that seems to hold everything in place – a balance between the old and the new (for example historicism and modernism in architecture), the fast- and the slow-paced life (metros and bicycles), the humble little cafes and the grand structures and museums – it’s difficult to explain. Everything exists in harmony here, not a constrained harmony imposed by laws necessarily. I will try to understand it better in the next few days.

Everyone I have come across has been very friendly, whether they speak French or not. I try not to massacre their language by first asking, in my exquisite French accent if they speak English. Then, if they take up the challenge, it’s they who begin to seem dumb, uneducated, silly, and not me! It doesn’t always work though.

At 11pm I wanted to get on the subway again. I met this young photographer/filmmaker who was interested in my work, and we went to walk on the Arc de Triomphe near the Champs Elysees. And thought it was spectacular, with lights and high-end shops (now closed but the windows still lit) and young people walking along the street, the whole thing was a little rushed because the Metro closes at 1am. I had to come back on my own, and got a little lost on the way!

I have been “lost” in this city a few times now, and every time it happens I recall the MasterCard advertisement at the airport – “Getting Lost in Paris. Priceless” – and it’s NOT true at the time, especially if you’re legs are so tired they’re about to give way, and especially if it’s late at night. But in retrospect I guess it is truly priceless.


Angela said...


Waqas Jawaid said...

lol. profound:)

Angela said...

sorry. :( i tried. :)

andy Chen said...

This is probably one of the few times that getting lost is actually part of the point.

I love the mood the enmeshed steel creates -- really beautiful. I'd love to see pictures of the metro. And I'm glad that you're starting to have more fun.