17 June 2005

A permanent erection

The Tour Eiffel is the center of tourism in Paris. Considering it was built as a temporary structure, it’s remarkable that it has become such an icon. Having spent 116 years at the edge of the Seine, my guess is that the tower will stay in place.

I remember seeing it for the first time when I was 17, and being in total awe. What makes it so impressive is the broad and sweeping spaces that surround it. A long, rectangular footprint stretches from the Palais De Chailot, jumps the Seine, and then continues all the way to the Ecole Militaire. The tower occupies only about ten percent of the ground space, but makes its impression by reaching 324-meters into the sky.

What I like about the Eiffel Tower is that it not only draws tourists, but also locals. On the grounds of the Parc du Champ de Mars, directly below the tower, locals sit on blankets and talk to each other. Others play soccer on the lawn. There are many green lawns in Paris, but it is uncommon to find anyone lounging on them. There is often a sign posted that dissuades people from lounging on the grass. However, Parisians still treat the city as their own private garden. In fair weather, after having dinner at 8 p.m., they can often be found outside talking to each other and enjoying a mild summer breeze. Air-conditioning is almost non-existent in Paris and it remains light well after 10 p.m. Rather than sit in hot apartments, people tend to venture outdoors or to their neighborhood pub to socialize. I find it very civil.

In the United States we tend to cocoon. We put all of our money and time into making our home a comfortable and entertaining place. We buy gadgets and technology that hold the promise of escape. After a long day in the U.S., we almost always want to curl up in the safety of our own home. I suppose we miss out on the social interaction that the Parisians enjoy. However, if they had central air-conditioning, a big screen TV with 190 channels, and 2,000 square feet of space, I wonder how many people would decide to stay indoors. I’d like to think the Parisians would still chose to socialize.

At the Eiffel Tower, especially on Saturday night, the locals occupy almost every square inch of grass at the Parc, especially down towards Place Joffre where the tower can be seen clearly. They bring friends, fruit, cheese, wine, and all the things you might expect the French to have on an after-dinner picnic. Inevitably someone will have a guitar. Inevitably a small group will start singing.

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