Showtime at the Iron Lady

Tour Eiffel National Party Site on Sunday

Paris:- Friday, 12. July 1996:- I crossed the Pont de la Concorde, perhaps walking on stones taken from the Bastille, towards the Assembly National, in hopes that the building would be festooned with revolutionary icons or other artifacts - but it isn't. It is in the 7th arrondissement after all - Bourbon territory - but I was disappointed all the same.

I did ask the lone guard, who had a very big machine gun, but he said he was from out of town. It could be true, but a lot of people who don't know what's around the corner in their own neighborhoods, say this. My accent is so bad, on the other hand, that nobody believes me when I do know - so, hey, we're even!

tourshop.jpg (15k) Leaving aside the revolutionary statuary, the big fireworks show in the Champ de Mars - Tour Eiffel - Palais de Chaillot area on Sunday night, is the final highlight of the Bastille Day ceremonies. As this will be at night and if the weather stays fine there will be a huge crowd - really huge - so I am taking a run past the Tour Eiffel today, and will watch the fireworks on TV, and do the coverage near the safety and comfort of my own popcorn machine.
The Tour Eiffel. If you live here for twenty years and only go up it twice in all that time, you still see it nearly every day, and that is what it is called - you forget 'Eiffel Tower.' Today it looks good. Kind of dark bronze, and shiny and clean looking; etched against the bright sky. Symbol of France, backdrop to Bastille fireworks.

I come at it from the Ecole Militaire - the ex-grape patch of the Champ de Mars, also former balloon-launch site - end and the Tour Eiffel is very big and very strange. Except for all the high buildings out at La Défense and the horror of the tower in Montparnasse, there are few high buildings in Paris, and none whatsoever near the Tour Eiffel - this strange, big iron thing and except for a couple of telecoms gizmos up top, it is here 'just for fun.'

Seeing the fireworks from the Champs de Mars is a stunning show. On Sunday night there will be hundreds of thousands of people on the grass regardless of the 'Keep off the grass' signs that the lady in uniform is guarding today, and even with the tower in the way, there is no problem seeing the display as it is all launched from across the Seine from the gardens and parvis at Chaillot, which is up a bit of a hill. I can't help thinking that if Maréchal Bassompierre, who used to own the place when it was called the Chaillot 'bottle house,' were alive today, he would not miss it for the world because he liked big parties.

While you can't walk on the central grass of the Champ de Mars, on either side, under the trees nobody seems to mind and a lot of people are lying about with their faces in the green stuff and because some of it is in shade, the grass here is greener and not so drought-stricken as the central area.

It is harder to tell who are visitors and who are the local unemployed these days because those baggy jogging suits that used to be everywhere a few years ago have largely disappeared, and everybody dresses more or less the same - the same sort of skimpy. The people I see now don't look like colorful bears who have tailors who were trained in the army. There is quite a lot of the new stretch fabrics around, stretching fetchingly around trim bodies - yes, things certainly do look much better than they used to.

The first revolutionary 'fête' took place on the Champ de Mars on 14. July 1790, hosted by Tallyrand and it was called 'Fête de la Féderation.' There was a crowd of 300,000 for the first one; slightly less than half the population of Paris at that time.

The revolution was eating its own in November 1793 when the astronomer Bailly, ex-Mayor, lost his head here. To his executioners his 'crime' - whatever it was - was so odious, that in order to prevent blood of this man from sullying the revolutionary grass, the guillotine was dismounted and moved to another, nearby, location and re-erected - while Bailly, 57, waited interminably in the mud.

Well, this far into the piece, I better put in a couple of 'facts' about the tower or readers will have to get out their own guidebooks. The Tour Eiffel is very high and the communications gizmos I mentioned earlier make it even higher. The iron tower weighs a lot, but no more than a block of stones the same size as its base, piled nine metres high. The whole thing takes a long time to paint and it requires a lot of it to do the job. A bunch of painters no sooner get finished, when they have to start all over again. I wonder how many times it's been repainted? What else? It has elevators and stairs and some restaurants and I think it has about three platforms. The Tour Eiffel might be Paris' number one visitor attraction - it might even be the number one in the world, but I do not know this 'fact' for sure. For the information of 'les sportifs,' no less than 1,896,987 visitors climbed to the top in its first year, when it was inaugurated on Sunday, 31. March 1889.

The Tour Eiffel was to have been demolished in 1910 at age 20, but by then its scientific value - as an antenna for radio transmissions (the first in 1904) - was so great that it was eventually used for less scientific music and voice broadcasts, beginning in June, 1921.

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This afternoon there are a lot of visitors about the base - and the parking lot directly underneath has been suppressed - making it easier to look straight up; if somewhat dizzying.

From here the Trocadéro looks deserted and I wander over that way to find that the whole thing has been fenced off in order to allow the pyrotechnicians to position their trick stuff. It also means that there is no short route to the parvis of the Chaillot Palace; but a long round-about way, which many other people are taking.

After a good huff-puff, I reach the Trocadéro side of the parvis - and it is completely fenced off. There are a good number of people milling around - wondering, I suppose - how to 'get' to the Tour Eiffel. I was kind of hoping to get a close-up of a roller-crazy leaping over the broom-sticks with the Tour as a background, but I merely take a photo of the sign, and call it a day.

On Sunday evening, there will be a pretty good view of the fireworks from this end, but it will be through a wire fence; so the Champ de Mars wins again - as the choice place to be about 23:30 - when the French state, in an expression of - Revolutionary! - exuberance, pulverizes millions of francs worth of taxpayer's money, by blowing it off into the night sky above the Tour Eiffel. On Monday, after the circus, if we have not all gone off to vacation, maybe we should ask about the price of bread.

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