Has Everything Except Window Washers

Trocadero gardens and Eiffel Tower
On the world's stage on the Champ de Mars - the Tour Eiffel.

The 106-year-old Eiffel Tower Is In Fine Shape

Paris:- Wednesday, 18. June 1997:- Without doubt, the best place to start a trip to the top of the Tour Eiffel, is the place du Trocadéro. You might get no further.

The arc of café terraces are nearly full under the little leaves of the plane trees, the traffic is languidly making its tours of the big place and people coming out of the métro exits look happy to see such a civilized place on earth waiting for them.

Between the trees, the Palais de Chaillot and the angle, I can't see the tower from here. In this way the tower is not part of the place du Trocadéro; the place is merely the best entry, and it is easy to give up the destination.

If you are coming to the Tour Eiffel this way, this place is the last chance to get what you need for the rest of the excursion. Once Top floor telescope on the parvis of the palais, there are no newspaper kiosks, tabacs, cafés or regular food and there is a long stretch of no métro stations ahead. Going from here, you get further away for a long time before you start getting closer to anything.

The coin telescopes look good, but I think binoculars are better.

As soon as I turn the corner of the Monuments Museum, it is like an opening curtain and the tower is in the centre of attention. Being on the parvis between the two wings of the Palais de Chaillot, is like being on the balcony, above the tower's stage on the Champ de Mars.

The apartment buildings near the tower look like the size of the hotels in Monopoly and there is nothing else competing with the height of the tower; all Paris is leaning back giving it lots of airroom, and the sky overhead goes on forever.

The golden dome of the Hôtel des Invalides glitters off to the left and if you have the wrong angle, the Tour Montparnasse is way behind just to the right - but besides these two, the tower has the whole view, which is about 170 degrees wide and 90 degrees high - one the world's number-one views.

This is how I see the Tour Eiffel most often. It is about 17 or 18 years since I've been up it.

Without planning the time of arrival I take the fourth place in a line of three at the north pillar ticket kiosk. One client chickens out and on my turn, I pay the 57 francs - 'to the top!' The sky's the limit! Like when ambitions were higher - 'next stop: the moon!'

Somewhere I read that a collective anxiety creeps over the world's consciousness at the end of a millennium, and the tower's count-down sign, 'days left Jours - 927 until 1. January 2000' is a good example of this - running the count-down to a year short of the goal on 1. January 2001. Today there are 927 days until... something. Are 'they' - we - too faint-hearted to add the necessary 365 days?

Running around this town I spend a lot of time in the past. The agreeable thing about it, the past is done. Even if we don't know exactly what happened, at least it's over and done with - it can't be undone; it's fixed in time.

The illuminated count-down sign is bright even in bright sunlight.

But the future is another business; it's a darn slippery thing - like sailing in the fog. Should we worry? Aren't we on a stout ship? Are our maps unreliable?

Looking at it realistically, I'd say we've got maps as good as it's possible to get; so it's probably the nerve of the crew which is in doubt. Come on people! Doing the future is as easy as dancing on the moon.

It is as easy at going to the top of the Tour Eiffel.

After getting my ticket, I get in the line for the elevator. Half the people waiting are school kids, on an excursion; so the waiting area is less claustrophobic than it might be if it were full of basketball players.

While waiting, we get to watch great iron cable-wheels turn around. Iron girders, iron rivets, steel cables, this is heavy-duty city.

Finally the elevator appears above, and comes down from the first floor on an inclined slide rather than down a shaft. If a cable snaps we'll be squashed like bugs! There are three or five parallel cables though, and a great sledge of heavy weight slides up at the same time as the elevator car comes down.

As the orange elevator car is a double-decker affair, we have been separated into two groups on two floors. All the doors open at once, and we push in to push out the passengers who have come down - if you want to back out now - last chance! - you can just walk straight through.

This old lady, this temporary attraction, is flaking no paint. The elevator goes up smoother than a space shuttle. The ground rapidly becomes far below - it is so fast I have hardly time to worry that this construction, this building, has no skin - the open iron-work and girders flash by, a blur in front of the changing angle of the background.

On the second floor - 42 francs just to here - there is a drover to direct the touronauts to the launch place for the elevator to the top. On the theory that racing to the top and sightseeing on the way down is the way to work this situation, I get in this line.

The wait is not long. I can't tell if the other prospective passengers are nervous, or if any quietly get out of the line. The elevator ride to the highest level is uneventful and quick.

The top floor, is an enclosed one with an open one upstairs. The day is good enough; some sun, some clouds, some view of some distance - not crystal-clear, but good enough. The clouds are throwing moving View of Bois de Boulogne shadows across Paris, so Scare Coeur on Montmartre is gleaming, but Notre Dame is behind haze and dark - and so is Saint-Sulpice.

Bois de Boulogne in front, La Défense behind and Ireland beyond.

A patch of light centres on the Champ de Mars between the east and south feet of the tower and the surrounding buildings are in shadow. There are the various shades of bright green and the yellow paths and the spots of color that are people, and the cool grays all around.

I wait for the light patch to move over to the Invalides dome, but the clouds play sleight-of-hand and it takes about 20 minutes until a light spot hits it. It is worth the wait. There are 360 degrees of this to do, and it is possible to do it all day.

Somebody says, "Feel the tower jiggle?" It does, if you pay attention, but not much.

It seems to my memory that the last time I was here, there were old elevators and they were slow. It is even possible, that cars had to be changed between the second and third platforms, but I am not sure about it. What I do remember, is that the ascent was more mechanical, with the iron-work - and the spaces between it - passing much more slowly, and the whole ride being - em - antique. You felt like you were going up high in an old and fragile crate.

The result was, on the top - best not to linger! - this is all temporary and somewhat provisional. It is holding up and jiggling a bit more noticeably - more than today - and being there was a calculated risk. If you got it wrong, you'd be squashed inside the biggest scrap-metal pile of wreckage in the world.

I don't know how, but a lot of people knew this somehow in advance and never went up to the top to find out if it was true. It is like you believe in snake-bites without trying them out.

Whether it is me or the work done on the tower over the years; the feeling now is different. Although fundamentally old, the tower seems very well-oiled and mechanically modern - and the fast elevators do not give much time for thinking about the lack of skin on this structure.

I am, therefore, in no hurry to leave the top floor. I seems to me there are not many Parisians up here, although there are plenty of French-speaking visitors. Otherwise, it is like the United Nations, which seems too obvious to mention.

The visitors look at the view and then they take photographs or videos of each other. The view, although spectacular, can only be mildly interesting - although the landscape is Paris, it is a bit far away to take in details - unless you know it well. I had to move all the way to the edge of the south corner to see Saint-Sulpice clearly; and there, just barely.

In good weather, I think it would be a great idea to get a concession from the tower operators to take photos and videos of visitors with their own cameras. Somebody - the visiting camera operator - always gets left out of these personally valuable souvenirs. Of two girls travelling together, it later looks as if each them were alone in Paris.

I look around for the stairs down, but there is a 'no entry' barrier. After getting back to the second floor, or maybe it is the first, I find a section of the old spiral stairs - on display near the south corner - going up to - nowhere. I think you could have your photo taken while standing in them, but how would you explain it?

For readers who are looking here for facts and figures, I offer only a few. From the Tour Eiffel it is 18,542 kms to Auckland, New Zealand, and Tokyo is almost in the neighborhood, being only 9,739 kms away. In contrast, the distance to Trocadéro is 2,000 metres, after you descend 300 metres from the top.

The stairs down from the second floor are near the west pillar and I pass a few people coming up them. I have a good rubberneck looking at the iron while going down, because it is visible here at walking pace.

Do not try to count the rivets. Imagine instead that slightly over a 100 years ago, you had a job of putting these things in, and when you were The stairs and the Seine home at night at the dinner table, your kids asked you what you did for a living. You would have said, "I put in the rivets that hold Mr. Eiffel's tower together."

And your smart kids would have then asked, "What's a rivet, papa?" And today, only slightly more than 100 years later, your kids might ask, "What's a rivet, papa?"

If you find rivets boring, you can count the number of stairs instead.

If they ever do ask, take them to the south pillar, pay the 14 francs (for adults) to go up to the second floor by the stairs, and show them some rivets. On my way down to the ground, I see a fair number coming up, to do this 'rivet' tour on the way.

When the tower opened on 31. March 1889, the elevators weren't in operation. The head of the government managed to reach the first floor, and it was up to the Minister of Commerce to march up to the top to honor Gustave Eiffel by announcing his induction to the Légion d'Honneur. The stairs were used by 1,896,987 other visitors that year.

If you do this and feel a bit light-headed afterwards, head over to the parks which run along both sides of the Champ de Mars, under the trees. You can lie on the grass here, with or without a view of the tower - this old iron lady.


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