We took our children to Paris this past summer. It was a highly anticipated event, to put it mildly. Topping their list of expectations was Disneyland Paris, but after we firmly crossed that off their list, the next item was, of course, the Eiffel Tower.
I would like to report they were most charmed by the second hand book peddlars that lined the Seine, the incredible food, or a work of art in the Louvre (preferably something other than the Mona Lisa). But if you ask them what the highlight of their Paris trip was, you will hear three voices in unison proclaim the Eiffel Tower. This is the only thing I have ever heard them proclaim in unison, incidentally.
At their first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, they were speechless – it was fulfilling to see them react this way about something besides Justin Bieber. As we neared the iconic structure, we saw a virtual carnival of life happening around its base.
There were people lounging everywhere. Some were having a picnic, others were playing soccer, musicians were strumming guitars, models were posing, and peddlars were selling everything under its grey skies, including umbrellas once they opened up. It was a world unto its own arrondisement.
Like crashing a birthday party, the people watching opportunities were vast and the party games varied. But it was my turn to be aghast when it was time for the birthday cake: hour long line-ups awaited us at each of the entrances for the trip up to the top of the tower. We seriously considered taking the stairs until we realized we could only walk up to the first platform.
Patience isn’t in my DNA, and so I had to be strong-armed by my children to join one such line. But I was glad I did; being in the line was simply another opportunity to watch the carnival and meet people from all over the world who had converged on Paris that day.
Besides the incredible vistas and thousands of tourists, there was an exhibition about the history of the Eiffel Tower on the first platform. We loved seeing the pictures of the tower under construction, when it loomed curiously half-built above Paris. You could understand the scorn city dwellers felt for this structure, widely thought to be an eyesore before its debut at the World Fair of 1889. It was a great teaching moment, talking about Gustav Eiffel’s perseverance in the face of this controversy.
I’d stupidly allotted an hour in our day for this visit, thinking we’d quickly check it off before lunching in a cafe and then hitting the Louvre. In fact we were there almost all day, which I now realize was the right thing to do.
I’ve talked to people who have been disappointed by their trips to the City of Lights; it simply didn’t live up to its hefty billing. Incredibly, there is an illness called Paris Syndrome, as is described in this month’s issue of Atlantic magazine. Some tourists are experiencing hallucinations, nausea and dizziness when their high expectations of Paris fall short. I know, it sounds more ludicrous than the thought of me joining the chorus line in the Moulin Rouge, but this is an actual documented illness.
Far from these poor afflicted tourists, my children could only stand awestruck at this world famous landmark, oblivious to the long lines with which I was obsessed. Whereas I saw chaos, they saw magic. (My reaction of impatience and frustration did fall short of hallucinations, I hasten to add.)
Oh, to see the world through the eyes of children.