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Conquering La Tour Eiffel

June 23, 2013

It is so clichéd, but a trip to Mr Eiffel’s tower does tend to enjoy pole position on bucket lists of places to visit in Paris. I’ve just ticked it off mine with close friends visiting from India.

 

The Eiffel Tower dominates the Champ de Mars gardens and attracts close to 7 million visitors each year.

 

These were our fourth set of visitors in a guest-fest of six-sets of visitors in six weeks; heaps of fun if not exhausting. And as much as I’d like to believe our new found popularity is down to my now finely honed hostessing skills—I do cook a mean coq au vin—the truth is that people find this enchanting city irresistible.

 

From glamorous grand dames indulging in a quick sunset snifter and Gitane at a street café, patisserie displays of vibrantly coloured macaroons and tarts that have customers drooling all the way to the counter, to the exquisite rows of neatly pollarded trees lining streets. Paris is just too elegant for its own good…

 

At the Eiffel Tower’s summit: the wall installation above the Parisian vistas lists Kuala Lumpur as being 10433 kms away (not that far…) and notes its highest building the Menara KL Tower at 421metres. A piece of Malaysia in Paris!

 

And while Gustave Eiffel’s 324 metres tall lattice structure, located in the gardens of Champ de Mars, may not be the most elegant of stops, it is truly Paris’ most iconic and most visited monument.

 

Vintage photos of Gustave Eiffel and his construction team. But the tower’s unusual design was actually conceived by two engineers Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier, and later embellished by architect Stephen Sauvestre before meeting with Eiffel’s approval.

 

Options for the Eiffel experience are endless. Champagne tours, nightly light shows, romantic suppers à deux on board the River Seine ferries and ostentatious firework shows during Bastille day.

 

I chose the no-nonsense basic tickets easily picked up online, which proved doubly satisfying on the day when we breezed straight through the queueing masses to the entrance. No frills, just two elevators up to enjoy the splendid views from Paris’ tallest structure.

 

Since its erection in 1889 to mark the centennial of the French Revolution, the tower has, however, been enjoyed in a number of less than conventional ways:

 

Some gals end up marrying the Eiffel tower: In 2008 Erika La Tour Eiffel (yes, that is her actual name), a 42-year-old woman from San Francisco, was pictured snogging the iron structure during an intimate ceremony attended by a handful of friends in which she promised “to love, honour and obey” her beloved tower. She suffers from ‘Objectum-Sexual’, a bizarre disorder—often linked with Asperger syndrome—involving peculiar fetishes for inanimate objects.

 

Others can’t stand the sight of it: The 19th-century French novelist Guy de Maupassant, loathed the “monstrous” tower calling it “a gigantic black smokestack…a hateful column of bolted sheet metal” that humiliated the more artful monuments like the Notre Dame and Arc de Triomphe. Such were his venomous views that he took to eating his lunch in the tower’s restaurant, it being the one place where he couldn’t see the imposing silhouette!

 

Musicians ‘play’ it:  New York musician Mr. Bertolozzi recently turned the tower into an enormous instrument.  Thrusting his drumsticks against the cool iron bars he recorded the melodies on his microphone. He called his hourlong composition “Tower Music”, and plans to celebrate the tower’s 125th anniversary next year with a live performance of this work.

 

Tower jumping: Nothing sinister, although sadly the Eiffel Tower has become a popular place for suicides, but I’m talking bungees and A.J. Hackett. In 1987 the rubbery New Zealander made one of his first jumps from the top of the tower with his feet attached to a special latex cord he had helped develop. He was promptly arrested on reaching terra firma, merely serving to generate more publicity for Hackett’s subsequent commercial bungee operation.

 

Climb it like a regular Spiderman: In 2007 British soloist climber Mike Robertson ascended the tower minus any form of climbing gear and wearing little more than a “TOTAL LEAVE BURMA” teeshirt. Robertson single-handed launched the ultimate protest against the French energy giant Total SA, and its continued presence in Burma post an anti-democracy crackdown.

 

To fly over or under the Eiffel: That was the question faced by crazy pilot Leon Collet who was killed back in 1926 after flying beneath the span of the tower, his airplane having become entangled in aerials from the tower’s wireless station.

 

Already contemplating how to conquer the Eiffel Tower? Remember, when in Paris,  do not try any of the above. But for those reckless few, the writer denies all liability for any ensuing deaths or unsuitable marriages.

 

And finally, ascending the Eiffel Tower is not everyone’s cuppa… Adolf Hitler never made it up to its summit during Germany’s occupation of Paris in the 1940s. The crafty French had deliberately cut the lift cables to prevent Hitler from easily doing so, giving rise to the claim that “while Hitler conquered France he never conquered its Iron lady…”

 

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