Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out


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SEPTEMBER 2, 2010 5:51PM

Eiffel Tower Games

Rate: 5 Flag

Approaching it from the Pont d’Iéna, we gaze up and up. It’s easy to forget it was once the tallest structure in the word, until you see it in real life.  Just above the enormous arches of its base, gilded letters spell out the names of scientists and engineers.  It’s like seeing freckles on the face of someone you’ve never been near before.

The Eiffel Tower's grace is impressive.  It’s not just an antenna in rigid latticework.   The interwoven metal beams that make up most of it, don’t seem as straight and geometric as scale models and drawings depict them.  Over the arches, curling shapes are like lace borders.  The sprawl of the base is something organic, not unlike the spreading roots of a tree, or the train of a Belle-Epoque skirt.

Starting at sunset, for a few minutes every hour, the Tower turns to stars.  Thousands of flashing white lights make its form scintillate.  When it happens and you’re not expecting it, you feel as though the Tower is winking at you, begging your attention.  When you’ve been waiting for it, and the lights start, the universe feels just right.  It’s as though those thousands of stars came down to dance with us.

In the early hours of the morning, the neighborhoods around the Tower are silent but for cars sliding past.  The Tower’s lights are off, but its silhouette can still be seen against the sky. It’s a strange sight, a noble ghost in the night.

To a lover of history, the Eiffel Tower is a paradox.  Today, it’s a quintessential element of the Parisian landscape.  When it was constructed in 1889, it was hated by a good part of the population, but no one could deny its presence – in both senses of the term.  When you think of more distant pasts – the time of Napoleon, the Revolution, the age of kings and philosophers, the age of saints and teachers, the time of the Romans, the time of the Parisii, the tribe who gave the city its name – the Tower wasn’t there.  Most of the other buildings in the city date from the mid-19th century, onward, so it’s true that they haven’t seen a majority of Paris’ more than 2000 year history, either; but they’re so low that from afar, it’s easy to imagine them away. The Tower, though, is much larger than everything around it.  Its existence can’t be denied.  And yet, its presence makes me think of its absence. I think of those who saw the sky as I see it now, and then of the others who would probably be shocked at this bizarre structure.  This one, relatively modern landmark connects me to the people who’ve lived here throughout the ages.

When you’re lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Paris, you notice the Eiffel Tower has more secrets than this.  It dominates the landscape – but it’s actually quite playful. 

The Tower peeks at you from behind buildings, waits for you at the turn of a road.  Whenever I return to Paris from Charles de Gaulle airport, my heart skips a beat as the top of the Tower suddenly appears seemingly out of nowhere, before the rest of the city.  I always think it’s welcoming me home.

On the rue de Sèvres, between the Avenue de Saxe and the rue Vaneau, at the top of one avenue, you’ll see the Tower.  At the end of another, the dome of Les Invalides…and then, at the top of another avenue, the Eiffel Tower appears again.  I’ve looked at maps and it still doesn’t seem logical.  There probably is an explanation, but I don’t want to know it.  I feel that it goes beyond urban planning and tricks of the eye. It’s the spirit of the Tower.  It’s the game it plays with us, joyfully and silently moving around the city.

When the Tower isn’t hiding from you and glancing ‘round corners, its beacon seems to search for you at night, a benevolent, friendly light. Life is like a long game of hide and seek.

I was sick today with a respiratory infection.  My usual doctor was unavailable, so I had to go to another one. The stretch of the rue de Ménilmontant near his office was ugly to me. This is rare in Paris, but there are some places that feel dirty and unpleasant, where the charming architecture of the past has been eradicated by badly conceived modern eyesores.  The city's beautiful rhythm seems muffled in a place like this. 

I was early for the appointment, so I wandered along the ugly stretch of street.  It sloped downward -  and then, suddenly, who did I spot, colored blue by the distance?  It was the Eiffel Tower, come to say “Salut” from several kilometers away.  I knew it could be seen from the heights of Belleville, but I would never have guessed that this street had such a vantage point.  Its ugliness fell away, and for a moment I forgot my feverish, aching body.  I smiled a heartfelt "hello" to my friend.

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This is GORGEOUS writing Alysa. I don't know why, but I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes. I'm in awe of the magic you've described so eloquently. My dreams of visiting Paris one day are suddenly at the front of my mind. I feel inspired...not just about Paris, but inspired to dream. I suspect you are not on the Editor's radar as yet, or this would be a cover story for sure. For the first time ever, I will send a link of this piece to all my friends. What a wonderful submission for Beguiled.

Bravo, my lady!
What an amazing description of the Eiffel Tower. The idea that it peaks at you at just the right moments is endearing somehow - like the 'spirit of it' as you say.
Wow, BB - Thanks so much for the high praise. I'm so glad I could inspire you even more to come to Paris - and to move you to tears! I wanted to write this as a thank you to the Tower for a lovely moment in a fairly crappy day. I'm glad it brought you such a strong reaction. I hope you do get to come here one day. I know you're a strong woman, so I know if you really want it, you'll find a way.

Sparking - thanks so much for reading, and I'm glad you enjoyed it. The Eiffel Tower really is like a large, benevolent friend.
This is a truly original treatment of a subject that might seem trite at this point, the tower vis-á-vis the city. And a beautiful treatment, too, Alysa.
Two trips to Paris and I've still never gone up - the lines are always too long. But what an amazing sight. Last time we were there, two years ago, we took pictures from a plaza directly across the Seine (I wish I could remember the name of the plaza) that gave a clear and unobstructed view. Magical.
Cranky - Going up it is worth the long lines. Appreciating the view of the Tower from another vantage point is an equal pleasure, though. The plaza where you were is called Trocadero. You're right - the view there is absolutely magnificent.
Brassawe, thank you so much. I feel like the Eiffel Tower is one of those over-done things, and I was worried that this post wouldn't attract a lot of readers. But what I wanted to do, was to show how much of a personality it has, and what secrets. I'm glad you enjoyed this.
There probably is an explanation, but I don’t want to know it~

That 3rd paragraph, and those before and after, take me just where I want to go.