Sunday, November 25, 2012

Eiffel Tower

Terry and I eventually make it to see the Eiffel Tower. We had seen it in the distance from the other side of Paris from the Pantheon. The whole tower lights up with blinking flash bulbs. We decided to go to the tower at sunset to catch the light show. Neither of us wanted to to go to the top of the tower. Large crowds stood in line at the base of the tower to get in the elevators that go up into the lattice work. The structure was named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower. Erected in 1889 as the entrance arch to the 1889 World's Fair, it has become both a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world.

Police were walking along the hedges keeping an eye open for abandoned packages. In the park across the street vendors hawked metal models of the tower hanging from metal rings. I never actually saw anyone buy one of these tourist trinkets, but there were dozens of these vendors aggressively selling their wares. As the sun set, the tower caught the warm orange light as the park turned blue in the shadows.

There must be billions of cell phone photos of the tower. Tourists stood and sat on the stone steps taking pictures of their loved ones with the tower in the background. The steps grew cold as it got darker and we bundled up. Once the sky was dark enough, the tower finally flickered on. The crowd murmured. Terry scrambled to find her cell phone to take a picture. The last time she saw the tower she didn't have enough  time to take a photo. The blinking light show only lasts for ten minutes every hour to save energy.  

When it was built, not everyone liked the tower. A committee of 300, one member for each meter of the towers height, wrote, "We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection…of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower … To bring our arguments home, imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years … we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal"

Upon the German occupation of Paris in 1940, the lift cables were cut by the French so that Adolf Hitler would have to climb the steps to the summit. The parts to repair them were allegedly impossible to obtain because of the war. When visiting Paris, Hitler chose to stay on the ground. It was said that Hitler conquered France, but did not conquer the Eiffel Tower. A Frenchman scaled the tower during the German occupation to hang the French flag. French hearts in time warmed to the landmark.

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