Paris, Day 3: Cosmic "Tour"
Today I drank champagne at the top of the Eiffel Tower as the sun broke through cloud to bathe Paris in a light that couldn’t have better extolled the phrase “Golden Hour.”
It’s a miracle it happened, really.
The day didn’t go exactly as planned. I’ve been feeling rather smug about my lack of jet lag so far — until this morning. I turned off my alarm when it went off at 7:30a, thinking I’d just lie still for a moment or two more. I was horrified to open my eyes later to a clock that said 10:30a. And even then my brain just couldn’t kick into gear. The water for coffee wouldn’t boil (it helps if you turn on the kettle), I simply could not find the required photo I had taken for my visitor transit pass (it was tucked in the back pocket of my journal, exactly where I had put it for safekeeping), and the usually simple online purchase of a museum ticket turned into a half-hour affair that necessitated two changes of passwords.
And then, at noon, as if a switch had flipped, I suddenly felt human. Ah. Right. That’s 6:00a according to my body clock.
I had planned a day for wandering Les Grands Boulevards of Western Paris. I’d start at the Arc de Triomphe, take in Avenue Les Champs-Elysées, walk the grounds of the palaces, visit Place Concorde, then meander through Paris’s tony shopping district, stopping for coffee and lunch along the way to Les Galeries Lafayette — to take in the stunning architecture and the view from the rooftop. I’d end the day at the Eiffel Tower, where I was timing my summit and requisite glass of champagne for twilight.
I flew out of my flat well past noon. There was a very long line at transit services, and I tried not to look at my watch incessantly as I waited to purchase my weekly pass (which I did in French and received a wide smile and kind demeanour from the agent, who had been unmistakably and loudly cranky with the two people in line ahead of me. Score one for la langue Canadienne!). I was running several hours behind schedule when I arrived at the L’Arc de Triomphe.
As it turns out, none of my planning mattered.
I ended up walking Les Champs-Elysées far more quickly than anticipated. It’s grand, to be sure, but scaffolding and the plethora of construction currently underway makes strolling a bit unsightly at the moment, and a tad on the noisy side. Plus, to be honest? Globalization has made this kind of a walk less interesting. If you’ve seen one Louis Vuitton store, you’ve seen them all. (And I’ve never been inside a single one of them…) I did peek in on Guerlain and Chanel — they’re just so classically French. But I don’t mind declaring that I much prefer the tiny bespoke shops of tiny neighbourhoods; the places that grow up in and reflect the character of their surroundings.
My breezing along the boulevards meant I arrived at the Eiffel Tower about when I had been expecting to. But let me pause here briefly.
I want to remember that moment when I surfaced from the Trocadéro metro station and climbed the steps to the adjacent square. You know it’s going to be there, at the top of your climb. And yet, seeing it for the first time still took my breath away. There it was. La Tour Eiffel. Metal filigree. Hulking grace. A landmark I’ve seen a million times over in photos, in films, in books. But seeing it with my own eyes left me feeling a swell of awe.
I took a thousand and one photos on my approach, even though I knew I’d delete the majority of them later, and the closer I got the more I marvelled at how the timing had worked out. The day had been mostly overcast, but the clouds were just starting to break apart. Golden rays were beginning to leak through the cracks, and it seemed I could be in for a spectacular sunset. What’s more was that I deliberately picked a Monday night to visit, knowing it’s a low-traffic day. The lines were even shorter than anticipated.
I’m not sure when it caught my eye, the red notice blaring out from across the top of the ticket booths, but I was only about 20 people from the front of the line when it did: “Summit: Fermé Temporairement.” The top was temporarily closed? No wonder the lines were so short.
It wasn’t storming. It wasn’t windy. But apparently it still wasn’t my day. I wouldn’t summit after all. No champagne with a view for me. No tick off the Life List. I thought about extracting myself from the line but I figured I might as well go to the first platform near the base and take in the sights from there — I had come all this way.
My ears perked when I heard a man in front of me ordering tickets to the top for his family. The agent processed his order and sent the four on their way. I took a step back and craned my neck up at the digital sign above. The red warning notice was inexplicably gone. I didn’t even bother to ask why or for how long the top had been closed. “Un billet pour le summit, s’il vous plait.”
I drank my champagne as the sun painted Paris gold. People had warned me I would have lonely moments while in this city. Standing there surrounded by people and yet in personal solitude at the top of the Eiffel Tower was one of them. But it was also magical. The view was simply otherworldly. And for so many reasons and in so many ways, I should have missed it entirely given the obstacles of the day. But the Universe had steered me to exactly the right place at exactly the right time — in spite of me and my best-laid but poorly executed plans.
I thought about how many times I have fought the Universe over the past while. Rising to challenge is one thing; beating your head against a wall that has no ability to move is another. The whole time I had wondered why the Universe was opposing me. It had, in fact, been protecting me as best it could.
Don’t argue with the Universe.
High above the rooftops of Paris, I lifted my glass into the burnished light. Na Zdorovie, I whispered to the Great Expanse, and drank to that.