A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Sitting in Le Jardin du Luxembourg in the early afternoon, eating ham and cheese, you’d never know there was an economic war going on. The clouds are puffy, the air is clean and nobody cares whether the Euro is going to survive the summer. Politics in France is never played in the sunshine; it’s an evening entertainment. It rattles on into the late night with red wine and the last of yesterday’s cheese. Only students, a couple of streets away at the Sorbonne, can indulge themselves in the afternoons. Unlike me, they’re interested in the Euro today, probably because they’ve seen the Eiffel Tower plenty of times and it doesn’t fascinate them anymore.
I still can’t imagine how Eiffel thought it up, never mind built it. Yesterday, I was told if you stand just so and look just right, you can see the Tower and the box it came in. So I stood just right and looked just so and couldn’t see anything more than three French waiters laughing themselves stupid. Finally, one of them took pity on a serious tourist, said, “Montparnasse!” and pointed to Pompidou’s black erection on the left. (I think they’ve pulled this joke more than once.)
Most Parisians I’ve talked to (which isn’t many) don’t like Tour Montparnasse. They say it’s too black, too tall it’s just too there all the time. The other running joke is that it has the best view in Paris because when you look out from the 59th floor, it’s the only place in the whole city where you can’t see the damn thing. Interesting, but I like Montparnasse, and I think Parisians should give it a chance. Besides, I know something most people don’t. The Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World Exposition; however, back in the 1880s, when the city of Paris was planning the big event, one of the stipulations they made was that all structures built for the Exposition had to be easily dismantled — including Eiffel’s Tower. It was given a twenty year permit and was scheduled to be demolished and turned into scrap in 1909. That’s why the entire tower is bolted together.
The Montparnasse Tower isn’t anywhere near as iconic as Tour Eiffel, but maybe in a hundred years waiters won’t be making jokes about it. From the way those guys were laughing, though, I doubt it.