Now picture this: it is a weekend trip to Paris (because if Paris was only three hours on the train from where you live you’d keep feeling like you ought to go more often too), and the weather is rather sunny for November so it seems an excellent idea to cycle past the Eiffel Tower. Like many others I am a fan- it’s essentially a structure that serves no purpose other than to show what cool things people can build, and I get to practice my memory of French mathematicians/scientists by looking at the names on it, so what’s not to like? Seems like a good day to take in the view, so I join the tourist queues to tackle the steps.
I last tackled the steps by the way in 1998 on a family vacation when I was 12 years old, and I distinctly recall thinking of the entire endeavor as something akin to a death march… meaning I was rather surprised to bound up the steps in half the estimated time, passing many a tourist group along the way. I then remember that I was a bit of a wimp at age 12, and take solace in how I’ve left behind a large fraction of that in the intervening years…
Anyway, touristy moments done it was time to find lunch, when I took one last glance up and noticed a fellow on the outer scaffolding on the Eiffel Tower. He was pretty high up on one of the legs and I confess at first I thought he was a cleaner (I’d just admired a postcard of a precariously perched one) until I realized wait, this was not normal, not normal at all…
He was a protester of some sort, who had somehow managed to climb up on the leg and up on the framework quite a ways, and was now busily trying to tie a banner onto the iron struts. (He was not, however, thinking far enough ahead to make the banner or lettering big enough to be seen from the ground, so he gets an A for effort but F in execution for getting his message out.) I and the two other tourists were in fact getting really nervous watching him move around so high up with nothing to secure him whatsoever, and we realized this was kind of weird that no one in a position of authority was paying any attention.
I looked around, and saw three French police officers busily chatting with each other not fifty feet away. This seemed odd in itself so I went over to say excuse me, but don’t they see the man up there…? The annoyed looks at my interruption turned to a look of horror as they saw where my finger was pointing, and minor pandemonium broke out as they ran off to their positions shouting into their walkie-talkies. Ah, the French!
Now that my civic duty was done I had no real interest in watching a man accidentally fall to his death should it happen, and more importantly I was pretty hungry, so I went off to a corner cafe nearby. Ended up having a rather nice chat with my cafe neighbors as the police, fire, and medic cars kept turning the corner where we were sitting while heading towards the tower- it turned out they were American expatriates who lived in the neighborhood.
“Does this happen often?” I asked, as they were only mildly interested in the uproar.
“Oh yes!” the woman told me. ”It’s an internationally recognized monument, of course, so I’d say the Eiffel Tower has something like this happen every few weeks. They shut it down a few times a year for bomb threats too, of course.”
Some onion soup, foie gras, and wine later I headed back to the Eiffel Tower where the fire department was packing up, and they told me they got the protester down without incident. Paris, as she has for centuries when the politics of her people unfold, shrugged her shoulders and moved on.