You are on page 1of 4

The Wonder of the Seventh

I was much keener to walk than take the train. Not that the Parisian rail network system
isn’t excellent - it certainly is. Instead, it was partly due to the manageable distances
between major sights in central Paris; partly the loss of orientation that the mostly
underground central trains occasion in the visitor; partly the somewhat convoluted rail
route that I would have to follow from where I was (outside the department store Le Bon
Marché) to where I wanted to go (the Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel); but mostly it was the
desire not to use a system that had caused me such panic the day before.

Let me explain. Usually I do some research. I tend to know exactly how far the airport is
from the city centre, what the rail, bus and taxi alternatives are, and the advantages and
drawbacks of each. At the very least, I usually know whether or not the city I am visiting
has two complementary forms of rail transport; so I would usually be able to grasp
implicitly that a map for regional trains (or RER) given to me by a helpful woman at the
information desk in Charles De Gaulle airport will not be identical to a Paris metro map.
But complacency is such a relaxing alternative: why strive to find out what you (think)
you already know?

I should have remembered that a little knowledge of a city is a dangerous thing,
especially when it is formed from the hazy recollections of a visit 20 odd years ago.
Then, I was a student taking a one-night stopover in Paris on my way to Switzerland, via
Gare de l’Est and the magnificent Trains à Grande Vitesse. Now, as I gazed at the RER
map, I was in a Rumsfeld of my own making: I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It might
also have helped if I hadn’t simply blurted out the most famous stop near my hotel - the
Arc de Triomphe - to the lady at the information desk, whose instructions in response
were faultless: take the ‘B’ train to Châtelet-Les Halles. Change. Then take the ‘A’ train
to Charles de Gaulle Étoile. Alight there for the Arc de Triomphe and your hotel. Simple.

And indeed the journey was uneventful. For 16 Euros, I had a quiet carriage, a fleeting
view of the Stade de France and a direct line to the city centre. Within 30 minutes, I had
found the ‘A’ train and was contentedly hurtling towards the Champs Élysées. But then I
finally looked carefully at the map the hotel had provided. The nearest station to it was in
fact George V, followed by Charles de Gaulle Étoile. Wait a minute - George V? I began
casting a casual eye over the RER map. I continued, less casually. No sign of it.
Nowhere. The train slowed and stopped. Auber, the station before Charles de Gaulle
Étoile, was on my RER map; but where was it on the hotel’s? And where were all the
other stations that the hotel map showed? What to do? Stay? Get off now? A paroxysm of
indecision was broken by a sudden ‘all aboard’ sort of warning. I grabbed my suitcase
and heaved it towards the doors, which immediately slammed shut. Great: lost already. I
looked again at the map inside the train. Sure enough, there was Auber and the next stop
was indeed Charles de Gaulle Étoile. But the hotel map was so different. That wasn’t
possible, unless….

That’s when I had my little epiphany.

and turned down rue de Babylone .a more or less direct pedestrian route to the École Militaire and the Eiffel tower beyond. ‘. passing along rue d’Estress and avenue Duquesne until I was met by the walls of the École Militaire. But not today. On drier day. The resting place of Napoleon.’ But hugeness alone does not explain the tower’s undoubted power to mesmerize. through the power of multiplication.. In a reply to those who had disparaged the tower. the Hôtel des Invalides emerged on the right. both of whom . it was sci-fi. eager to glimpse what I had come to see. But more than that.pulled on a coat and began walking towards what utterly dominates the seventh arrondissement. Skirting these quickly. The sweep of its long.a crisp. Seeing this well-worn image dominate the space around it was enthralling.accentuated by the prolonged pause between the . Instead. ignored the threatening tones of a sky rapidly turning a deep gunship grey. and pondered which fresh produce to buy from which stall. its classically-inspired architecture is probably best appreciated from the front and the Esplanade des Invalides. After about fifteen minutes of walking along this quiet street. glass and steel counterpoint that faces the looming tower . and not the back as I was doing. I entered the park at the Peace Monument . The tower was so large. Nevertheless. I might have taken a short detour to the flourishing market in the rue Cler district.along with numerous other men of letters . a special charm to which theories of ordinary art are hardly applicable. its gold dome a striking contrast to the dark skies that Le Bon Marché’s surrounded it. symmetry and austere grandeur would surely have met with the approval of Guy de Maupassant and the architect of the Opéra Garnier.So with my rucksack filled with morsels from Le Bon Marché’s huge food hall. strolled along its car-free. The tower itself stands like an exclamation mark at the end of the Parc de Champ du Mars: a startlingly three-dimensional manifestation of countless postcards. bringing upon itself dishonour and an ugliness that can never be corrected?’ I continued walking. savoured its range of eateries. cobbled streets. I put away my carnet (a booklet of ten tickets for travel on the RER and/or Metro). what little I could appreciate of its proportions. curvaceous ascent .there’s an attraction in things colossal. In a letter to the Le Temps in 1887. cinematic pans and paintings of Paris. and what is perhaps the most recognizable symbol of Paris and indeed France: La Tour Eiffel. watching it as I drew closer was like turning the lens on a spider under a microscope: what was once quotidian was. being made new and gargantuan with every step. they described the tower as ‘the disgrace of Paris’ and a ‘hateful column’ asking ‘Will the city of Paris thus continue to be associated with the strange and venal imaginations of a machine-maker. Eiffel wrote.wholly disapproved of the Eiffel tower. made my way back to the intersection where the rue de Sevres meets the boulevard Raspail. Charles Garnier. I was finally rewarded with a view of the tower just as the rain began to fall.

As I saw it. ‘a tailor called ‘The Bird Man’ leapt to his death . Was it Gustave? I made towards it.perhaps one of the best vantage points to sate a desire for photographs. an elephant once climbed to the first floor.second and third stages. I arrived below the tower. Sheltering from the gale behind some workmen’s huts and surrounded by superfluous crowd control barriers. The first would be non-existent. At a trot. the metro. trudging across Pont d'Iéna and entering the place de Varsovie . the view didn’t disappoint. 1550 . silhouettes darkening. I had heard that the once-a-week-late- opening Musée d’Orsay’s café.presumably when his wings failed. the four base pillars .orientated to the cardinal points . but not within my budget. I waited for the rain to diminish. I was dodging past the gangs of ‘Tour Eiffel’ key-ring sellers on the quai Branly. So instead. Although there were a few cafes around the Trocadero metro. shadows lengthening and the wet streets reflecting all. but stopped short: the rain had finally ceased to fall horizontally. and the harsh exoskeleton iron frame are juxtaposed elements that encourage the viewer to love this icon as much for its design aesthetic as for its emblematic representation of late nineteenth century industriousness. and a funambulist successfully made it from the tower to the Trocadero. I had been thinking all of this when I noticed a bronze bust near to where I was standing.that hunch like tensed thighs below its three platforms and UHF antenna peak. I reacquainted myself with the underground. the second very desirable. had hot chocolate worth….pulling out a carnet and navigating my way there by metro and RER. After the deluge. and to pass the time I recounted some of the more outlandish facts about the edifice such as it requires 60 tons of paint to cover it. With a final salute to Gustave. I briefly pondered waiting in line. the infamous queues for the lifts to the top were only moderately long. Thanks to the now heavy rain.. And with the sun edging towards the horizon. Finally. But by now I was thoroughly cold and damp and in need of a hot drink. there were only two good reasons for doing that: the views and Alain Ducasse’s Jules Verne restaurant. also in the seventh arrondissement but back the way I had just come. and a promise to check next time if it was indeed his likeness I had seen.

Related Interests