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The Tower And The Babel
Text by Mala Vaishnav
Published: Volume 14, Issue 4, July-August, 2006

MALA VAISHNAV returns to the familiar, well loved sights of Paris and looks at the romantic capital of France with a new eye

Paris, visited for the first time, is a wondrous romantic blur. Churches, spires, squares, fountains, avenues, bridges, all fly past in a premeditated itinerary while quietly flows the River Seine, snaking its way through the fabled, historic city. The second time round, I find myself pausing for breath. Except that now, I am forced to keep pace with my adrenalin-driven offspring. On the evening of our arrival in the super slick, super smooth TGV (train à grande vitesse) from the southern city of Marseille, we check in quickly into our luxury abode at the mythical Place de la Concorde and let two Paris veterans lead us efficiently through the underground Metro till we ascend the steps at Trocadéro. A fast trot down the street, a sharp left turn at the Musée de l'Homme and there it is - the Eiffel Tower, bathed in its golden after-dusk glow. As the hour approaches, I watch my daughters' faces. The lights blink furiously and the tower appears in dance mode. Tourist cameras flash, almost competing with the ten-minute sparkle, as a collective gasp fills the square. Records claim that when the tower was inaugurated in 1889 and the lifts were not yet in operation, 87,453 people entered the structure in the first fortnight and those suffering from vertigo climbed the spiral staircase, blindfolded. Such was (and is) the magnetism of seven million kilos of iron! I had earlier viewed the 1000-foot dizzying tower from many directions and in varying light, but Gustave Eiffel's architectural feat looks best in its evening dazzle and my daughters have to agree, when they see it later by day, undressed in its brown metal suit.

Hurrying past necking couples and racing down wide steps to board the Bateaux Parisiens' glass-topped boat at Port de la Bourdonnais across the street from the tower, I stop for a gulp of air. Isn't this supposed to be a leisure trip? To my daughters' consternation, I begin to amble and to their relief, the craft does not leave without us. In a coincidence of sorts, we are seated at the very same table where I had partaken of a feast before and though the menu has changed, it is as expansive, with a delectable selection of starters, main courses, cheese platters, desserts and wines. The violinist on board lulls us into a soporific silence and taking slow sips of a fine Bordeaux, we watch the monuments of Paris cruise by...