- Calista Ocean
A 17 year love affair
"True love stories never have endings."
- Richard Bach
I have different relationships with many places in this world. There are neighborhoods in Long Beach, California, that vibrate with the sounds of my childhood – summer water balloon fights, dogs barking at me as I walked to school, and songs that we sang with hand clap games. There is the Pacific Ocean; which has caressed my body, held me, played with me, and carried me to faraway shores. I’m far more intimate with the Pacific than I am with the Atlantic, which I’ve dipped my toes in a couple times but mostly viewed from the safe distance of airplane windows. Then there is the Eiffel Tower. I have a special relationship with this landmark that dates back 17 years. Although we haven’t seen each other often, she was waiting for me to return to Paris this year. We had some unfinished business.
The first time I visited the Eiffel Tower was on September 21, 2000 - my 30th birthday. I’d arranged a 24-hour layover in Paris on my way home from a business trip to Milan, Italy. I awoke in a tiny hotel room, wandered to a nearby café for a petit dejeuner (simple breakfast), and then purchased a ticket for the hop-on/hop-off bus to make the most of my single day in the most romantic city on Earth. I rode down the Champs-Elysees, took photos of the Arc de Triomphe, and visited Notre Dame. Around midday, I stepped off the red bus at Trocadero square, greeted by an oxidized bronze statue of fellow American, Ben Franklin. I waved at him and turned my eyes toward the tower. I’d seen glimpses of her all morning, but I felt a surge of emotion as I finally stood this close. My heart pounded and tried to race ahead of me down the stairs and across the street to where she waited for me.
I decided to walk up the stairs to the second level. It was less expensive than taking the elevator, and allowed me to avoid the long lines. It didn’t take long to climb 377 feet, and the view was magnificent! I’d planned to take the lift to the top of the tower, but it felt different now that I was here. I used my hand to shade my eyes, and looked up at the elegantly pointed silhouette hovering in the sky above me. It was all too much to take in by myself. The Eiffel Tower whispered to me that the view from the top should be a shared experience, a menage-a-trois. I imagined myself up there, holding hands with a lover or taking photos with a friend. It felt worth waiting for. Who would come here with me when I returned?
I climbed back down the stairs to treat myself to a birthday lunch at 58 Tour Eiffel, the restaurant on the 1st level, where I ate oysters and smoked cigarettes and enjoyed the afternoon view of Paris. My waiter brought me dessert with a candle in it and kindly asked, “You want I should sing to you?” I politely declined, not wanting to draw attention to myself. He let me know that it was impossible for me to see Paris in only one day. I agreed.
Twelve years later, I returned to Paris with my oldest daughter, Amanda. We were celebrating her high school graduation. Paris was our first stop on a two week trip that would take us by train to Rome with stops in Rouen, Avignon, and Turin. The Eiffel Tower was waiting for me. I’d made special plans, booking dinner at the Jules Verne restaurant on our last night in Paris so that we could take the private elevator to the second level, and enjoy an elegant meal before we ventured to the top together. The weather was perfect, and we looked elegant in black dresses. It had been so worth the wait to share this with her.
After dinner, we left the restaurant to enjoy the view from outside. The view was different this time. The sun had set, and we looked out an ocean of twinkling lights that made the city look pulsing and alive. We took some photos, and then I asked her if she was ready to take the lift to the top. She didn’t need to shade her eyes as she looked up, but they were wide as she looked back at me.
“I’m not going up there,” she said quietly. “ I’m sorry, mom, but I just can’t. It’s too high. You can go. I’ll wait here.”
I knew my daughter was afraid of heights, but we’d talked about this moment. Of course, she’d seemed a bit nervous as we took photos along the enclosed railing, but it had never occurred to me that she wouldn’t want to ascend one more level with me. We were at the Eiffel Tower in Paris! For some reason, I thought that the excitement of this would overcome her fear. The lights around us seemed to twinkle with a mischievous laughter. La Tour Eiffiel, this tall beauty, was not done with me yet. She taunted me and flirted with me. Without asking, she knew I’d return again. There were parts of her that I still hadn’t seen.
On an interesting and funny note, Amanda conquered her fears and ventured to the top with friends a few years later when she spent a semester studying abroad.
A couple weeks ago, I returned to Paris. This time it was the final destination in a two week graduation trip for my youngest daughter which had taken us to Ireland, England, and the south of France. Brooklynn is not afraid of heights and was excited to be the one with whom I would share the view from the top. Unbeknownst to her, Amanda had made plans to surprise her and join us for the last two days of the trip. My heart sang with joy, knowing that everything had worked out more beauitfully than I’d ever imagined. What a perfect conclusion to my 17-year affair with the Eiffel Tower!
It would be an evening to celebrate beginnings and endings. Brooklynn is starting college in the Fall, and beginning to explore her interests in Environmental Science at a time when our planet is in need of so much care. Amanda graduated University last year, and is working her first full-time job, but still dreams of traveling the world. And I’m making plans to leave my corporate career behind, to become a vagabond writer. Everything is changing, but in my imagination, this moment would hang suspended and unchanging amidst all of it. It would be magical!
We looked like three roses in our evening gowns. My daughters wore vibrant red that made them look as bold and invincible as I know them to be. I wore a body-hugging, pink lace gown that made me feel soft and sultry. We rode the private elevator up to the Jules Verne Restaurant, where we enjoyed a fancy six-course meal and watched the sun set over the Champs de Mars. It had rained all morning, but the clouds had cleared away to give us a stunning view.
Three and a half hours later, we emerged out onto the second level of the Eiffel Tower. It was chilly, and we were without wraps or coats. We shivered and laughed as we took a few photos, and then hurried off to go buy our tickets for the lift that would take us from here to 906 feet above Paris. The crowds made it difficult to move quickly, and we had to walk down one level to get the tickets. When we approached the line, we noticed it was closed off by a velvet rope. There were still people in line, and the tower was open for another hour, but they were not allowing anyone else into the ticket queue. I thought about climbing over thigh-level chains, but an attendant was looking directly at us and had already kicked out others who tried moments before. We’d come all this way, and had missed the cut off by no more than five minutes.
At first we were speechless, but even as the initial shock subsided, there weren’t many words that we could say to make sense of it all. I fought back tears, and asked Amanda to talk with the man who had closed the line; maybe if she explained to him in French, he would understand and let us go. He did not. We would not be going to the top of the Eiffel Tower tonight.
I try not to hide my feelings from myself or others. For a moment, I wanted to fall apart – to cry and feel angry at the unfairness of it all. That feeling passed quickly, and was replaced by a sense of calm and amusement. It was an absurd joke, really, but here I was in Paris with the two most beautiful girls in the world. We were more dressed up than anyone else at the Eiffel Tower, such that people had been pointing at us and taking photos since we’d stepped out onto the platform, certain that we were celebrities or models. We had just enjoyed an evening of food and wine and laughter. We were here and I felt alive and the whole idea of going to the top just didn’t feel important anymore. It wasn’t going to make this evening any more perfect than it already was!
We looked warm in the cold night air as we took a few more photos to commemorate our last night in Paris. The Eiffel Tower was whispering to me again, asking me when I would return, but my heart is a wanderer and my affair with her feels like it may be drawing to a close. I’ve danced with her a few times now, but I hear other partners calling to me. I love Paris. I love the Eiffel Tower. I love the statue of Benjamin Franklin near Trocadero Square. I love walking along the Seine. I’d never pass up an opportunity to visit this city which has so grabbed my heart, but I wonder if the view from the top is all that different from the view around 500 feet below it. There is so much to see in this world, and so many people to see it with. So, for now, I will say “Au revoir” to the Eiffel Tower and remember her like some of the almost-lovers that I’ve left behind along the way - both of us with secrets intact and fully satisfied with the dance.