Welcome to the first episode of “There’s Only One Paris,” our new series of participatory stories. Every week I will be writing a fiction short story based on YOUR ideas! It can be by sharing your favorite places in Paris, it can be simply a French name you like or your favorite French restaurant. Any and all input is welcome and I’ll try to include it in the story. I’m kicking off the series with Paris’ most famous site… the Eiffel Tower! Discover more about the project in this article + video and you can either read, watch or listen to the story, A View of the Eiffel Tower, below and see the links to the other stories at the end.
Before launching into the story, I would especially like to thank Danyel Healey Moulden, Pam Kurtz, Terry Harrel, Zekya Ulmer, Wazzie Hoosein, Colleen Malone Turpin, Janet Conroy, Anna Nagy and Debra Sams who contributed commentary specifically for this story! Thank you so much!
Tune into my YouTube Channel next Sunday, April 5th at 2:30 PM / 8:30 PM Paris time when I’ll be presenting the second story… which will feature the Musée d’Orsay and artist Camille Claudel, based on suggestions by Christine D Mo and Mona Sonderborg Tompkins. More offbeat locations will also be covered in the series, like Belleville, le Parc des Buttes Chaumont and la Promenade Plantée… so follow my Facebook Page or tune in weekly to stay up to date!
A View of The Eiffel Tower
What can go wrong in trying to track down the perfect view of the Eiffel Tower?
* * *
“But, but … it’s supposed to be here…” said Maddie, letting out a lengthy sigh. “Right here!”
She stared straight ahead down the empty street, immobile and stupefied.
A little red scooter whizzed by inches from her bewildered face, breaking her spell of disbelief and forcing her back to the safety of the sidewalk.
“How is this possible?” she questioned breathlessly.
It might not have been right there in front of her, however, the image was ever so vivid in her mind’s eye. The snapshot was framed on both sides by two elegant turn-of-the-century Parisian buildings, their facades of beige stone glowing in the late afternoon light. In the foreground was a curvaceous iron gate. However lovely these were, they were not the star attraction of the perspective. Perfectly centered between the buildings and just beyond the gorgeous gate, was another seductive structure made of iron: la Tour Eiffel.
Forget planning which restaurants she was going to eat at. Museums, well, she’d booked a tour at the Louvre and at the Musée d’Orsay, so she didn’t need to do any prep for those. She’d downloaded to her phone a self-guided tour of Montmartre. She’d allocated a block of time for sitting on a café terrace, as you do in Paris. Everything ‘else’ would fall into place. She only had this one mission. She had to get that shot. This objective was what she’d put most of her trip planning attention to.
“Maddie, if you don’t take those vacation days, you’re going to lose them,” reminded her boss as the year anniversary of her new job was approaching. One of the reasons Maddie had taken the job was its extra week of vacation, and now she found herself neglecting this highly coveted perk. Her boss’ comment at least knocked some sense into her. Since she was a workaholic, she hadn’t been spending a lot of money, therefore, she really could afford a little getaway. Nevertheless, the question remained; where to go? That night provided Maddie with the answer, or rather, Instagram did.
Never had she been so struck by an image. The impact was so powerful, it had stopped her dead in her scrolling tracks. One could say it was love at first sight. Decision made. She would go to Paris… and find the view that had totally bewitched her.
After buying her plane ticket, she went back to scrutinizing the image. The Instagrammer hadn’t put the exact location of the scene, but that wasn’t going to stop Maddie. She spent hours scouring the Internet trying to find the spot. Alas, despite her efforts, and much to her dismay, keywords like ‘Eiffel Tower views’ or ‘Eiffel Tower between buildings’ were leading her down one virtual dead end after another.
The next day, casually lamenting over her predicament at the coffee machine, a tech-savvy colleague, Umberto, gave her the genius tip of doing a reverse image search. What a life saver! Sure enough, there it was. Her view. She’d found virtually the same alluring perspective on the website of a real estate agency. Although her savings fell much, much short of the asking price for the apartment the image was advertising, she had all she needed: the view’s magic address.
Maddie couldn’t quite explain why she was so drawn to it. Was it the general ambiance of Paris it depicted or was it the Eiffel Tower that attracted her so much? Maybe it was because it reminded her of her own town’s famous monument: the Gateway Arch. The Eiffel Tower appeared to be so omnipresent in Paris, just like Saint Louis’ Arch. It seemed like you could round a corner and see the Eiffel Tower peek through, kind of like the Northstar. Just like the Gateway Arch meant ‘home’ to Maddie, the Eiffel Tower seemed like a guide, watching and always there to say, ‘Bonjour! Yes, here I am. Nice to see you.’ That is exactly what seeking out that image of the tower signified for Maddie: finding and following her Northstar.
“Why hadn’t I activated that data plan?” sobbed Maddie helplessly, from her melancholic perch on that Parisian sidewalk.
She hadn’t because tech-savvy Umberto had said all she needed to do was load the address into her phone’s maps app when she was connected to her hotel’s WiFi and it would still work once she was offline. He was technically right, but he’d failed to tell her that once loaded, she had to leave the app open for the directions, and the location, to stay visible. This was the fatal mistake that put Maddie in her undesired predicament on the wrong Parisian sidewalk.
Since seeing that perspective of the Eiffel Tower in person was the main instigator of her whole trip, Maddie wanted to stay within the vicinity of the tower. She googled around and found a great deal on a place called Le Grand Hôtel Eiffel. With such a name, it was surely closeby and so she felt she could book it confidently. Hotel confirmed, Flight all sorted, view address located, Maddie felt ready for her trip and her excitement was growing exponentially with the decreasing days leading up to her departure.
She knew exactly what she was going to do on her first day. Umberto, who also happened to be a big fan of Paris, had told Maddie that if she was only bringing a small suitcase and since her hotel was apparently right outside of a métro station, she could easily get there by public transportation. That sounded perfect, mainly because it would mean she wouldn’t risk seeing the Eiffel Tower from the window of a taxi. She wanted to save it for that special spot. When she arrived at the hotel she intended to take a short nap, freshen up and then go out on her mission.
Sure enough, just as Umberto had promised, upon arriving in Paris it was relatively easy to take the subway into the city, even in her droosy, jet-lagged state. And just as its description had promised, Le Grand Hôtel Eiffel was indeed right outside the indicated métro station. It had all been so easy, she didn’t even need to use the expressions she’s learned on Duo Lingo to ask for directions.
The hotel wasn’t exactly ‘grand’ and her room was tiny, but it would serve her purposes, first of all, that nap. So she set an alarm and fell quickly asleep.
4:00 pm came all too suddenly. Maddie dragged herself out of bed, showered and made a cup of complementary instant coffee, a real Parisian café would have to wait until the next day. Reinvigorated, Maddie plugged the fateful address into the maps app and pushed the ‘directions’ icon.
“Twenty minutes?!” she exclaimed, surprised at the forecasted time it would take to get to her destination. Maybe the word ‘Eiffel’ could join the word ‘grand’ in the hotel’s misleading name. Maddie shrugged it off, discovering Paris along the way would be part of the fun. It looked like all she needed to do was turn left out of the hotel and keep walking down that large street for a while, then make a few other turns. Seemed straightforward enough.
She set down her phone, took another sip of the insipid coffee and finished getting ready, full of smiles as she was getting closer to achieving her dream. A few minutes later, she slid on her shoes, put on the French scarf the Umberto had given her as a token of good luck, complete with little Eiffel Towers embroidered on it, and scooped up her phone.
“Forty percent?” she gasped. “I should have been charging up my phone during my nap.”
Then Maddie remembered another wise piece of advice Umberto had given her: regularly switch off opened apps to save battery power. So she proceeded to flick up all of the active apps. Proud of applying what she’d been taught, she threw on her jacket, left her room, exited Le Grand Hôtel Eiffel, and gleefully bounded, to the right.
The sun was shining brightly and a warm breeze was gently lofting through the air on this idyllic spring day. Maddie was soaking everything in. Parisians coming out of the bakery armed with fresh baguettes. Bunches of colorful tulips meticulously lined up outside the flower shop. Waiters skillfully maneuvering teetering trays topped with glasses of wine. All of this added an extra spring to her step.
After around 10 minutes, Maddie reached a large intersection. “Hmmm… I think this is where I’m supposed to turn left,” she said trying to remember. “I’d better check.”
Pulling out her phone, she first cringed at the sight of her battery’s level of 30%, well that should get her to the spot in time. Then she clicked on the maps app.
“Hey, wait a second… where are my directions?” she asked, staring wide-eyed down at the maze of foreign-named streets with no blue line guiding to her destination.
“Okay, Maddie, remain calm,” she heaved in between deep breaths. “Think. Hard. What was the street called? Didn’t it start with… R? Yes, yes, it was R.”
She zoomed in on the map, looking around for any streets with Rs.
“Rue Rouelle, no. Rue Ravaud, no. Ah ha! Rue Rapin. That sounds right. Plus, it’s not far from the Eiffel Tower. That must be it.” Satisfied with her find, Maddie forced back on a smile and turned in the direction of Rue Rapin, cell phone firmly in hand, whose battery notification had just turned orange at 20%.
She turned onto a quiet side street and tried to go back to taking in Parisian life. Around her were parents escorting their kids home from school, a gaggle of teenage girls giggling over their phones, and a pizza delivery guy on his bike.
“I guess it’s nearing dinner time even if it was still light out,” Maddie pondered to herself. “I’d better hurry up so I get there before sunset.”
She checked her phone which confirmed that it was indeed almost evening time and that her battery was now in the red at 10%.
Maddie’s anxiety went up several more notches when she rounded the next bend and came face to face with something very tall… and it was not the Eiffel Tower.
“What are… those?!” she exclaimed, horrified at the sight before her. “High rises?? These are the wrong kind of towers! They don’t belong in Paris! Where am I??”
Stupefied, Maddie looked back down at her phone and zoomed out on the map. Yes, she was indeed still in Paris, despite the panorama of 1970s residential towers. What had happened to the classy stone buildings and wrought iron gates?
Zooming back in on her location, Maddie tried to find the fastest way to Rue Rapin, which, unfortunately, seemed to be on the other side of those mammoth buildings. She took another deep breath and forged ahead down a pedestrian walkway through the oh so un-Parisian concrete jungle.
The light was slowly fading from the sky, however, the sun was still above the horizon, shimmering on the glass facades of these modern towers. She just had to make it to her spot before the golden hour ended. She quickened her pace.
Soon she reached the end of the pedestrian path. Which way now? She pulled out her phone, only to find the screen… black. The chilling sight left Maddie paralyzed.
“You can do this,” she eventually said, giving herself a pep talk. “You’ve made it this far, it can’t be much further.”
She turned right, then left, then right again. An image of the Gateway Arch flashed in her mind. A guide. The Northstar. Come on Eiffel Tower, be my Northstar. This gave her some renewed momentum. She had a good feeling. She could even see a cluster of those classic stone buildings, obviously it was a good sign. It had to be just around the next corner.
“But, but it’s supposed to be here… right here!”
It was not. As she turned the corner triumphantly, the Eiffel Tower was, ever so sadly, nowhere in sight.
Just at that moment, the little red scooter sped past, snapping Maddie out of her stupor. She wanted to cry, but had to save herself from being run over first.
Wallowing in despair, safely on the sidewalk, her stomach grumbled. It was only then that Maddie realized she hadn’t eaten since that morning’s mediocre airplane ‘breakfast.’ She’d also worked up quite the appetite with all the walking she’d done zigzagging around the neighborhood.
Maddie looked around. Across the street was a little restaurant called La Dame de Fer. She didn’t care what kind of restaurant it was. Sullen and famished, anything would do.
“Bonsoir, Madame!” greeted a waiter as she stepped foot in the restaurant. “Une personne?”
She had gotten up to 100 in Duo Lingo so she could grasp what he had asked and was able to nod her head in reply. Yes, one person.
She was escorted to a small table near the back of the restaurant, a few seats over from the only other customers in the restaurant, a couple well into their meal.
Taking off her jacket and her not-so-lucky scarf, she picked up the menu. The first thing she was going to order was a glass of bubbly. That would make her feel better.
“English?” he offered, holding out another menu to Maddie.
“Yes, please.” she said, relieved. She really wasn’t in the mood to practise her few phrases of French. “Could I have a glass of champagne?”
“Madame, I am sorry, we are a crêperie. We don’t serve champagne. But we do have cider, it’s bubbly.”
She stared at him, desperately holding back her tears and managed to murmur some form of acceptance to his offer. She didn’t know what the cider would be like, however, within a flute it would look the same as real champagne.
She turned her attention back to the menu. Gazing up at her on its front cover was a jolly man in a chef’s hat, enthusiastically flipping a crepe from a flat pan. In the background was none other than the Eiffel Tower. Aghast, Maddie’s eyes darted around the room. The tower wasn’t only on the menu… it was everywhere! The placemats, the napkins, the salt shakers, the coat rack, the artwork on the walls… Everywhere!
As panic was quickly taking hold, the waiter returned, plunking a small ceramic bowl in front of her.
“Voila, Madame!” he said, disappearing off to the kitchen. The odd bowl was filled with bubbly liquid. This was her cider, not filled in a champagne glass. Her eyes began to well up again, she’d reached her breaking point.
“Isn’t this place so charming?” said the kind voice of a stranger, yanking Maddie back from the precipice of misery. She looked up to find the soothing face of one of the diners seated at the other table.
“We first discovered this crêperie back in 1995,” carried on the unbeknownst good Samaritan. “My husband proposed to me on top of the Eiffel Tower while we were backpacking across Europe. It’s our tenth wedding anniversary and he reenacted the scene!”
“We just can’t get enough of the Eiffel Tower,” added the warm lady’s husband. “It’s so special. Every time we admire it from different angles. The perspective from the carrousel next to the bridge and the views from over in the 16th district are some of our favorites.”
With their kindness and enthusiasm, Maddie’s spirits were lifting. Maybe she didn’t need to find that one exact spot to enjoy the Eiffel Tower. She picked up her bowl of cider, a gesture mirrored by the friendly couple. “Santé!” The three of them cheered in unison.
“To la Dame de Fer!” added the woman. La Dame de Fer… La Dame de Fer, pondered Maddie. Of course. The Iron lady, the Eiffel Tower’s nickname.
Everything would be alright. Apparently she had actually ‘found’ La Dame de Fer today, just not in the way she’d meticulously planned out. There was always tomorrow, well, or the next day, tomorrow was the Louvre.
She turned her attention back to the menu. When the waiter came back, she ordered the ‘Gustave’ set menu and another bowl of cider, which she was growing quickly fond of. By the end of her meal she was scrapping the very last drizzles of caramel au beurre salé off her plate, glowing after her glorious first meal in Paris, and possibly also from the cider.
“Où est le métro?” Maddie succeeded in asking the waiter after paying up. At least she remembered which métro station to get off at and could get herself back to Le Grand Hôtel Eiffel from there.
“Just turn right, then turn left and you can’t miss it,” he replied.
Maddie pushed open the door and turned right as instructed. The air had cooled, making her glad to have Umberto’s ‘French’ scarf, with its dancing Eiffel Towers, to keep her warm. Although her step wasn’t as gleeful as earlier in the day, it was self-assured and ready to afront the new adventures her trip would surely have in store.
Carefully following the waiter’s directions, at the end of the street she turned left, but then her feet came to a grinding halt.
Before her eyes was the sight of the glowing Eiffel Tower. A split second later it broke out in a sparking frenzy which literally took Maddie’s breath away. This perspective may have been framed by tall modern buildings instead of stylish stone ones and there was no chic iron gate in the foreground, nevertheless, she was in awe. Like the Northstar, the tower had guided her to it, in its own way. Now she had a new vision of it engrained on her mind and it was completely her own.
PS: The actual view described in the story and shown in the top photo is the view from Square Rapp in the 7th arrondissement.
There’s Only One Paris Episodes
Did you like this story? If you missed the others, you can catch up on them at these links: