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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Two For One Euro.

We were already nervous and on edge due to the serendipitous nature of our rendezvous here and now we also felt tiny and insignificant, gawking at this behemoth of a structure hulking over us. The thing was lit up brightly, illuminating the Parisian night; it shone a reassuring shade of old-fashioned yellow, the hue of decades-old newspapers, like it was adorned from top to bottom with the fragile carbon-filament light bulbs of yesteryear. I strained my ears trying to detect the frizzle and crackle of the filaments burning but if it was there it was drowned out by the hustle and bustle befitting France’s greatest tourist trap. As we were standing under it, within the square delineated by its base, it struck me how the tower resembles an enormous incandescent alien hand reaching down from the sky, its four fingers plunged violently into the earth, trying to snatch us up and steal us away. This flight of fancy was interrupted by a street vendor attempting to push a rose into your hands. You expertly waved him away.
Indent“Well done,” I said, struggling to find something, anything to say.
Indent“Thank you,” you said, turning to me and smiling. There was a respectful (or nervous) two or three feet between us but still it was quite clear that you had the bluest eyes I had ever seen. Several elevated heartbeats of silence followed before I spoke again.
Indent“They’re a hassle, aren’t they?” I nodded towards the street hawkers which seemed to permeate the area. The hawker/tourist ratio seemed skewed; that there was at least one hawker for every two tourists can’t be good for business, surely?
IndentYou just nodded, smiled, lifted your camera to your left eye and snapped a few shots.

We’d met, physically that is, only a few hours earlier outside the arrivals lounge of Charles De Gaulle airport but we’d been talking online for months before that. ‘I met someone on the internet’ always sounded hopelessly hip when someone else said it but now that it was true for me it felt awkward and silly, but awkwardness and silliness never stopped me before and certainly wouldn’t now. We were always going to meet and when the notion of Paris appeared on the horizon, we jumped at it.
IndentActually meeting you turned out to be less awkward than I’d expected but more awkward than I’d hoped. I’d been on the road for close to seven hours and standing there outside the arrivals lounge waiting for you was the first moment of non-movement I’d had all day. As a result of that I didn’t see you exit the arrivals lounge, giving the impression that you didn’t so much arrive as appear out of thin air. It seemed befitting, somehow.
IndentWe shook hands, kissed politely on the cheeks, said our hellos, stared at each other, grinned. Touching you, if only your hand in mine or my lips on your cheeks, felt exactly as surreal as I expected it would.
IndentThis was it. The hardest part was over and done with. Physical, as opposed to digital, communications had been established. Now all that was left was to find our hotel in this traffic jam of a city, the city of lo-- of light.

“Two for one euro? Two for one euro?”
IndentI just shook my head at him and you dismissed him with a curt “No thank you”. The place was emptying out; it was late and damp and cold on a nondescript Thursday evening and tourists were gradually going back to their hotels, skewing the hawker/tourist ratio at the base of the tower ever more and more.
IndentWe were standing in the centre of the square of the base of the tower and you were eagerly snapping shots left and right, the big camera pressed to your eye, giving you the allure of an adventurous, rogue photographer; flashes of you boating down the Amazon river with that same camera, in search of some undiscovered tree frog or river snake flashed through my head. You craned your neck and pointed the lens straight up into the belly of the beast, like a greasy paparazza shooting an up-skirt shot of the latest teenage starlet gone astray.
IndentBut there was no click.
IndentYou lowered the camera and kept looking straight up.
Indent“Huh,” you said. “Would you look at that?”
Indent“What is it?” I asked, looking at you looking up. I hadn’t really been able to pry my eyes away from you since I first laid them on you at CDG.
Indent“It kind of... kind of looks like a spaceship when you look at it from here. Look.”
Indent“I’m sorry, it looks like a what?”
Indent“A spaceship!” you exclaimed. “Come here and look already”. You reached out and grabbed my arm, pulling me closer. I craned my neck and looked straight up into the yawning mouth above us. A slight sense of vertigo came over me, either because of the intimidating size of the structure directly above us or because of my proximity to you and your hand on my arm; probably both. “See? A spaceship.”
Indent“Wow, you’re right!” I said and marvelled at a view that reminded me of every ‘80s science-fiction film I’d ever seen.
IndentStanding there looking up we didn’t notice that a hushed silence had come over the place; sounds had become muted as soon as you mentioned the word ‘spaceship’, as if a thick fire blanket had been draped over, not only the tower, but the entire city. We also failed to notice that every street hawker had stopped moving and turned their faces towards us.
IndentOne of them slowly started walking towards us.

It was a cheeseburger that finally broke the ice between us.
IndentThe hotel turned out to be much less untraceable and decrepit than we’d both expected and after flopping down on the beds for half an hour or so to rest our feet and let the bizzaro situation dawn on us we decided that we’d need to locate some form of sustenance; we needed food, asap!
IndentThe deluxe cheeseburger --yours medium; mine well done-- with fries and a recently deceased salad which they served at the bistro just around the corner from the hotel suited our needs perfectly: big, greasy and reasonably cheap but served in a place that looked posh enough for what would be our first real dinner together to not go down in history as a cheapskate date.
IndentThis was after all Paris.
IndentThe garçon was appropriately flirtatious with you as he flung the steaming plates on our table and after we’d stared at our meals for a good 45 seconds with knife and fork in hand our eyes met and in that moment there was a shared understanding of the fact that this would not, nay could not be handled delicately. The cutlery, along with our manners, was promptly dismissed as we simultaneously grabbed our burgers in our hands and murdered it with our teeth.
Indent“Hey, listen,” you said ten mirth-filled minutes later, a speck of burger sauce glistening proudly on your chin, like the sole survivor of a shipwreck desperately clinging to a piece of driftwood. “The Eiffel Tower is close by, right? You think we could pop by for a quick visit before we go back to the hotel and call it a day?”
Indent“Absolutely,” I replied. “Garçon, check please!”

“Qu'est-ce que tu viens de dire?”
IndentI looked over my shoulder to the lanky, deeply black man who’d approached and addressed us. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Not interested.”
Indent“Anglais?” he then said as he kept approaching us. As I waved him away I still failed to notice that the eyes of every street hawker in the area were on us. You were looking straight up, still captivated by that exercise in retro-futurism directly above us.
Indent“No thank you,” I tried again.
Indent“Non, non, qu'est-ce que la dame viens de dire?”, the man said before he shook his head and switched to faultless English. “What did the kind lady say, sir?”
IndentHe was standing no more than three feet away from us at that point, the whites of his eyes contrasting starkly with the shiny blackness of his face. His dark grey turtleneck sweater and black jeans looked years, if not decades, old but there was a certain crispness to him, like he had stepped out of a century-old photograph only moments ago.
IndentHis voice was oily and fluid, a low and pleasant timbre that managed to snap you out of your reverie. You turned around and looked at him.
Indent“What I said?” you asked him.
Indent“Yes, m’lady,” he replied. “What was it you said not two heartbeats ago, please?”
IndentYou narrowed your eyes and shook your head. “I’m not sure, why?”
Indent“About the tower, please?” he said, glancing up reverently at the structure above us.
Indent“Oh, that?” you said, chuckling at the silly nature of your remarks about the tower earlier. “It just struck me how the thing, you know, kind of looks like a spaceship when you see it from here. Wouldn’t you agree?” You looked up again and my eyes followed yours, but the black man kept staring straight at you, his smile ever widening as tears ran freely down his cheeks.
Indent“Merci. Merci beaucoup,” he said, his voice breaking. Then he, and every other street hawker in Paris, vanished into thin air with a slight popping sound.

We noticed the rumbling before we noticed that virtually everyone around us had vanished. As the ground shook violently we saw the few remaining tourists run for safety. I grabbed you and you me and we both blurted out ‘earthquake?’, more a question in search of conformation than a statement of fact.
IndentAn instant later, before we’d come to the conclusion that following the other tourists’ example would be wise, the massive concrete slab beneath our feet started cracking and breaking as easily and effortlessly as a pane of glass dropped to the floor. We were rooted to the spot and with my arms around you I pulled you to the ground; running away to relative safety was no longer an option with the ground undulating around us like it was. Big wedges of solid concrete were rising and falling all around us like we were stuck in the middle of level 4 of some ‘80s arcade video game. Only the patch of ground beneath our feet seemed to still be anchored to the earth while around us an ocean of concrete was heaving as if caught in a perfect storm.
IndentIn a crescendo of earth-shattering noise the small buildings at the very base of the tower’s four slanted legs simultaneously seemed to both disintegrate and explode and showered us in debris. As I attempted to shelter you from the worst of it your arm shot out, your finger outstretched towards the sloped leg of the tower that was in your line of sight. You shouted something.
Indent“What!?” I shouted in your ear, attempting to make myself heard over the din of the madness happening around us.
Indent“The tower! Look! It’s... it’s rising!” you shouted back into my ear. I looked to where you were pointing, to the base of the south leg of the tower and where a moment ago there was a small structure there was now nothing but air, as if the tower had pulled itself free from the earth itself. I quickly glanced over my shoulder and saw that all four legs had somehow detached itself from the ground.
IndentThe Eiffel Tower, 7.000 tons of steel latticework and rivets and paint and light projectors, was hovering a good 40 feet above where for the past century or so it had been anchored to the earth and was, as we were looking at it in sheer astonishment, still slowly rising.
IndentThe ground around us had settled down as the tower had detached itself, allowing us to slowly rise to our feet from our huddled position, and as we rose we witnessed the unbelievable: the tower gliding soundlessly through the air, slowly but steadily moving away from us, rising ever higher straight up into the night sky. With my arms still around you we stood where the tower once stood, amid a sea of broken concrete and snapped cables.
IndentSuddenly the place was lit up when a blinding yellow light lit up directly above us, exactly between the four now air-born legs of the tower. Simultaneously we lifted our hands to shield our eyes from the light but before we’d completed the movement the tower omitted a fierce shriek, the light flashed brighter still, and the tower shot away at a speed almost too fast to see.
IndentWe stood there, staring up at the now empty night sky, sirens blaring in the distance and coming ever closer. You turned towards me, looked at me, blinked twice, swallowed hard and spoke.
Indent“Can we go back to the hotel now?”


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