The Eiffel Terror (part 1 of 3)
I was about 3/4ths way to the second level of the Eiffel tower when the fear set in.
I would say that under normal circumstances, I'm not very afraid of heights. Sure, there's something about being on the edge of a cliff on top of an insanely tall mountain that makes me want to crap my pants a little, but on the whole, I wouldn't say that I want to crap my pants any more than anyone else with a practicum of common sense in that scenario. In the past, I've climbed mountains and trees, even parachuted out of a plane into shark infested ocean water. But the Eiffel Tower? That's some seriously frightening sh*t.
I remember it all started with just a simple step onto one of the diamond plated landings of the stairwell on my way up to the second level. A thought occurred to me as my blue New Balance Classic landed softly against the bronze colored wrought iron steps of the tower. This thought was that this relatively thin piece of iron under my foot, which was welded more than 100 years ago, was the only thing that was keeping me from a nearly 400 foot drop into space.
And all at once, I had the sensation of falling.
I wasn't, mind you, but you couldn't tell my stomach that as it began lurching towards my throat like it was trying to escape. I'm sure if I had eaten anything that day I would have chucked it right up.
It was an odd sensation, and the only way I can describe it is like this: It's like I was simultaneously in two different points in time at once. I was in the present, when the sun was shining, the tower was standing, and everything was generally lovely. But I was also in the distant future, half way up the tower, on the day that it inevitably crashes to the ground.
I've told people about this weird feeling and the general reaction that I've gotten is genuinely perplexing. The main thing people say is, "Well, it might not collapse." And I say, "Well, all man made things will eventually come to an end." And they go, "Not necessarily. Man is pretty ingenious." And I say, "Well, what about when the Earth blows up?" And they say, "It's pretty durable. Could survive it." And I go, "There's no way it would survive the sun exploding." And they say, "Turn it into a rocket ship. Already looks like one. Fly it into outer-space." (OK, that last part wasn't actually said by anyone, but wouldn't that make a cool looking rocketship???)
Basically, some people just don't want to think about bad things happening. But up on the tower, I couldn't stop. Mountains crumble, seas dry up, and the Eiffel Tower was definitely going to crumble one day. Probably not on that day, but there was no way of knowing for sure, you know?
I gripped the handrail with both of my white knuckled fists, making sure to secure each clammy handhold on the cold iron with one hand before letting go of the other as I struggled to move each foot slowly, deliberately upwards. But though I struck dumb with fear, struggling with the weight of my luggage on my back and an apparent distrust of architects in my head, no one else climbing up the stairs even seemed to consider how disastrously high up we were. Little French kids laughed and giggled past me, running up the stairs towards the second level as I clung to the handrail just in case the floorboards suddenly gave way underneath me. "Isn't that just like little kids," I laughed to myself, "Too damn stupid to know when they should be scared shitless."
When I finally got to the second level, I was deeply alarmed at the disappearance of the handrail, which I had come to rely on to keep myself upright and sort of expected to be there for me through all aspects of my life now.
I walked out onto the platform on shaky, gelatin legs. I was like one of those people in movies who has to learn how to walk again, using those parallel bars at first, and then nothing at all. Or maybe, I was like a baby learning to walk for the first time, not really believing that they can do it. Yeah, that's probably a more apt analogy. I was basically like a paralyzed baby learning how to walk again. Also the baby is drunk. And might be in the grips of an ether binge. Yeah, THAT is exactly how it felt walking up there without my handrail. But I must have looked relatively normal, because no one seemed to notice me at all over the amazing breathtaking views.
I willed myself towards the platforms edge, telling myself that I had a duty as a photographer to get these pictures. I snapped some, poking my camera through the wire mesh to get better shots, though I worried somewhat irrationally (since I had the strap on) that I might drop the camera off the edge of the tower and kill someone down below.
After a while, I noticed they sold wine up on the tower, because of course they do, so I gravitated in that direction. Thinking that I could use a little liquid courage. Hard to be freaked out if you're buzzed right?
Turns out all the wine did was make me less inhibited, not braver. It didn't help that, like I said earlier, I hadn't eaten that day, so the alcohol hit me hard and quickly. I was sitting on a bench, writing all this hysterical crap in my journal, when a middle aged American lady walked up to me.
I knew she was American because her blouse looked like it was made from the upholstery of a flowery couch from the 1990s and she had the sort of haircut that made her head look like a startled bird.
She sat down next to me and in a sort of Minnesotan accent said something like, "Wonderful view up here, though I don't care for going too close to the edge."
I thought I'd found a kindred spirit and in a high pitched, panicky tone I word vomited something like, "Tell me about it! I can't stop thinking about the building collapsing all around us and everyone falling to their deaths!!!"
"DEAR GOD!" She screamed at me, "YOU DON'T JUST GO AND SAY THINGS LIKE THAT!!!" And then she grabbed her purse and stormed off. I saw her a couple minutes with the people she had presumably come there with. She pointed me out to them, making fervent hand gestures, and then walked directly towards the stairs, and left.
And just as I was trying to process that, a body plummeted off the tower...
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2