PARIS- There was no rush. The destination was fairly simple. In a single era- a Saturday in May- to clamber the stairs as high-pitched as one could go in four of the classic statues of Paris.
Depending on how you count the climb up the hilltop of Montmartre before organizing the 300 stairs to the summit of that wonderfully exotic grey dome atop the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur, plus the 284 stairs to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, the 669 to the second level of the Eiffel Tower( as far as you can go on foot ), and 206 to the colonnade on top of the Pantheon, that would be climbing between 1700 and 1800 stairs in a day.
One reason to do this would be for the activity, but, for any individual gravestone, that resounds more strenuous than it is. Groans echo through the apparently endless spiraling staircases of Sacre-Coeur and the Arc de Triomphe, but in my experience everyone makes it to the top. The Eiffel Tower stairs are full of little kids, for whom the massive lace-work of cast-iron is a kind of magnificent jungle gym, but there are also plenty of grandparents. They might go one step at a time, huffing and gulping a little and and sometimes laughing at themselves for taking on the challenge, but rarely if ever do they dispense with.
Another reason to climb the monuments of Paris is for the little sybaritic reinforces and amazes after the goal is attained. On that same Saturday in May, at the paw of Sacre-Coeur was a food fair devoted to the terroir of the Perigord, with tastings of yummy foie gras de canard, honey-nut mingles, and very respectable Bergerac and Pecharmant wine-coloreds.
On the first height of the Eiffel Tower there’s a pretty good eatery, the 58 Restaurant, with regular bistro prices( as opposed to the ultra-haute-cuisine and very expensive Jules Verne ). And on the second level of the tower is an outpost of La Duree, exchanging its world-renowned macarons. Below the Arc de Triomphe are the famous coffeehouses of the Champs Elysees, and the Pantheon is in the heart of the Latin Quarter, with all its saloons and bistros.
Of course most people climb for the views. Sacre-Coeur and the Arc de Triomphe, on the Right Bank, look down on the city from the north and the west; the Eiffel Tower and the Pantheon on the Left Bank see it from more southerly and central positions. Climb all four and you bracket the heart of La Ville Lumiere, the city of lights.
But, having lived in Paris for decades and climbed all four members of the mausoleums many times on different daylights, and sought out every other high-angle perspective on the city that I could find, from the fanciful mountains of the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont to the top of Notre Dame, to the ghastly monolith of the Montparnasse Tower and the tethered Generali Balloon in the Parc Andre Citroen, I was inconvenienced by the sense that most of the time, in most of those lofty perches, I was missing something.
In a word: ecstasy. Often when I seemed out over the city I recollected an ironic text from Samuel Beckett’s” Waiting for Godot “:” What do we do now , now that we are glad ?”
I fantasized, a little vaguely, that by rise those 1800 stairs in four areas of Paris, and maybe snacking a few cases macarons or sucking a little Pecharmant, everything would come together. I would in my brain take possession of the city. Or, at the least, I would figure out if I had been doing something wrong. Was there a blind spot in my sensibility? Or had I, perhaps, for all these times, somehow misconceived the supernatural of Paris?
Getting on top of this city is an age old-fashioned aspiration. Its Gothic steeples were arrows testifying the best ways to heaven. And the early history of human flight was all centered on- or rather above- the French capital.
Here and there around the city are little remembers. The first hot air balloon, carrying a duck, a chicken, and a sheep referred Montauciel, or “Climb-to-the-sky”, swum aloft at the nearby palace of Versailles in September 1783 with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette among the eyewitness. By November servicemen were going up in tethered bags in the villages on the outskirts of the city, and then, in December 1783, right in the midst of the Tuileries Gardens, the French inventor Jacques Charles and his copilot Nicolas-Louis Robert ascended to about 1,800 paws in a hydrogen-filled balloon. Today a marble plaque marks the spot.
The French Revolution came in 1789 and along with it the fatal mutter of the blade discontinuing from the towers of guillotines. Thoughts reeled in what is now the Place de la Concorde. But amid the strife the Parisian passion for altitude prolonged.
Today, joggers in the little Parc Monceau rarely take notice of a copper plaque announcing that this was where, in October 1797, Andre-Jacques Garnerin realise” the first parachute ancestry in record .” That’s not quite true. It was the first high-altitude descent from a balloon with a soft fabric parachute, but close enough.
By the 1840 s, affluent Parisians could take bag goes at a racecourse near the city, and one of its leading aesthetic digits, the photographer who called himself Nadar, had taken a passionate interest in aviation
After his first flight at the Hippodrome, this friend of Charles Baudelaire and Jules Verne scribbled,” Here I am up in the air, every hole charming in this infinite erotic amusement, unique to flight .” He felt, he said, “superhuman serenity.” And “thats what” I envisioned I was looking for.
Eventually this restless intellect whose life is wonderfully depicted by Adam Begley in the recent biography, The Great Nadar: The Man Behind the Camera , improved an enormous balloon he dubbed, simply, Le Geant, the monstrous. It stood roughly 200 paws high-pitched, about even with the towers of Notre Dame. It had a double decker cabin made of wicker with a dining region and, yes, a wine cellar.
The city that these early “aeronautes” beheld was not quite the one we is today, although the modern skyline still countenances no resemblance to the glass and sword Alps of New York or Hong Kong. The conversion at the core of Paris began in the 1850 s under the reign of the Emperor Napoleon III and persisted even after his win by the Germans and flight into exile in 1870. These were the activities of the decade when many of the city’s great routes like the Avenue de l’Opera were carved through old-fashioned vicinities, creating grand perspectives to be seen from the wide sidewalks and their famed coffeehouses.
Of the gravestones I would set out to climb on a Saturday in May, simply two existed in the time of Nadar. The Arc de Triomphe was started by Napoleon I( the one most people “ve heard so much about”) to commemorate his victories up to 1806. But he was out of the picture after 1812, and the Arc wasn’t accomplished until 1836, resulting various mutates of government. The Pantheon originally was a religion built in the 18 th century, and is now a secular mausoleum( with some religious trappings) for national heroes.
The Eiffel Tower was constructed in 1889 for the Paris World’s Fair, which marked the centennial of the French revolution but was really a revelry of the bourgeoisie. And Sacre-Coeur was begun in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, as a Catholic symbol of public penance for the belief decadence and sin that had led to such disasters. The site elected had been the last hilltop redoubt of the communards. But Sacre-Coeur was not dedicated until 1919, after The first world war, when the French is currently in the acquiring surface, and the survivors were about to usher in the 1920 s, with all the luscious decadence and hedonism, ability and passion that we remember and admire to this day.
So, with some of this in mind, on a extremely sunny Saturday morning, I set out, and by about 9:30 I was climbing the steps up the hill to the basilica in Montmartre. By a little after 10:00, peering around the faux-medieval towers in the cupola at the top of the dome, I beheld the city spread out at my foot. The opinion framed by the columns, which ought to have weathered by the handwritings of countless tourists, is probably the most dramatic and ended of all the Parisian vistas. Every major landmark is visible if you know what you are looking for and where. The Arc, the Tower, and the Pantheon all could be seen in the overcast distance.
Back down on the street, I stopped briefly at the Perigord food fair, then took the No. 2 Metro line straight-from-the-shoulder to the Arc de Triomphe where, fortunately, there was almost no one waiting to buy a ticket. But security has been stiffened dramatically since the terror attacks of 2015, with pouch examines and metal detectors at the base of the Arc. The spiraling staircase is restricted, and the potential is there for a vertical pedestrian traffic congestion, but the staff manage to pace enters to avoid that. Then after the spiral, there are a few more flights, and you come out on top.
Here, more than on any of the other shrines, one has a sense of the city’s symmetry. You are in the middle of the Etoile, the sun, that extends a dozen boulevards in geometric peace, and you are right in the middle of the metropolitan axis that pulls all the way from the distant skyscrapers of La Defense, with its vast, square Grande Arche, through the Arc de Triomphe where you stand, down the Champs Elysees, past the gold-tipped obelisk in Place de la Concorde, through the enormous but not permanent Ferris wheel and the Tuileries Gardens to the Louvre, where an equestrian effigy of Louis XIV ratings the end point of the axis.
I was feeling good after my morning’s clambers and might have walked to the Eiffel Tower, but was afraid the lines would be developing long, so I took the No. 30 bus from the Arc to Trocadero where the esplanade among foisting neo-fascist facades passes a magnificent look of Monsieur Eiffel’s handiwork. But as I trod across the bridge it was obvious that my dreads about ways had been justified.
Security had been growing tighter around the Eiffel Tower even before the terror attacks of 2015, but it became genuinely punitive after Greenpeace managed to scale the tower and unfold an enormous banner last year calling for” Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” and to #Resist the presidential candidacy of far-right populist Marine Le Pen. If Greenpeace could sidestep protection so dramatically, what might gunmen do?
So , now, the entire basi of the tower is sealed off by corrugated metal barriers pending the erecting of a permanent wall. You have to wait in line to get through, and then in line again to get to the stairwell. I was there for more than an hour, waiting. And while I reached the relationship of a very nice couple from Lancashire, I said that he hoped that I had made a reservation at the first-level restaurant, which has its own line through the fencing. Besides, I was getting hungry. Six hundred and sixty-nine gradations later, I bought a box of chocolate, vanilla, caramel, and raspberry macarons .
The looks from any level of the Eiffel Tower are stunning, but they are essentially the same, with somewhat different slants. I often make this climb, and often spend more meter seeing the beautiful ironwork, or parties watching, than I do looking out at the consider. And on that Saturday in May it was there on the tower that I began to realize the problem of headstone altitudes. The higher you get above the middle of Paris, the less wondrous it becomes, because you begin to lose the intimacy of its carefully wrought perspectives.
That feeling was confirmed when I proceeded to the Pantheon, walking part way and participating in the 84 bus the residue. There, it’s only 206 steps to the top, and those taken in stages with a group and an bodyguard, so the ascent is easy, and, to my head, the honor is great. One is just above the rooftops of the Sorbonne and the Latin Quarter, gazing out at Notre Dame, the gold dome of Les Invalides, the Eiffel Tower … It’s all there, but the views are more human, more accessible, more Parisian. And if one were even a little lower still, comfortably situated in the right dormer window of a loft among the mansard ceilings, that might be even better.
A few weeks later, I dropped by the apartment of my friend of many years, the photographer Peter Turnley. He established his honour covering crusades, but some of Peter’s best work, to my smell, is of life in this city, where he has lived even longer than I have.
” I’ve been step wall street of Paris now for close to 50 times ,” he said, considering just what it is that prepares it, as he employs it,” the most beautiful municipality in the nations of the world ,” and one basic reason, he ends, is that very few constructs are taller than six storeys.” The top floor of Paris buildings, which is often announced la mansarde , is a position and a residence from which one can see the city in a fascinating room ,” said Peter. At that degree, there are wide open attitudes, but there is still a satisfy intimacy with the surrounds.
When Peter first moved here, he lived for five years in a loft that examined out instantly onto Notre Dame. He felt he could nearly bend out of his little balcony and touch it.” I would wake up every morning to the buzzers of the church .” Such rooms with dormer windows beneath the square-off rooftops and chimneys initially were constructed for maids. In the working day before elevators, the “lower classes” were forced to walk to the higher floorings. In Peter’s garret there was no hot water , no phone, the toilet was down the vestibule and he took showers in the public bath on the Ile St. Louis. But the consider” was mystical ,” he remembers.
Now he owns an accommodation with a little balcony overlooking the Marais, and exchanges engraves of his images for much more than he paid in a year for his old suite next to Notre Dame. But his feel of the allure of Paris remains much the same. He recognizes it, essentially in monochrome.” The municipality is this fantastic kind of mosaic of what a black and white photograph is- in other words, everything in between a pure pitch-black and a pure lily-white, numerous manners of grey-headed. And the cityscape of Paris absorbs light in a very beautiful way. Different durations of the day there are different shadows, different reflections, different textures .” Then, at night, as the city flares up, it is ” electrical ,” and one appreciates how much more vast it is than it seems in the daylight.
Although almost all of Peter’s work is on the street engaging his subjects, there is one image of the city, looking down on the Seine and its bridges from somewhere high above, that I have always cherished. And having done so much climbing earlier in the week, I had to ask where he was when he took it. He wouldn’t “ve been told”.” It’s one of my uncommon personal secrets ,” he said.
I think I know, but I don’t think anyone without Peter’s persuasion attractiveness could get up there, so I might as well leave the secret to him.
A few periods after my clambers and that conference on the balcony with Peter in the Marais, I was invited to a party on the roof terrace of the modern Publicis building at the Etoile ogling out on the Arc de Triomphe. The incident was for some of the big names from Silicon Valley attending the Vivatech conference, and penalty wine-coloureds were sufficed. We were able to watch the sunbathe prepared behind the Arc, and beyond the exiled skyscrapers of La Defense, looking at the world through rose-Champagne-filled glass, and I visualized, yeah, this really is supernatural.
We were, of course, on the sixth floor.
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