Photo Essay:
Paris, Part III: Champs Elysées, l'Arc de Triomphe, Trocadero, Tour Eiffel

First posted in February, 2005

[ Click here to view the previous Paris photography essay. ]

February 8, 2005, 7.20 PM
Top floor, l'Arc de Triomphe

Where was I? Oh yes. I was telling you about the many distractions that sidelined me as I worked my way toward l'Arc de Triomphe. After pausing at le Grand Palais and after being thoroughly distracted by Pont Alexandre III, and after being tempted to go straight to the Eiffel Tower once it was in sight, I finally found my resolve and continued on toward l'Arc de Triomphe.

(It's odd and a bit annoying that as I write this I never know whether to use the names of these landmarks in English or in French, and whether I should use le, la, l' or the or, in fact, no article at all in front of them, and, well, nevermind.)

After a quick consultation of my map, I found my preferred path to l'Arc de Triomphe. I could have taken the metro (Paris' subway) practically right up to it, but Paris is an extremely walkable city, and I wanted the experience of the Champs Elysées. Not merely the famously traffic-choked roundabout around the arch, but to experience the long walk up the l'Avenue des Champs-Elysées, with its trendy shops and restaurants, even if I didn't step foot in a single one.

Automobiles for the discerning shopper
who has more money than sense.

Many of the shops had a doorman. I wonder whether or not that would be a good job. Does it pay well? Enough to support living in this city? Surely the shops make enough to pay a decent wage. Is it boring, nodding to people in greeting as they enter when probably most don't bother nodding back? Is it interesting to watch all the people who walk past, or do they all seem the same after awhile? The doorman at Sephora, for the record, seems to be slowly expiring of ennui.

There is a fine line between looking like a disaffected Parisian
and appearing to be just totally bored out of your skull.

Granted, there are worse jobs to be
had in this city, to be certain.

And shall I revisit my rant about how the corporate culture of the United States is slowly squeezing the novelty out of foreign locales? I do love being an American citizen, and I do feel blessed to have had the fortunate accident of being born in the richest and most powerful country in the world, but I am forever horrified by how we assert our influence globally, and I won't even write about how many absolutely sillystupidoblivious Americans I noticed wandering about this city today. At any rate, Paris feels more foreign than London, but this is largely a product of the fact that the native language is no longer English. I wonder how different my experience here would have been, say, had I visted for the Paris Exhibition of 1889.

I was very sad to see that nowhere in the translation
for our latest export to Europe can you find the words
pantalon carré.

Never fear, America! You have a choice!
Fine French cuisine, or McDonald's.

To be fair, this reminds me of the first time I ventured into a Francophone city on my own. I was twenty-two, adventurous, and a bit silly. I got in my car and drove non-stop from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Montréal, Québec. As I was crossing the border into New York state, I stopped at a drive-through for some artery-clogging sustenance food and decided that, for the first time in my life, I would have a quarter pounder. It was surprisingly good and somehow sweet to the taste in a very pleasant way, and seeing as how it was a novelty for me, I got found myself on a bit of a quarter pounder kick. This had the wonderful collateral advantage that it expedited ordering in French, because all I had to do was keep spitting out the phrase, "Je voudrais un numéro deux avec un coca, s'il vous plaît." Needless to say, the friend I was staying with quickly grew tired of this and I had to give it up and learn how to order real food.

Again with the digression. My apologies.

Slowly I worked my way down l'Avenue des Champs-Elysées, watching as l'Arc de Triomphe grew steadily larger in the distance.

The rumors about the traffic in Paris, at least by my off-season observation, are both true and an exaggeration. There are indeed a lot of cars - l'Avenue des Champs-Elysées is eight lanes wide and clogged - but I'd always heard that the roundabout near the arch was insane and aimless, with drivers acting seemingly at random, and that didn't really seem to be the case; I think that this is an American misconception, because roundabouts don't work quite the same way, if indeed anywhere at all close, to how they work in England and France. They scared me quite a bit at first, even after having had their use explained to me, but eventually you get the feel of how they work and they don't seem so random anymore.

Furthermore, I am impressed with how Paris seems to be just as accomodating to pedestrians as it is to automobiles; sidewalks are often incomprehensively wide, crosswalks are plentiful, and if there's no way to stop the traffic (as in the roundabout at the arch) they provide you with a subterranean walkway for access. Watch where you step, though, as lots of people have dogs and there appears to be no rule about cleaning up after them (or at least no rule that's enforced to any great degree).

I paused to purchase some post cards. Lovely post cards, though a bit spendy. I'm wishing that I'd had the forethought to purchase one or two extra to send to myself, particularly since I mailed them all from the Eiffel Tower, which has its own post office and a special cancellation stamp.

I had lunch in a little café - all the inexpensive sidewalk cafés here look the same, and I forget its name. They are a very welcome relief from the expense of eating out in England.

Finally, after making my way down the length of the avenue, I took the passageway beneath the roundabout to access l'Arc de Triomphe. The arch itself is really quite amazing, and I spent quite a bit of time merely standing beneath it, feeling miniscule, and taking in the art of the thing.

Looking up from beneath one of the arches.

The tomb of the unknown soldier with its eternal flame. The inscription reads:

Here rests a soldier who died for the nation of France 1914-1918

I considered paying to ascend to the roof of the arch, but felt that I'd rather return later, after dark, so that I could see the Eiffel Tower and all the lights of the Champs-Elysées.

I continued on to the Eiffel Tower. You can see the monument from many points in Paris, and I'd been catching glimpses of it on and off all morning, but as I began walking toward it, seeking it out, buildings started to obscure my view. I began by noting the general direction of the tower as viewed from l'Arc de Triomphe, but then the closer I came, the harder it was to see the tower, until finally I felt helplessly tiny among the buildings with only a vague sense of where the tower should be.

Just as I was about dig through my pack for my map again, I noticed an immense courtyard between some buildings and thought that perhaps that would be a good vantage point. I didn't realize until I was entering the square that this was the Trocadero, purposely built so as to provide an incredible view of the Eiffel Tower. As I cleared the building and entered the plaza, the tower emerged before me, and it was the first time in a very long time that I'd felt sheer awe upon viewing a man-made structure.

You can't make it out at this resolution, but someone
has written on the wall at the base of the photo:
Yes, it's written in English.

I made my way down the steps of the Trocadero, toward the tower, only to be delayed by the beauty of the fountains. Unlike every other fountain I've seen this winter visit, many of the fountains of the Trocadero were actually turned on. I sat down on a bench beside an ivy covered wall, looked at fountains, and wrote a couple of post cards.

But enough dawdling!

I continued along the fountains toward the tower, only to be delayed again, this time by a carousel. I saw a few of these today, situated on street corners, but this was the first one I encountered. I hadn't been on one in years, so I delayed my visit to the tour a few minutes more, gave the man my two euros, and mounted my steed.

Round and round, past the tower I go.

But enough dawdling!

I (rather clumsily) dismounted (I am short and my horse had stopped at the zenith of his ride) and continued on, yet again, ever onward, toward the Eiffel Tower.

Finally, I found myself at its base.

A bust of Eiffel, beneath his monumental structure. Believe it or not, Parisians really wanted the tower to be removed after the Exhibition of 1889.

I sincerely doubt there are very many left who still feel this way, however. It's difficult to think of Paris without thinking of the tower, after all. It's become the symbol, like it or not.

I took the elevator, coward that I am, avoiding what would have been a rather good workout - 1,789 stairs. I paid for this, however, by being crammed mercilessly into tiny elevators with lots and lots and lots of other tourists. Sartre was right - l'enfer, c'est les autres. On my descent I used the stairs and realized how gloriously uncrowded they are. The top level of the tower (there are three) was packed, but the second level was a bit quieter, and things were much improved. The view from the very top isn't, unfortunately, what people say it is as the haze and air pollution make distant sites such as Notre Dame practically invisible.

The Seine and the sites of the city fade off into the haze.

Monuments closer to the tower are easier to photograph.
Here is l'Arc de Triomphe.

And the Pont Alexandre III.

My situation improved even more upon descending to the first level of the tower. As previously mentioned, there's a post office in the tower; I procurred stamps, then bought some flan patisserie (baked custard) and a black coffee. I wrote post cards until my hand ached.

I got up and walked around the level.

I watched a film about the tower which was almost completely devoid of useful information because that would involve translating it into a few different languages and so instead it just contains a lot of historic footage of people doing silly things like hanging from the tower's beams without a net.

I saw a nifty hologram of the tower as seen from above.

I perused their little museum, which includes photographs and video footage of all the various ways in which they've decorated the tower over the years.

Finally, blood having returned momentarily to my hand, I found a seat and wrote yet more post cards until my hand ached again, then ignored the pain and kept on writing. I did this because I wanted all of them to have that nifty little cancellation stamp from the tower (later, upon seeing the post card I sent to Sam, I realized that the stamp really looks like it could have come from anywhere in Paris, and that all the frantic scribbling probably wasn't worth it).

The last card I wrote was to Sam, and it was in French, and it remained at the top of the stack when I handed the cards over to the post mistress; she was reading it as I left, no doubt noticing that I'd spelled a word wrong, and she now knows que je l'aime avec tout mon coeur.

No news there, really.

[ Click here to view the next Paris photography essay. ]