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Out and about around the Eiffel Tower

I recently took Les Cars Rouges (a get-on-and-off red tourist bus with open seating on top) to the Eiffel Tower. My first move was to consume the best ham-and-cheese crepe in Paris at a street stand (see crepe preparation below). The crepe master pours the batter onto a circular black griddle and evens it out dragging a special T-shaped tool in elegant wrist movements. The filling is added, the crepe is folded and slipped into a paper wrapper, and voila.

My second move was to cross the busy street and walk around the tower’s piliers (pillars or feet) to check out the crowd. This is the kind of place you might meet someone you know. But, it’s also quiye busy, you could also miss seeing someone you know.

The towers’ girders are painted a cafe-au-lait brown, and the trim is painted orange. That brown and orange adds up to 50 tons of paint. The people who work at the tower wear the same cafe-au-lait brown jackets and pants, parkas, and sweaters with orange trim and silver rivets. So, whether you’re buying tickets or riding the funicular up the slanted pilier, you’ll see consistent Eiffel style.

Eating and drinking took many forms under the tower. Two Sikh men were walking along eating ice cream while four guys on a bench all ate crepes in paper cones. A British teenager whined to the hot dog guy under the north pilier, “Ketchup? Do you have ketchup?” (He didn’t have ketchup.) On one bench a couple shared tea from a Thermos while a man on another bench alternatively took bites of a long, cheese-smothered hot dog and typed on his laptop. A German grandmother was feeding a gaufre (waffle, image below) to a toddler in a stroller.

Roma (gypsy) ladies were out in force under the tower. They dress in carefully mismatched colors, prints, and stripes; sometimes they wear fabric slippers, sometimes they’re barefoot. The come-on is always the same: “Excuse me, do you speak English?” If you say, “Yes,” you get a tragic look and a little printed card with a sad story. They always seem to target the English-speaking tourists. I’ve never heard a come-on in French, German, or anything else.

Follow the ladies’ movements long enough and you’ll notice a Roma man who’s watching their every move and collecting their money. You’re certainly free to give them your euros, but I don’t engage them at all. I suppose the tourist turnover is so high (with perhaps each tourist staying several days to a week and visiting the tower once), that the scam is always fresh to a new batch of people.

A balloon of a giant white rugby ball hangs from the center of the tower, honoring France’s hosting of the 2007 Rugby World Cup (held every four years). A giant white, plastic rugby ball with “100% New Zealand” marks an exhibit hall sponsored by New Zealand. Kiwi volunteers are giving out New Zealand maps.

Three young policemen in flattened black berets walk through the crowd carrying machine guns. An American man asks them to stop so he can film them on his camcorder, saying into his mic, “These are some French military guys.” Further out from the tower, three policemen on horseback patrol the perimeter. Three more young officers in ball caps pedal around the piliers on bicycles. I’m not the only one checking out the crowd.

The bathrooms at the tower are clean and safe. The men and boys go right in and come right back out, but the women’s line stretches all the way up the steps. I imagine a movie scene where a woman grabs a machine gun and commandeers the men’s bathroom and demands a single line for both bathrooms. Maybe some dramatic civil disobedience would force public bathrooms getting designed properly. Many Parisian cafes seem to get this right with unisex stalls and a communal wash-up area.

There are wonderful gardens all around the tower with duck ponds and roses, hillocks and grottos, sculptures and narrow pathways. On the open lawn areas, you’ll witness countless ridiculous photo posing sessions. The Japanese favor the V for victory sign in every frame. The Americans ask others to take group shots. Teenagers stage numerous combinations of themselves looking idiotic. All with Mr. Eiffel’s masterpiece in the background.

Though I’ve enjoyed two forays up the Eiffel’s mighty girders, I can also do so much observing, eating, and pondering if I stay on the ground. I’d love to have another crepe–maybe Nutella and banana this time–but I turn and walk over to wait under the sign for Les Cars Rouges for a restful, breezy ride back to my neighborhood.

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