They closed the toilettes at the Eiffel Tower.
No, no, you don’t understand.
They closed the only toilettes within the entire enclosed area under the legs of the Eiffel Tower, which means you’d already passed through the metal detectors and the ‘open your bags’ and rest of it, and by the time you’d done all that, you were really, really looking forward to the prospect of the toilettes. But they were closed. And not just closed for a quick wipedown and a refill of toilette paper, see you in 10 minutes. Closed between 16h and 18h on a Thursday with reasonable weather and throngs (ok, November throngs, but still) swarming the area.
You approach the toilettes down a pretty little path, your face relaxing and your anticipation of relief building until you are confronted by the metal gate, locked, and the sign, imperturbable, implacable, and infuriating in its Gallic disdain for your physiology and its needs.
You, a sensible adult, curse and turn away to look elsewhere for other toilettes, because surely, surely, there are others hiding in the area—charmingly called the Esplanade—since these toilettes are closed for two hours, and 120 minutes hours from the way you are feeling right now would be mistreatment of the kind forbidden by the Geneva Convention. Or something.
You, the sensible adult, you think that. On the other hand, the children who’d waited until the very last minute to express their need to their parents, and who had found the pretty little path after searching all over under the legs of the tower, and who were holding themselves with the last ounce of their tiny, mighty, but quickly evaporating strength, they just burst into tears. Which had been your first impulse as well.
And besides, as it turned out, there were no other toilettes. There were children peeing in the shrubbery and grown men peeing behind the concession. For the rest of us, with nowhere to hide, there was a choice. Leave and hit the first brasserie and avail yourself of the facilities and, once emptied, drink to forget the trauma. Tempting. Or follow the pointed finger of the official you begged for directions to the non-existent other toilette and head up. Up the tower itself. In one of two directions—from the left, you can join a long, ragged line to await the ascenseur and ride up to one of the viewing platforms, which contains a view and toilettes; from the right, you can walk right up to a window and pay a few euros for the right to climb the tower to the aforementioned.
Up the stairs you go.
It’s far—57 metres to be precise. You’re not counting. OK, 328 steps.
It’s also, thank the gods, breathtaking—aerobically stimulating; blessedly, distractingly beautiful.
You wind into the belly of August Eiffel’s incredibly detailed beast, marveling at a complexity of the skeleton, a construction you can’t see from the ground or the elevator. The size of the bolts. The endless criss-cross of metal, an iron lace. The view through the structure of the city as you wound around, here the Bastille; there the green expanse of the Louvre, curve of the Seine.
And then, suddenly, the platform of the first floor, surprisingly expansive after the confines of the stairwell. With a transparent floor that you pretty much run across, and warm and welcoming toilettes without even a lineup—equipped with every essential and manned by an entirely unsurly attendant. You are as grateful as a man who has crawled through the desert to an oasis.
You are also, now, lighter. And curiouser. What’s up ahead? More of the beautiful same, and you fairly bound up the stairs to the second floor—115 metres up, 669 steps—the next perspective, the next drones-eye view of the landscape, the next admiration of the impossible confluence of stalks of metal and the sheer genius of the place and the person who designed it—and then had to defend it from demolition, which was planned just 20 years after its construction. Eiffel, in defense of the tower, described it as a scientific installation for meteorological and astronomical observations, physics experiments, a strategic vantage point, an optical telegraph communications point, a beacon for electric lighting and wind studies…anything that would keep demolition at bay. “It will be for everyone an observatory and a laboratory the likes of which has never before been available to science!” he enthused. And, if nearly 120 years on from its construction, the observatory has taken over from the laboratory, you, for one, are not complaining. You admire the view, poking your head out into the breeze surrounding the tower at this height. Like a dog sticking his head out the window.
And then something happens that makes you forget your ordeal entirely. Daylight has fallen, and suddenly, the man-made lights of the tower dazzle to life, all 20,000 bulbs and 336 projectors of them. So you head back down—you’re walking of course, a point of pride at this point—living the ville lumière from its source.
So next time, climb the tower. Go. Well perhaps, go before. And then, by all means, go.
As Paris prepares to host the Olympic Summer Games in 2024, the city is undertaking a project called: “The Eiffel Tower Great Site: discovering, approaching, visiting”. The project is designed to enhance the visitor experience in the area surrounding the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero to the Ecole Militaire, taking in Champ de Mars and Bir Hakeim, and going as far as the Quai Branly Museum. To quote the project: “Paris City Council is looking to make visits more enjoyable and easier to access: a wider range of services throughout the whole visit (toilets, benches, left-luggage offices, eateries, …)”. You, and many of the seven million people who visit the tower every year, look forward to the results.
story © Dianna Carr images © Francis Tremblay