Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In the Heights

An Eiffel Tower View, 2006 (click to enlarge)

I’m not big on heights. I don’t do well on tall ladders. I don’t climb tall mountains or rappel down their sides. I’ve been to the top of North America’s tallest buildings. But I’m not terribly comfortable in buildings of, say, thirty stories or higher unless they look like they have substantial bases.

The Empire State Building is okay. I find the Transamerica Tower in San Francisco, on the other hand, to be creepy because of the way the elevator shafts extend outside the walls of the building as they reach the top.

I once stayed in a swank high-rise hotel in Toronto that had not only a small footprint at street level, but also what I thought were extremely thin reinforced concrete floors and brick veneer walls. I’m not an engineer, and this building might have been quite sturdy. But I wasn’t convinced and didn’t sleep well that night.

It never occurred to me when I first went to Paris that I’d have any qualms about going up in the Eiffel Tower. I mean, how could you go to Paris and not go up in the Eiffel Tower?

The Eiffel Tower rises just over 900 feet above the ground. That translates into roughly a ninety-story building. If the height doesn’t get you, the fact that the first series of elevators travel diagonally instead of straight up and down might give you pause.

An Eiffel Tower Leg, 2006

The first time we were there I found myself very uneasy on even the first observation deck, which is roughly nineteen stories above the ground. The deck itself is steady and wide. But I still found it very difficult to get close to the outer edge.

Never the daredevil, I nonetheless agreed to ascend to the second observation deck, which is at the roughly thirty-eighth floor level. The deck is smaller, but at least the first thing you see when you look over the edge is the lower observation deck, which extends out like a skirt underneath.

[Yes, I’m aware that someone who has a problem with heights should never look down. But doesn’t having this phobia pretty much ensure that you’re going to do just that?]

All the Cars. All the People, 2006

Anyway, my presence here today affirms that I survived that trip to the Eiffel Tower and two more several years later. (I never did go to the third and uppermost observation deck.)

As views go, the Eiffel Tower’s a pretty impressive one. It helps that central Paris is a low-rise city. You don’t have to get very high to enjoy a terrific view. I’m told some Parisians prefer the view from the top of the Montparnasse office building observation deck because it includes the Eiffel Tower. I’ll just have to take their word for it. For now, I’ll be keeping my feet on the ground as much as possible.

Casting a Shadow, 2006

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