Sway C.

Tourist Attraction

The August sun shone brightly upon the hundreds of tourists lined up at one foot of the Eiffel Tower. The afternoon sunlight would have been glaring had the Paris air been cleaner, but the humid smog blurred the rays into a yellow haze. The line of people mechanically inched forward every time the elevator made another trip to the observation deck, and then paused, weary, until the next elevator came. Amongst this line of tourists, I stepped forward and stopped under the sign that indicated a 30 minute wait for the next elevator. The sun was in my eyes, so I tried to stay within the small patch of shadow cast by the sign until I had to move again. I thought it was a shame that I had to waste so much of my time on such a pleasant day, packed together with so many strangers and melting in their combined body heat.
By this point, I had given up complaining to my parents about the endless lines and the boring wait. I had asked my mom earlier that day if we HAD to go to the Eiffel Tower. I have never really liked skyscrapers and other tall buildings. I’m not afraid of terrorists or heights or King Kong or anything of that nature, but I think trips to skyscrapers are highly overrated. You pay, and then you wait and wait and wait some more to get on an elevator that hurts your ears as it shoots you up to the observation deck, where you can squint through the fog (because usually it is either raining or cloudy on the day you decide to visit) and attempt to make out the rest of the city. If you’re lucky and it’s sunny, you might get the nice panoramic view that is always advertised in the brochures, but the details and the people that make each city interesting become indistinguishable from such a great distance up.
However, my mom disagreed with me. “Don’t be silly! We have to visit it--It’s the Eiffel Tower. You can’t go to France and not see it. It’s like their national symbol. The travel book calls it a five star attraction,” she said, earlier that afternoon.
“So? Who cares what the travel book people have to say? What makes them the authority on being a tourist in Paris? I think the sewer museum would be more interesting than standing in line for five hours.” I wasn’t being sarcastic.
“Sewer museum?”
“Yeah, Paris has a unique sewer system, did you know that, mom? When they built it, they left room for other things that would come in the future, even though they didn’t know what those things would be, but it turned out to be the subway system. There’s a whole museum on it and stuff.”
“No. No way that… that sewer museum can compare with the Eiffel Tower. Everyone knows the Eiffel Tower. You have to see it. Just bear with us for a few hours, okay?”
“All right, fine. Just because the travel book gave the sewer museum a lower rating… oh, forget it.”
Since nothing would deter my parents from taking me to the Eiffel Tower, we were now waiting for the elevator to the observation deck. After an eternity, we reached the front of the line, passed a gift shop full of miniature Eiffel Towers, and got on the elevator. The small space was completely packed with tourists, who reminded me of crayons haphazardly jammed into a Crayola box. After a few minutes of adjusting my ears to the decreasing air pressure and trying not to trample anybody’s feet, I stepped off onto the first observation deck. The elevator exhaled in a palpable sigh, in unison with its human cargo. There was yet another elevator that went to the top deck, so the human cargo, like their companions a few hundred feet below would do an hour later, milled around in momentary confusion and then straightened into another line. As I followed the crowd around the edge of the deck, I lazily read the names and dates that countless other tourists before me had scribbled on every reachable and unreachable surface in sight. All these people had tried to make their experience here a little more personal, but ironically, their identities just blended into a big melting pot of ink. So many people had written their names that each name had become almost meaningless when compared to the entire mass of letters.
At long last, we arrived at the highest observation deck. Like all the other tourists, my parents began indiscriminately snapping photos of the skyline and forcing me to smile for the camera. I had to admit that the Seine reflecting the blazing golden sun made a pretty picture, so I didn’t blame them. But the rest of Paris had melted into a blurred mass of buildings before my eyes. The city reminded me of a giant Monopoly board, each block filled with tiny houses, the ant-sized playing pieces randomly wandering the streets. From up here, it was impossible to see anything smaller than one of those moving dots, whose anonymous faces I would never get to see or know. Despite being a national symbol, the Eiffel Tower drained Paris of human personality, both down on the street and up here among the nameless strangers who happened to be together in this moment. The city must have been bustling with activity at this time of day, but to me, it could just as easily have been lifeless.


Copyright 2002-2006 Student Publishing Program (SPP). Poetry and prose 2002-2006 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.