There are a few universally recognizable symbols. The Eiffel tower is one of those. I say symbol, because even a crudely sketched silhouette of the tower is instantly recognizable. Symbols are simple images that instantly evoke a whole mess of associations. Three lines are all you need to make an Eiffel tower, and when people see those three lines they will think of France, Paris, and probably love, or, if they grew up playing Twisted Metal, they might think of the level where you could blow up the tower. Either way, the tower evokes a whole range of ideas and emotions, even in people who have never seen it.
Here is the tower as seen from the Jardin de Tuileries. Because it's the tallest building in Paris, you can see it from anywhere you get an unobstructed view. Also, Paris doesn't really have skyscrapers the way most major cities do, so the tower dominates the Parisian skyline, as it has since 1889.
Because it's the only structure that sits that high above the city, it's very easy to be unimpressed at a distance. The lack of other towers, high-rises, and skyscrapers around it leave the tower void of visual reference. As a result you can be miles away, and assume you are much closer to it than you are. You can also be miles away and see it, and just sort of think "that's it?"
That, combined with the fact that the tower is so hyped and universally loved and admired, and that it was built in 1889 before all of the modern skyscrapers, made me ready to be disappointed. Not to sound too cynical, but anything that's been as marketed as much as the Eiffel Tower makes me think it's kind of a tourist trap. And how big could they really build a tower in 1889? And it's just a tower, I imagined a skyscraper with rooms and indoor plumbing would be more of a marvel then a big piece of iron made out of lots of little pieces of iron.
And it's the touristiest place on the planet. Look at the lost tourist below, inevitably trying to find the tower on a map when he could just walk toward the big stick in the distance.
When I finally saw the tower up close, it was night, and it was cold and wet. It had been drizzling a few hours before, the kind of rain that seemed impossible given how cold it was. We got out of the subway, and headed toward the tower. We were close enough that you could see the top of it poking over buildings here and there, but you couldn't really see it.
Then we came around a final corner, and there it was. Luckily we approached it from the back, so we didn't see it from a great distance and watch it grow in size as we approached. It just suddenly filled the sky and I couldn't stop looking up at it. It dominated my field of vision. Like the Grand Canyon, it's a hard thing for your brain to compute and process.
I get now why it's such a big deal. It's not just a big tower. It's beautiful, and seeing it lit up at night does fill you with a sort of awe that I imagine could easily turn to romance if you were with a significant other.
There were really long lines to take the elevator up. There are a few different levels; there are even some restaurants up there, although I couldn't see them from the ground. Standing directly underneath the tower and looking up is crazy, it's like steam punk heaven. Looking up into the twisting metal that seems almost organic at that large a scale, I couldn't help but think of the part of the movie Independence Day where the alien ship opens up and the people look up at the means of their destruction. I felt that same level of helplessness, and that same marvel at an advanced, yet antiquated, technology.
It's so big, it's really hard to get it in the frame of a photograph. I'm glad I saw it. Now I have my own associations with the tower, like wet feet, freezing hands, and awe.