This is one of those stories that, if written in a novel or as a scene in a movie, would be dismissed as contrived. Unbelievable. And yet, it happened just as I describe. And all the circumstances, the timing, the spontaneity suggest more than mere coincidence. For me, it was the most profound experience of my entire ten-day trip to France.
Thursday, July 21st was my last day in Paris. In three days, I’d only seen the Eiffel Tower from afar, so I decided to pay her a visit. Recent flooding on the Seine had closed part of the subway system, resulting in a long, circuitous metro ride from where I was staying on Isle St. Louis to the tower. I had to change lines in the middle and close to an hour had passed when I finally reached my stop.
All of Paris is on heightened alert. The terrorist attack in Nice happened on July 14, my second day in France, while I was in the far north, near the English Channel. At the airport, the train stations, and on the streets, heavily armed soldiers and police patrol in packs of three. Vigilant. Hand-held automatic weapons at the ready.
Nowhere in Paris are the extra precautions more apparent than at the Eiffel Tower. The entire perimeter at the base is fenced off, and to enter one must go through a rigorous security check. Every time I’ve visited in the past, I’ve wandered about freely, walked into the base, and gazed straight up. This time I chose to stay outside the fenced area. Still gazing up, but nowhere as close as before. The Eiffel Tower is still magnificent. Even more striking and awe-inspiring in reality than in pictures.