We started up the Eiffel Tower with great gusto. Even though we had arrived in Paris just that
morning, even though we’d had only one hour’s nap to defray our jet-lag, we would
not take the elevator. We were macho Americans. Rugged boomers. Tough old vets.

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

We would take the steps. There were only thirty-five million, four hundred and
twenty eight. Approximately.

Friends had assured us that Paris in the summer is always warm and sunny. It’s so
warm and sunny that the whole city closes down so the natives can go somewhere
that’s less warm and sunny. Only tourists are left.

So as we mounted the wide steel stairs, we knew that, even though the sun was
going down, it would be warm up on top.

We climbed. Up. Up. A breeze ruffled through. A friendly, warm breeze. Up,
up, up to the first level.


The tickets from the booth downstairs permit you to mount to the second platform,
or roughly as high as the Matterhorn; once there, you must go to the second-level ticket
booth and buy the rest of the trip to the top.

And so we ignored the restaurants and souvenir shops on the first level and slogged up, up, up. This
part of the trip was made more challenging by the 150-pound weight someone had
surreptitiously clamped on each of my ankles.

We reached the second platform and the City of Lights lit up. The timing was
perfect. I pulled out my iPhone and took pictures.

The wind picked up a notch. Delightful. I snapped away (figuratively
speaking, since iPhones don’t snap).

A branch of lightning licked a distant dome, a glorious incongruity.

We found the second-level ticket booth closed. No explanation; just orange striped
tape,  a sign—Fermé—and an empty booth. Quelle disappointing.

We passed the second-level restaurant. Mobs of starving, ragged tourists were
storming it, Mastercards held aloft and snapping proudly in the streaming wind.

We edged away and started walking down.

The hailstorm hit us halfway between the second level and the first, where there was no wall to shelter us. It came on
the knife-edge of a gale-force wind and brought a drenching curtain of icy monsoon rain.

Mon Dieu.

It poured, blew and hailed. Paul clamped his glasses to his face with his hands.
Something plummeted from the second level above our heads; it made a small,
metallic, complicated explosion against the carapace of the tower.
Someone up there screamed. We wedged ourselves into the steel mesh cage that
surrounded the stairway and concentrated on taking in and letting out each breath,
which is not easy in a full-fledged multi-directional hurricane. The tower swayed
gently beneath us.

Fifteen minutes or hours passed. The wind dropped; the rain trickled to
a mist.

Our summer shirts clung our bodies. My jeans hung lead-heavy. Our sneakers

We breathed. Paul let go of his glasses.

He took off his shirt, wrung it out, replaced it gingerly on his shivering frame. I pulled my iPhone from my pocket, expecting disaster. Good old Mac: it was perfectly functional. But Paul’s pricey watch had
fogged up so solidly on the inside that he couldn’t see the hands.

We squish-squished down the steps, slowly, because every move created a breeze,
which raised goosebumps. Paris is warm and sunny in the summer, I told myself.
Squish. Squish. Warm. Squish. Sunny. Squish-squish-squish.

At the first level, the tower steps turned into the wind. We gasped and looked at
each other. It was a magic moment of silent communion in the City of Love: we realized without speaking
that walking wet into that *!@#! wind would kill us.

So we stepped into the platform and lined up for the elevator. We were not alone:
the anteroom was filled with wet people.

We waited for more than a half hour, steaming in the body heat of strangers.

The experience made me think about those who built the tower in 1900. How handy for them that there was a steel mesh cage around each girder.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps they didn’t need one. Perhaps they built it in summer. When it’s always
sunny and warm in Paris.