La Dame de Fer

September 20, 2010

They walked down a dark, narrow corridor.  They joined other guests among jagged shadows cast by a skylight through angled steel beams.  The corridor ended with a few steps up to a landing.  A large mirror behind the landing pitched forward over them.

She adjusted her sweater and ran her fingers through her hair.  He checked his shirt collar and straightened his jacket.  They had been forewarned to dress “smart” for the occasion.  All the guests spoke in reverent, hushed tones, unsure of who could understand them and who could not.

A door opened.  They crowded in.

The car lifted off the ground; so began the pageant.

The view outside the glass elevator exploded with light and widened over the city.    In moments they rose above the surrounding buildings; central Paris is not tall.  The view quickly spread for miles over treetops, rooftops, spires and chimneys.

The guests made excited small talk while their ears popped.

In three days, this was the first time the couple had left the street-level view of Paris.  Over 400 feet up, roughly 30 stories, the parties were led off in different directions.

The wait staff greeted the couple by name as they made their way through the chic and intimate interior—frosted glass walls and ceiling lights shaped like chemical symbology.  There was only one seating for lunch; the Americans were characteristically early.  They had a chance to grow accustomed to the view before other diners arrived.

From Le Jules Verne web site

Central Paris at this height seemed less like a city and more like an overgrown village.  It was awash with six and seven-story townhouse-style buildings.

As he took in the vista, he began to understand the beauty that had surrounded the couple at street-level.  An aerial view of a typical city would be understood by the highways and skyscrapers.  No highways cut through Paris.  And the geology was not good for skyscrapers.  No suspension bridges were needed to cross the narrow Seine; it hid among the ancient stone buildings like another thoroughfare.  Where billboards would clutter the sky in other cities, cathedral domes anchored the neighborhoods.  Opulent monuments, hotels and churches—ones that don’t make the A-list in Paris—are now stumbled upon and claimed as personal discoveries by curious explorers.  Central Paris is so beautiful because it forced all the trappings of modernity—towers and highways and parking lots—to the outskirts of the city.

Her seat faced the windows, his faced her.  They played I Spy over the skyline: the Arc de Triomphe, the Grand Palais, the Opera Garnier, and Les Invalides with its shimmering, golden dome over Napoleon’s tomb.  In the distance, Notre Dame lost its mammoth proportions and was nearly dwarfed by the volume of the Panthéon across the river.  Soaring over the city is Sacré Coeur atop Montmartre, its white domes resplendent, even on a cloudy day.

He thought Le Jules Verne restaurant, on the second level of the Eiffel Tower, was aptly named.  His view of the horizon passed through what appeared to be a giant 19th century machine.  The impressive pulley wheels for two elevators were just outside the windows; a manifestation of the industrial, brute-strength, man-over-nature idealism of Jules Verne inventors.  From the foot of the gargantuan ironwork of the tower, he had felt its conquest of the sky.  For 41 years it stood as the tallest structure in the world.

Their lunch would have been wonderful if they only sat and contemplated the view.  But Le Jules Verne continued the pageant.

From Le Jules Verne web site

The china was designed specifically for the restaurant.  The first plate sat upside down, displaying organic, ridged veins that invited examination and conversation, in spite of the extraordinary view.  Each course was accompanied by new flatware and china specific to the dish served.  A gazpacho amuse-bouche, duck foie gras, baked angelfish, chicken fricassee.  Bread was served one roll at a time, but the bread plate never sat empty.  For two hours the couple drank in the wine, the view, the flavors and sounds.  When he asked for anything, he felt like Oscar Schindler making confidential culinary decisions with the wait staff.  (Luckily, she helped him with his waffling French.)

Dessert was a parade all its own.  He ordered a liqueur cake with cream sauce, she an artful tower of chocolate cake, cream, and coffee ice cream with caramel and toffee on the side.  These were served with accessories: fresh marshmallow cubes, chocolate truffles, small servings of brownies, coconut and caramel cake sandwiches, panna cotta with fresh raspberries.

Of course, he paid a price to act like royalty for the afternoon.  The heady effect was unfortunately temporary.  But he had asked himself if he were to make only one visit to the Eiffel Tower in his life, what would he want to do?

He learned what unwitting fathers of engaged daughters learn: “once in a lifetime” has a relaxing effect on the purse-strings.  It is a powerful phrase.  One should not utter it lightly.

from Le Jules Verne web site


That was me (the one with the overdrawn bank account) and that was Genevieve (who did agree to the plan ahead of time).  And it was still just beginning.  It was a week in Paris; and the trip of a lifetime.


One comment

  1. WELCOME BACK!!!!!!!
    Sounds like an awesome time. I can’t wait to read/hear more!

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