Most first-time visitors to my apartment notice it: A 19th century bird's-eye-view of Paris on my living room wall. But it isn't the intricate web of streets and bourgeois homes or the sinewy river splitting the city in two that attracts attention. It's the absence of something, of the very thing that makes Paris… well… Paris.
A reminder of this yet again yesterday when an American friend stopped by. I pointed to the vast fields that have since mutated into the buildings and liveliness of my neighborhood. But he didn't seem too impressed.
"That's a detail," he said, shaking his head. "You don't notice it when you take a step back. The general layout of the city is the same. But what you do notice and what makes this whole drawing look off balance is that the Eiffel Tower is missing."
It really isn't a myth: For most visitors, the Eiffel Tower IS Paris. At least today's Paris. Forget about the 19th century city in my poster.
The Eiffel Tower is one of the top five tourist attractions in the city, and everyone wants to stay at a hotel nearby. (A friend of mine, who arranges tours to Paris, says it: People who haven't yet visited Paris think the Eiffel Tower is the place to be when really all of the action is toward the center of town.)
The practical, Paris resident part of me will tell you that it's just another tourist attraction, and it's out of the way and mobbed all of the time. This very rational part of me will go weeks and weeks without seeing the Eiffel Tower and will pretty much forget about its existence. There are plenty of other beautiful things to see in this city.
But… somehow… the tower even knows how to cast its spell on those who think they know it all too well. It happens without warning. I'll see the Eiffel Tower from some unexpected place. A few days ago, I exited the "Volontaires" subway stop and there it was, glimmering over the rooftops. Unavoidable magic. And the love affair began all over again…