An Illegal View From The Eiffel Tower

An Illegal View From The Eiffel Tower

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Moving to Paris, and being constrained to a
wheelchair brought different challenges and perspectives to the typical
“Paris Vacation”. One of our first challenges was buying a car.

Knowing
the car sales routine in the States, and not knowing a word of French
except for a poorly pronounced “Bonjour”, I was not looking forward to
this at all. Strangely enough it turned out to be a great experience.
We wanted a car just big enough for the two of us, our dog, or another
couple, with room for the wheelchair behind the back seat.

We
saw a Toyota Yaris (a car made specifically for the French market) in a
shopping mall and my husband tested putting my wheelchair in as I tried
the seats to see if they were comfortable.

Lacking
communication skills, we decided we’d give up on negotiating and go
into the dealership with an offer just under the asking price, and be
done with it. Two salespeople were assisting us and were obviously
quite used to customers negotiating with a little more spirit. We
offered our price, sat back and watched the two of them negotiate the
price (between each other) lower and lower. Every time they tried to
ask us something in French, and we truly didn’t understand, we’d look
at each other puzzled, wondering if the other one had a clue what they
were saying, so they thought we weren’t pleased with the price…and
they’d lower it. They were both quite charming. By the time we closed
the deal and picked up the car, they asked if we would let them escort
us to a night out in Paris with a trip up the Eiffel Tower. I had fun
telling our parents we were going out with friends. They asked if they
from the office and I said, “Uh no, they’re our Toyota Sales
Representatives.”

My husband
had been up the Eiffel Tower, but I had not. I wanted to see many of
the Paris gardens, museums, do some shopping and had a long list of
other places; but the Eiffel Tower wasn’t really on the list. Before
going I started researching the history of the landmark and became more
and more fascinated. I knew it was designed for the World’s Fair in
1889 and it was meant to be temporary. I also knew it was thought to be
an eyesore by many Parisians, and caused great controversy. I did not
know Eiffel also designed the inside of the Statue of Liberty, a gift
to the U.S. from France, in fact, if you removed the arm of our Lady
Liberty the inside is somewhat similar to the Tower. I also learned
that when Germany invaded France, they wanted to hang the Nazi flag
from the top but the French people disabled the elevators, so they had
to walk up the stairs. Hitler refused to walk up the stairs and took a
rather somber picture instead standing in front of the Tower. When
France was liberated the French ran up the stairs of the Tower and
unfurled the French flag so the people in Paris could look up and see
their own flag flying.

On
the night we arrived there was barely a line as it was a cold winter
evening; but if there is a line, go find a staff person to let them
know you’re disabled and you (and your companion) will be brought to
the front. First stop was the second level of the Tower, where there is
an excellent restaurant, wheelchair accessible restrooms, and a nice
view. At this level you have to change elevators to go to the top.

We
all went into the next elevator and the operator said something to me I
didn’t understand. I thought he was saying it was too crowded for the
wheelchair so I stood up with my cane and my husband folded the chair.
He kept wagging his finger and speaking very quickly. My husband rolled
the wheelchair off, saying he would bring it up next. The operator was
still upset and raised his voice. Our hosts were now arguing back and I
didn’t know what to do or say. I said I’d get off but now all of the
people on the elevator were arguing with the operator and the French
people on with me told me to stay put. I was considering getting down
on my hands and knees and crawling out while they argued.

Finally,
the operator threw up his hands, yelled something (with a final
“phewf”) and just left. I was uncomfortable causing this kind of
commotion, but everyone else seemed quite comfortable. A different man
finally came to the elevator, looking very uneasy and took us up to the
top. Once we got there our hosts explained to me that the man was
saying disabled people weren’t allowed to go to the top in case the
elevator broke. I completely understood this policy but as I looked
around I doubted many the elderly people or children would be able to
walk down either. It took a couple of minutes for me to stop feeling
badly about the whole scene but I decided if I had “snuck through” I
would enjoy it, as it might be my last opportunity. I was immediately
drawn to the wax figure of Eiffel in a small glass office. My
fascination came from a misspent youth watching too many Vincent Prince
movies

Seeing Paris glowing in
holiday lights was stunning. Our new friends pointed out all of the
landmarks and I was touched by their excitement and pride in their
city. It was a wonderful introduction to Paris and right or wrong I was
grateful that the others on the elevator had fought for my right to go
to the top. The warmth of the people that surrounded us that evening
moved me and long after I leave France I will remember them and I will
remember Paris at night, in all her holiday finery.

Oh
and by the way, later that evening, my husband mentioned he
“accidentally” ran over the toes of the elevator operator with my
wheelchair. Oops!

Copyright © Lara Rogers

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