After several plane rides and many listless hours in the airport, I finally came through the gates at Charles De Gaulle. At first I stayed with my oldest sister, Isabella, who works as a teaching assistant in Paris and lives in a studio near the center of the city, but then before my program began I moved into my homestay. I’m living with a woman named Alix in the 15th arrondissement in an apartment that, I soon discovered, is less than a ten minutes’ walk from the Eiffel Tower. I had a few minutes before we ate, so I decided to go out myself and take a look at it. The weekend I arrived it had snowed an unusual amount, enough to surprise and please the Parisians and to astonish myself, as I haven’t lived with snow since I was six, and thick, sticky flakes filtered down onto my hair and coat as I approached it.
At orientation, we were told about the honeymoon period, or la lune de miel, at the beginning of an international experience. Draped in white and veiled by powdery clouds, the tower was ever a bride.
My enthusiasm hadn’t dimmed by the next day and after orientation and beef round with my host mother, I set out in the darkness. I meant to catch it by eight, as it lights up and flashes on the hour, but as the chirping bird clock in the kitchen warned, I didn’t make it in time. Not wanting to give in, I pulled my headband close around my ears and dug my hands into the down coat to wait it out. I took slow steps down the Champ du Mars, the gardens leading up to the tower, but the snow had melted into a slick paste that disguised puddles and I almost fell several times. I reached it with forty minutes to go, so after walking underneath it and nearly running into people because I was gawking upwards, I continued on and walked across the Seine. I walked along the other side of the river until I reached another bridge to cross back over, watching nighttime runners and groups of tourists posing with the tower in the palms of the hands. I was back beneath it with minutes to spare, and I trudged through a puddle to sit on the bench so I could sit and enjoy the show. It was startling. When you’re close to it, it sparkles brightly enough that it feels like the stars have been pulled down onto the tower itself, or at least outshone them for a few moments.
I understand that the Eiffel Tower is very much a tourist spectacle, and that people who live here in Paris may have mixed feelings about it, but it remains a landmark to me. Although I’ve been here for several days, I still have trouble wrapping my mind around what 4 months entails and acknowledging the challenges. So for now, I’ll allow myself to enjoy the wonder of having a 324 m metal structure and buildings that have weathered wars and triumphs and revolutions at my fingertips.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Helena Archer is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina studying public health, international studies, and creative writing. She loves all three, and is thrilled to be able to develop her interests abroad. During her semester in Paris, she hopes to engage and immerse herself in French and Parisian culture, and also to examine immigrant and francophone presence and relations. Helena loves hearing and telling stories, and can't wait to discover more of them in Paris.</span></p>