Friday, May 8, 2009

Happy 120th Anniversary, Eiffel Tower!

Rarely does a piece of architecture become an icon. But that is certainly what has happened in the case of the Eiffel Tower, now celebrating its 120th anniversary. This is an object unlike any other. Its fabulousness does not make you want to own it or even own a postcard of it. Yet, for many of us, the Eiffel Tower can make our hearts leap in our breast or even bring a nostalgic tear of joy.

More than an icon, the image and presence of the Eiffel Tower not only represents profound concepts ... Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. For some people [myself included], the Tour Eiffel stirs hidden depths and evokes the most peculiar emotions.

I first laid eyes on the tower as a teenager when I managed to convince my poor parents to let me spend the Summer in France. We had NO money. It was the 1970s in Ballyfermot, one of Dublin's many semi-slum-suburbs. Mammy and Daddy must have been so bemused and frustrated when I [full of airs and graces, and what were then referred to as notions], having started to study French, came home from school one day only to announce: 'I am going to spend the Summer in France! YOU are going to pay for it, and if you try to stop me I will run away from home and you'll never see me again!'

It was like I had been possessed by the ego-maniacal spirit of Oscar Wilde. Despite living in a lower-working-class area, I spent the weeks and months prior to my grand departure for Paris wearing a long flowing macintosh, tight jeans, a horizontal striped tee-shirt and - to top it all off - a black beret rebelliously cocked on the side of my head.

That Summer was my first time EVER to be alone, to say nothing of being far from home. It was to prove a huge success in ways i could never have imagined before i went to Paris.
The first lesson i learned [day 1] was that i could not, in fact, speak French and what few phrases i did have were rendered totally incomprehensible by my thick Ballyer accent. I was just beginning to discover what problems and utter chaos my enormous ego was capable of creating.

But there were very important positive lessons learned too that year. I began to discover how to be around complete strangers ... i had so rarely been in the company of people who did not know me before then. I also discovered a love of writing and classical music that was to stay with me eversince. Although it seems such a trivial point now, looking back, i have to rejoice in so many things from those few short months abroad, not least of which was the emergence of my own sexuality.

Whether staying with my French host family nestled in Port Blanc's Breton coves, or whether i was exploring Paris alone, every sight and sound - every polluted metro breath - was totally new and an overwhelming joy to me. The effect Paris has had on my whole life remains incalculable. For me, the image of the Eiffel Tour embodies everything that is young, outrageous and fresh, everything that encourages the individual to find out who they truly are.

The Eiffel Tower was constructed between 1887 and 1889. It was so typical of the experimental spirit of France that had created Versaille, or had practically levelled the ancient city of Paris to allow for the vast network of symmetrical boulevards we now know. The same divine madness was later to lead to the creation of an enormous glass pyramid in the centre of the main square at the Louvre.

The same creative energy that permits the Eiffel Tower to emerge from the Champs de Mars reminds me of the conviction of the young whereby anything is possible if you really want it enough. But, perhaps most of all, the tower reminds me of the duty we all share to take time out of our ordinary lives to look deep within, hopefully to discover our true selves.

Although the process of isolation, disorientation and retreat from our ordinary daily lives can be a little scary, my Paris experience as a teenager taught me the value of it. Since then, i have devoted some time at various periods in my life to going away alone, maybe somewhere new, to look within. These days we call it the spiritual path, one that leads you to discover your true nature.

I celebrate, together with romantics and free-thinkers everywhere, the Eiffel Tower. I remember with great joy the teenager who went to Paris an idiot and came home an idependent young man. I also recall the promise i made to myself that Summer to return to Paris as often as possible until i could eventually live there. Even now, when i look deep into my own eyes in the brutal honesty of the bathroom mirror i am reminded of that promise to move to Paris one day. I usually smile and say to myself, 'Not dead yet, darling. Hope springs eternal. Maybe next year?'

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