Saturday, February 16, 2008

In the sunshine

We've been back from Europe for a little more than a week now and still haven't told the story of what was probably our vacation's most memorable day -- and for me, weirdly, one of my favorites.

Let me say first that Michelle and I never fight, about anything. In the eight years-plus that we've been together I can remember maybe two or three minor dust-ups. So seldom and for such low stakes do we tussle that the stupid fight we had on the day we visited the Eiffel Tower -- two weeks ago today, I believe -- counts among our biggies.

The day began promisingly enough. We took the Metro to the Eiffel's nearest stop, about half a mile away, then stopped and took a couple pictures and strolled the pleasant stroll along the Seine to the monument. It was a cold but beautiful day. So far so good.

Despite being the off-season for tourists, there were a lot of people lined up under the base of the tower, where there were two options being offered: You could take an elevator up to one of the three viewing platforms, at prices ranging from about 6 to 11 euros, or you could pay 4 euros to walk up what looked to be about a billion steps to the first, lowest, platform.

Oddly, that sounded fun to me. Maybe I was remembering how much I enjoyed, windedly, climbing the steps of Giotto's Bell Tower in Florence on my first trip there nearly 20 years ago. Michelle had no interest in the Eiffel stairs; maybe she'd done it before, I can't remember. But that was OK; this wasn't the fight part. As we often do, we agreed to go our separate ways and hook back up afterward.

"I'll meet you over there in the sunshine," I said, pointing to some benches in what would be the foreground of the top picture above. We went to stand in our lines.

At one point during the longish wait a rope descended from somewhere above, and several men took turns rappelling down to the tourist staging area and then climbing back up the rope. This was to discourage whining about the stairs, I suppose. Amazing.

I finally got to the front of the line, paid my 4 euros and began my ascent.

I liked walking. You could appreciate the tower's height, one step at a time, and also the marvel of the engineering. On some of the landings there were posters with fun facts about the Eiffel Tower, when it was built, how many steps to the top (1,600 and something), stuff like that. One poster told the story of a Paris newspaper that, a couple years after the tower opened, sponsored a race to the top. Somebody won in like seven minutes, I think, some ridiculous time.

It didn't go so fast for me. Classic eyes-stomach disconnect. For the entire trip we did a lot of walking and I held up pretty well, but I did get tired and had to stop for frequent rests. On the Eiffel stairclimb I trudged up with little painted signs marking my progress -- 90 steps, now 160, now 200, until finally at 300 and something I made it. Whew.

I'll admit, I was tired. But it was beautiful and I enjoyed sitting on a bench looking at the view. I walked around the perimeter of the platform, shooting a couple of pics, including this, my favorite:

I went into the gift shop and bought a couple of trinkets, then sat down with my bottle of water and wrote a couple of postcards. I wasn't dawdling, but I wasn't in a giant rush either. Eventually I caught my breath, felt a little spring back in my legs and began the long walk back down.

At the base of the tower I looked for Michelle in the sunshine -- no luck -- used the restroom, took a quick lap around the benched area of the park where she might be -- still no luck -- then sat down on a bench closest to the Tower.

I'd barely opened my paperback when Michelle stormed up. "Where have you been," she said, no hint of fun in her voice. I began to stammer something about what I'd been up to, but she said I'd kept her waiting for 45 minutes in the cold and hadn't been where I was supposed to be in the sunshine.

She turned around and walked away and I shlumped after her.

Even now, I suspect, she'll read this and get mad all over again. Somehow the fact that she was in an elevator and I was on the stairs wasn't figuring into her calculations. In fairness, it was cold, and "over there in the sunshine" amounted to a fairly vague meeting place. I was probably wrong in a half dozen other ways I can't even conceive. No matter. We somehow had managed to erect a fun-blocking barrier of monumental engineering, and it remained in place, all 7,300 tons of puddled iron of it, for the rest of the day, with a long shadow into the next.

In silence we schlepped to a bus stop, boarded the first one that stopped, then got out at Luxembourg Gardens, near our hotel -- she must have known where we were going -- and ate what was otherwise one of my favorite Paris meals at the Brasserie de Luxembourg.

As fights go it wasn't exactly Ali-Foreman, and in the end it couldn't really spoil what was a touristy highlight of the trip.

We've tried, with typical M&M style, to laugh ourselves out of it, but I think we both know the humor's only about half-working.

At the Amsterdam airport, waiting for our connection between Rome and San Francisco, Michelle got up to go use the restroom.

"I'll meet you over there," I said, "in the sunshine."



Ronelle said...

Such an open honestly human warmed my heart!My favorite part was "I shlumped after her". I am also so glad to know that you recognize a woman's right to be angry -whether you did anything wrong or not!

kateco said...

Ah, the travel fight, a time-honored tradition. Travel -- with all its sleep deprivation, foods you didn't intend to order and inability to use your natural glib to tell the Frenchies where to get off in a language they'll understand -- it wears down your tolerance, even the deeply civil tolerance of lovers. Maybe especially lovers are susceptible, because whatever careless thing they do, they should know better.

I recall my travel fight of 2005, when Val just couldn't seem to understand that I wasn't really having fun traipsing around the charming back streets of Asciano in rain soaked jeans, and when I said let's get lunch, I meant I really needed to sit down in a warm and dry place and have some food now. Not a couple hours form now, but now. Blissfully unaware of my growing pissed-offed-ness he strode on pointing at this building and that doorway, and the gap between us grew until he was half a block ahead and I was on the boil. No need to describe the rest, it was a silly Vesuvius and I was sorry for it almost immediately, because the wet jeans and the cold weren't really that bad and I couldn't really find a justification in them for working up a snit. But it wasn't the jeans or the cold or even the fact that I was -- confusingly -- having a terrific time most of that day. It was everything and nothing. It was the thin atmosphere on the high flight I was having. And there we were, the non-bickering Cohens, having a good bicker about nothing on foreign soil.

Anyway, when you're with someone you actually adore, it's no big deal. But I always make sure now that I travel with people I can have a little fight with, because travel -- even at its best -- can strip your nerves raw before you know it. And, being human, I might not be at my best every single minute of every fucking day. All you can do is try. I like to travel with people who are highly likely to forgive me, who I am also most likely to forgive, because one of us is certain to be in the dog house at least once on the journey, even if its just for a little while. With the right people, the shadow fades quickly, leaving harly a smudge on the trip, with the wrong people ... well, you might just see something you can never forget. And then that's that, you're locked in the travel submarine to hell until you're back in your own house.

But with our partners, you and I are lucky. They fit right at the top of the "likely to forgive" category. A good thing too, we got places to go.

PS: It was I who climbed the steps of the Tour Eiffel with Michelle Nicolosi in fitter (1996?) days. Got a picture somewhere.

Love, K

Mark said...

Kaye, you rock. I'll travel with you anytime.

Janice said...

Should have brought along a bag of carrots