Thursday, September 17, 2009

Letter from the Eiffel Tower, by Jen Anderson

I am afraid of heights.

So when my family and I decided to visit Paris recently, and we wanted to go to the Eiffel Tower, I was happy to view the structure from the ground. Look up at it. I said I would wait at the bottom or maybe even go up to Floor 1, a mere 57 metres off the ground, if they really insisted. They had different ideas, and a ticket to the top was bought for all.

Because of the shape of the legs of the tower, the carriage we’re in is level but the lift rides on tracks which start off at, not a 90 degree angle like a normal lift, but at about 45 degrees. With a satisfying clunking of hydraulics and gears, we ascend, and the lift stops at Floor 1. Sensible people get off.

I console myself with the fact that, even at the second stage which this lift services, it’s still not too high: only 115 metres. This level sits on a slightly smaller, sturdy, and square base, but it is still quite safe.

At Floor 2, we alight. You need to catch a different lift to the top, one which goes straight up at 90 degrees, but this is my stop. To spoil my calm, my family insists on photos. “You’ve come so high! You need proof.” They then drag me closer to the edge to get the view in the shot.

I don’t know what happened. One minute I was settling myself to see them off into the next lift, and the next, there I was lining up with them.

The railings on this level appear flimsy and weak. The sheer numbers of people waiting makes me wonder whether the structure can take the weight. I keep a sharp eye on the weather. Are there storm clouds in the distance? The flooring looks a bit worn in places. I am blanching and dry retching just standing still.

Two elevators sitting side by side service the top floor. They appear safe and enclosed but this is a myth. About 30 seconds after you have commenced your ascent and left the second level, ‘walls’ made of iron lace or latticework vanish. Yes, you are within the confines of a metal cage in the tower section, but a metre or so outside of that is air. My nerves take over.

The lift will stop and we’ll all get stuck.

I’ll fall through a small hole which will open up right at my feet.

The top of the tower will break off and fall to the ground with us in it.

All around me I hear oohs and aahs as we move higher and the lift opens into the air. The space around me darkens. Had we, in fact, left the atmosphere?

With my family ushering, I make my way, step by step – clinging to the wall, railing, other people – up to the breezy doorway of the open air level. Its floor is a metal grating, and the railing a series of metal poles covered in chicken wire. I hold more tightly to the doorway and don’t move. “You need a photo to prove you’ve been here!” say my well-meaning family. I move slowly, hand over hand, into position and turn to face the camera.

The author: Jennifer Anderson is a student in Creative Writing at QUT.