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400 Day LETS Odyssey
Copyright � James Taris

JAMES TARIS around the World- (2003-4)

Yes, I know this isn't the Eiffel Tower. It's the Moulin Gouge, the other famous
structure in lights.

FRANCE - Paris (1 week)
Week 16 of World Tour

1. Eiffel Tower In Lights

On my first outing in Paris, I visited the Eiffel Tower after dark with Claude. She (yes, Claude is a she) asked if I'd been to the Eiffel Tower before, and I told her I had.

"But have you seen it at night?" she added. "It's very beautiful when the lights flash on and off like a Christmas tree."

Well, that was something I hadn't seen, so just before nightfall we headed for the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower is set on a magnificent public park which is so large, it's very easy to find it on any map of Paris. It starts from the Seine River and stretches for, what appears to be, several football fields in length. The Eiffel Tower, built over a century ago, is near the edge closest to the river.

To welcome in the New Millennium, the Eiffel Tower, which had always been fitted with warm yellow lights, was also fitted with a web of hundreds of bright white lights which began to flash on-and-off randomly at the stroke of midnight. And this was so popular with the Parisians, that they agreed to make the flashing lights a permanent feature on the Eiffel Tower. So now, every hour, on the hour, those little bright white lights flash like crazy from 9pm to midnight.

And the atmosphere after dark seems to be just about the same as during the day. There's thousands of people sitting on the park's acres and acres of lawn. And at any one time there's dozens of them taking photos of each other with the tower as a constant background. And there's hundred's of them queuing up at the tower's base to tackle the thousands of steps upward, or take a short-cut to the top with the elevator.

So how much does it cost to climb the Eiffel Tower? The cheapest ticket costs 2.70 euros, and will get you to the first level. This suits the tourists on a tight budget who'd still like to say they've climbed the Eiffel Tower. For 7 euros, you get to go to the second level which is much nearer the top and offers a much greater view of the city. And for 10.20 euros (maybe the 0.20 is a tax?) you can go a little higher. This it the third and topmost level of the tower. There are restaurants on the 2 upper levels, so I'm sure they'd be classed as being in one of the best locations in the world. But I'd hate to see their price list!

Even though it's dark, street vendors approach tourists selling their wares. Everything from flying toys, to Eiffel Tower key rings, to soft drinks. But they've always got one eye out for the French police. This is strictly an illegal practice, though the police couldn't possibly be taking it very seriously, otherwise there'd be policemen posted there permanently.

Question: How wide is the Eiffel Tower at its base? I didn't know, and I didn't have a tape measure with me, so I paced it out. I'm six feet tall and my steps are about 3 feet apart. So just for a bit of fun, let's see if you can guess.

Is it .

a) 36 paces (about 108 feet)
b) 72 paces (about 216 feet)
c) 144 paces (about 432 feet)

So how did you go? If you said a), then you'd be . wrong. But if you said b), then you'd . still be wrong. So, of course, the correct answer is c). So did you get it right? (without cheating?)

I finally got to see Leonardo Da Vinci's little lady.

2. Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa, Italy's most famous painting is in . er . France! Or more specifically, hanging in Paris' world famous art museum, the Louvre.

My trip to Paris last year was only an overnight experience, focused solely on meeting up with my good ol' Aussie friend, Kevin Kuek, and seeing the Australian Rules football grand final between Collingwood and Brisbane, televised by satellite in an Aussie pub in the city. So my tour of Paris was fleeting at best. And even though I visited the Louvre, there wasn't enough time to actually go inside. But this time I was going to be in Paris for a whole week, and seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre was at the top of my list of priorities.

And I had been warned.

"The Mona Lisa is very small . probably only about 11 by 14 inches ... so it's such a disappointment . and they've got it displayed behind bullet-proof glass . there are guards on either side protecting it . and it's roped off too, so you can't even get close enough for a good look . and the queues are so long you have to wait for hours just to see it!"

And the worse it sounded, the more I wanted to see it! After all, if seeing the Mona Lisa left me somewhat unfulfilled, then at least I could write about how horrible the 'waiting' experience was.

So here 'tis .

As soon as I entered the museum, there were signs pointing to the Mona Lisa display. So I followed them, past some of history's greatest paintings, without caring to give them a moment's notice. After all, if I was going to wait for 2 hours in a queue, I wanted to get into that queue as soon as possible. I didn't want to be deprived of the experience because I was still in the queue at closing time.

Another sign made me feel a little uncomfortable . 'All unattended bags will be destroyed immediately'.

And after about 10 minutes, I came to the Mona Lisa display hall. And as soon as I turned the corner, I saw it.

What a disappointment! I had prepared myself for a long, long wait. I'd stuffed a couple of ciabata rolls with salami, olives and ricotta cheese, just to be in the right mood while I waited in queue for my experience of a lifetime. I'd even packed a large bottle of Lambrusco (wine) as well, so I was prepared to have an all-Italian picnic-in-a-queue. But . but . it only took 2 seconds to get in front of the Mona Lisa!

Yes, it was behind bullet-proof glass, and yes, it was roped off from the crowd with a somewhat disinterested guard wandering around in the vicinity. But there was no queue. Just an eager crowd surrounding it, and it was only about 3 people deep. And seeing I'm so tall, I had a pretty good view from the back row anyhow.

So what did I think?

Well first of all I thought it was pretty big, because it must've been at least twice the size I'd been told it would be. And secondly I thought it looked very familiar. Hadn't I seen that painting hundreds of times before? But thirdly I thought at least I'd seen the real thing now. So I guess I can compare it with going to see a live band performing instead of just listening to the record.

3. Chinese TV Staring James Taris

Sometimes I'm in the right place at just the right time.

Soon after I arrived in Paris, Claude told me that a Chinese TV crew based in Paris, was interested in making a program about the SEL (French for LETS) groups in France. Maybe they'd like to include the Globe-Trotting LETSaholic in their program.

The TV producer seemed very interested, especially when I told her I'd been to China 3 times already, and on my last visit I'd written a play in Shanghai.

"That's very interesting," she said. "Actually, we are a Shanghai TV station, and once this program is filmed, we'll be sending it back to Shanghai for it to be edited and translated into Chinese. Then it'll be screened on TV in China."

"How long will that take?" I asked.

"About 2 months," she said.

"I always get copies of my newspaper and radio interviews," I said. "Can I get a copy of the show once it's completed?"

"Of course," she said.

So that'll be a good tape to add to my video library!

The filming starts .

Shooting a film takes lots of footage. I know how it works because I've done courses on TV Production and Video Editing. I've even made a TV program (The Poetry Show) which was aired in Melbourne a few years ago. So what we were told would only take about 15 minutes, actually took about 2 hours.

"We want to film you doing what you normally do when you're traveling," the producer said.

"Well, I just get taken around the city by my hosts," I said, realizing just how boring that must've sounded.

"That's great," she said. "Where are you planning to go now?"

"I thought I'd take James to see the Paris Opera House just around the corner," Claude said enthusiastically.

"Maybe you'd like to film me performing my play in front of the building," I said, catching on to the excitement everyone seemed to be sharing.

"Good idea," the producer said.

So they followed us out of their studios and into the street where they began filming Claude and myself from in front, and from behind, and from across the street. And when we finally got to the Opera House, I grabbed Claude's mobile phone and began performing the Pericles monologue while dozens of curious pedestrians walked between me and the rolling TV camera. Claude was the perfect audience, laughing heartily at every line I spoke.

I must've looked a little crazy as I paced about delivering some ridiculous lines which couldn't possibly have made any sense to the innocent by-standers, but then, I think it's acceptable (even preferable) to be a little crazy when you're placed in front of a camera!

This article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey

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