Grey Heron as Night Falls in Paris

Grey Heron as Night Falls in Paris

The leaping of a fish makes a soft splash that would be inaudible amid the hubbub of the area around the Eiffel Tower, but for its incongruity. It’s that which makes me turn, that surprising sound of a creature entering the water, the caress of murky water on scales. Voices, sirens, footsteps, music and the general loud hum of a huge city do not drown out this silken sound, and I gaze to where ripples in the dark water radiate outwards. This is confirmation enough of the event; a second fish leaps, after insects I must assume, and the falling twilight catches for one millisecond on the slick skin. My tired mind registers the size of the leaping fish, does a swift search for a possible candidate: carp, for sure. These ponds must be receptacles for all kinds of rubbish, and carp are the most resilient of watery beings.

I turn, to focus on what I am meant to be doing, turning my back to the water. Yet as I do, out of the corner of my eye, I see her, perfectly poised and unconcerned by the tumult around:

A grey heron, feathers shades of grey and white, long beak sharp and angled ready to strike.

She watches the water, seeking her meal amid the coffee coloured murk of the city pond. I sense that she is aware of us, but is unconcerned and finds us of no relevance, and she does not turn from her fishing.

I watch for a few moments; it occurs to me that should we all vanish, the herons and the other birds and beasts, would soon take back territories that were once theirs alone.

In a city that is pushing to 11 million people, I cannot help feeling that the flora and fauna we marginalise still have more claim to the land than we do, and they live more lightly than we.

Making it to the very top ~ success in stages

Making it to the very top ~ success in stages

I’m scared of heights. Really scared, actually. It’s not logical at all but it’s powerful and paralysing at times. It’s not so much a conscious fear but more an experiential one. There are sensations I experience when in high places that are very unpleasant. Vertigo and nausea for a start. Sweating. Shaking. It’s not a pretty picture at all.

Two years ago, I was forced to confront the fear at work. I work as a courier/tour guide for my second job, and I take groups of English kids to Europe for educational visits. I’m the one on the in-coach microphone, giving a commentary about wherever we are. No trip to Paris is complete without a trip UP the Eiffel Tower, but until two years ago, I’d somehow managed to be the responsible adult who stayed on the ground with the couple of kids who didn’t feel they could go up. Two years ago I did a trip where the teacher in charge deemed that EVERY kid had to go up, whether they were scared or not, so I had no option. I went up, shaking and sweating, on the very brink of a panic attack the whole time. But I stayed in the enclosed capsule at the final stage and didn’t climb the final dozen stairs to the highest point the public can visit. I was unable to set a foot on that iron stairway and make it up.

Last week, I took a group who have so far never gone to the top. It’s always been closed for maintenance when the group usually visit Paris. Last year we went to the second floor. When we got there this time to change to the smallest lift, one child became so unwell with fear, a member of staff had to take him back down. So the die was cast and I knew I had to go to the top again. The final lift is quite small compared to the first one which holds about fifty people so my group and I packed in and held on. I shut my eyes. Stepping out, I was relieved to be there but knew going down is worse. The kids wanted to go to the final stage and I had no choice but to go as well. Reaching the circular gallery at the very top, I felt the full force of vertigo hit me, and I tried to dig my fingernails into the metal walls. Breathe. Just breathe. After a moment or two, I was able to steady myself and move, walking slowly and shakily round before descending again once another member of staff was present. A kind American girl took my photo so I have evidence that I finally made it to the top.

Many things in life are like this. The tip-top is so far away, we think we can never reach it, it’s like shooting for the stars. But if you break down a massive task into discrete, achievable chunks, each to stand alone as a powerful monument to your abilities, then you have an option of building on them and slowly but surely reaching the top.

After all, there’s only one way to eat an elephant: bit by bit. 

Paris (again!)

This is just a little appetister…. an artist at work in the Place de Tertre in Montmartre.

I have to admit, I had some fairly serious concerns about this latest trip, based on the state of play in France currently, but the very worst thing that happened to us in our three days?? No ice cream at the kiosk at the end of Les Jardins des Tuilleries.

I am currenly almost brain dead as I got home just after 1am today and was up to teach this morning, so a more comprehensive post will have to wait.

But coming soon:

Montmartre and the artists’ square

Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame

Musee D’orsay revisted.

….and maybe more.

Watch this space

Facing Fear

I’ve always been scared of heights. Even as a small child, I remember having a great deal of anxiety walking down the narrow cliff path from the hotel in Wales my family stayed at a few times. It was the only way to the beach and so several times a day I had to endure it.

The thing about this sort of fear is that it goes deep and it goes beyond logic. I thought I had mostly overcome it some years back when I found myself able to stand on the roof of a carpark without wanting to hug the ground, and later to walk around the summit of Glastonbury Tor without getting vertigo. Or being able to go to the top of mountains and not feel unwell.

But at times it returns as if it had never been away. I had a bad attack of vertigo at Tintgael Castle in Cornwall some years ago and on occasions since.

So you can understand why I was reluctant to tackle the Eiffel Tower. I’d evaded it last time I was in Paris because one kid was too unwell to go up so I stayed firmly on the ground. This time, I made the decision I would get as far as the second level and then decide if I were going to the very top.

Now the Eiffel Tower is over 300m high. That’s ludicrously high.

I went up in the lift to the second level with my eyes shut and my body shaking. I felt dizzy and sick when we walked around. But I decided that how much worse could it be to go right to the top? So into the little final lift I went, along with some of the kids and up we went…. My eyes were shut tight and I was trying not to hyperventilate. At the top, it’s all enclosed by glass which makes it feel a lot better than the middle section which is only enclosed by wire mesh and the breeze comes in.

So I relaxed a little and took photos:

As you can see, it’s very high!

Then we made our way down again in the lift. It takes rather a long time but we were back to the second level again. I was feeling a bit sick, but then the group I was with decided to walk down from the second level to the ground and that for me was when the trouble started.

It wasn’t so bad with someone immediately in front of me but pretty soon the kids lost me and I was faced with the stairs ahead of me. One foot in front of the other, but there are over 1600 steps…and it’s open to the air. You can’t hurl yourself off it; but it still feels as if you might slip and plummet to your death. Every time I loosened my grip on the handrail my body thought it was the rail giving way and I felt a massive surge of fear shoot through me. It takes at least 20 minutes to walk down. I think it took me half and hour. The group were waiting for me at the bottom and I smothered the urge to throw up in the nearest bin. I was shaking for the next half an hour, and I had a thumping headache too.

But despite being completely shit-scared (excuse my French) I’d done it. No one can take that away from me. And next time, I know I can do it again if I have to. I can choose not to, but I know that it’s not because I am being controlled by my fears. I’ll be back in Paris in late May but I haven’t a clue yet about my itinerary. If it includes the Eiffel Tower, I will be OK with that.

If I could only manage to cope like that with my other fears, I’d be unstoppable….

(for more info and a virtual tour, visit: http://www.tour-eiffel.fr/teiffel/uk/ or the wiki site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiffel_Tower )

Under the Eiffel Tower

13-06-08_0934

 

I understand that it is said that the only place in Paris where you can’t see the Eiffel Tower is under the said Tower.

It’s not true.

You can’t help seeing it even there. I spent two hours nearly waiting below the tower, with a sick student who was unable to ascend, for the rest of the group to get back.

I had a cup of very bad coffee and got chatted up by a very offensive American. I got accosted by beggars.

But I could always see the tower.

Another myth busted.