With the Montparnasse Tower, the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde, Sacre Coeur and the Eiffel Tower, you can say that the French have a phallic dynamic going. A penchant for simulating the penis. Possibly even an obsession. It isn’t too hard to miss. The infatuation with erecting tall, free-standing monuments that shoot verily skyward (as any robust, tumescent appendage would). The signal of power, of readiness, of achievement, of (dare I say?, coming) glory.
(Well . . . it’s Paris. So, who wouldn’t be excited? Right?)
So we can leave it there, right? We don’t have to delve into the deeper cultural psychology here. The maleness of the analysis (. . . even if there might be a kernel of truth to be harvested).
Instead, what would be preferable to discuss is the importance of these monuments in the daily lives of Parisians. France is not unlike other societies in that it is home to iconic structures which, once represented—in a movie, a postcard, a newspaper, a photo—identify the place (if not a history, an idea, a lifestyle, a philosophy). But more than for outsiders, this icon has significance for the French; this tower—Eiffel’s tower—is not unlike the Statue of Liberty - less so than the Sphinx: it may be a little cheesy, a little kitschy, a bit of a cliché, but people here seem to view it with pride; it is part of their cultural landscape, and a fixture punctuating their everyday paces; no matter what else they are doing, they have a hard time resisting its magnetic pull . . .
They picnic within its grip . . .
play sports under its watchful eye . . .
They live and drive beneath it . . .
. . . build peace monuments in synchrony with it . . .
. . . go to bed by its vibrant glow . . .
. . . and spy it from other monuments’ balconies . . .
It is hard to imagine another structure as visually quoted as the Tour Eiffel. At least in this city. For all sorts of reasons. Without even bothering with reasons.
Leave the deep emotional excavation out of it. It is what it is. A tower. An icon. An orienting object. A point of reverence, as much as reference.
Oh, forget all the intellectualizing.
Sometimes a massive, rising, erect thing is . . . simply a massive, rising, erect thing.
. . . Even when we’re talking about the French!
// Notes from the Road
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