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Friday, May 10, 2013

An Inside Look at Room With Paris View

Room With Paris View, our travel memoir released this spring by Saint James Infirmary Books, is more than just a memoir.  Like a tour guide's oeuvre, it is full of historical anecdotes, and like a travel guide, it offers up advice on cafés, museums, and the métro.  You can walk the streets of Paris with us, including those we never intended to walk.  As author Richard Bunning points out, "...the curious footfalls of the Reesers are a joy to follow, even when they are regularly lost. There are many confused steps, but none are wasted. You see, this really is a guide book for those who want good ideas, but certainly don't want guiding."
  And while we do wander many side streets of Paris (both intentionally and unintentionally), there are plenty of chances to see the main attractions.  The most iconic of these, of course, is the Eiffel Tower.

 Excerpt from Room With Paris View

A short walk along Avenue de Tourville brought us to the Place de l’École Militaire, which connected us to the Champ de Mars.  And that, readers, is possibly the best family park in the city.
The site of the amazing 1889 Exposition Universelle which featured the brand new Eiffel Tower, this field has been the central point of many French festivals and historic celebrations.  It is also the point from which the world’s first hydrogen-filled balloon was launched in 1783.
After a flurry of picture taking, we walked out onto the mall.  The park, with the Tower at the far end, was full of families who had come out to enjoy the warm, spring day.  Forget the fact that the Eiffel Tower is an overused iconic image for this tourist destination.  All I could see were Parisians out enjoying their local city park.  Couples were sitting in the grass, reading or just snuggling with each other.  Kids ran after soccer balls.  Little girls were climbing all over a playground set—a cheesy plastic and aluminum castle—off to one side.  Behind them boys played a pick-up game of basketball.  A white-haired grandfather let his grandson win on the outdoor ping-pong tables while a young girl in a sandbox, wearing a long black coat, fed the pigeons flocking around her.
I suddenly wished I were not a tourist.  I wanted to be a Parisian.  I wanted this to be my park too.  I didn’t want to be an outsider, disturbing their family time.  And yet it was an inescapable reality.  I still did not know the language enough to feel like I fit in.  Surrounded by these families, I could hear them chatting away, could hear the kids squeal with laughter, could hear the parents warn them not to run too far, all of it in a language I did not understand.  This single barrier kept me apart.  It kept me in an observation mode much like a time-traveler who can visit a point in the past but cannot interact with what he sees.
Jennifer fell right into her poet’s mode, dropping onto a bench under the box-topped London plane trees.  (Of course, in France, they do not call them London plane trees.  They call them platane a feuille d’erable: plane tree with maple leaf.)  As per our unspoken agreement, I wandered off with the camera, leaving her to her thoughts, ink, and paper.
And as I walked the Field of Mars, snapping shot after shot of children, old men, couples, and the massive tower, I eventually began to get it.  The Tower.  Eiffel’s Folly.  That great big monstrosity of steel that drove Maupassant crazy.  That simple pointy shape that is slapped on, printed on, engraved on and painted on every chintzy trinket sold in Paris clicked in my head.  I can’t really say why.  It just did.  And as I walked ever closer to it, and bent my head back to look up at it, it won me over again each step of the way.
I’ve stood at the base of the Sears Tower.  I’ve lain in the grass beneath the St. Louis Arch and gaped at that delicate miracle.  I’ve been knocked out by the art deco design of Rockefeller Center.  But nothing like the Eiffel Tower has ever hit me in this manner.  This massive, dark, raw and powerful colossus stands planted in the earth like some alien creature from a Jules Verne science fiction novel.  Yet at the same time, its intricate and graceful design adds intelligence and beauty to offset that initial brash impression.
Does everyone get that?  I don’t know.  Most tourists just posed for silly pictures from afar, with the man or woman in the frame holding up the tower in the palm of their hand or maybe pretending to push it over.  And that’s fine.  That’s part of its magic.  In addition to being powerful and beautiful it is also whimsical.  It seems to be everything to everyone: a universal appeal.
Towards the middle of the park, on the west side under the trees, I found a little carousel, a chevaux de Bois, which looks like it had been there since before the Eiffel Tower.  That’s not to say it was old and run-down.  This wooden gem is in great working order.  When I found it, it was full of children, ready to begin its spinning adventure.  The operator, an older gentleman with dark bushy eyebrows and matching mustache, was just making sure the kids were settled properly in their seats.  Once the kids were ready, he grabbed one of the horse's poles and began to push.  After achieving the desired speed, he slipped inside the circle of horses, and I saw that the machine was operated by hand-crank.  He began to crank away, his initial push making it much easier for the horses to reach a comfortable trot which then required little effort for the hand crank to maintain.
Jennifer finally put down her pen and we strolled up to the Tower, our heads tilted in order to view the top of that one-thousand-foot structure, which was the tallest man-made structure in the world from 1889 to 1930.  It’s pretty cool to realize this, since as a native Illinois kid, I was always entranced by the Sears Tower, which held its own world height record from 1973 to 1998.
And as we stood there near the base of this modern Wonder of the World, I couldn’t help but shake my head at the thought that this was really happening.  Here I was, just a kid from the fields of Illinois, standing in one of the grandest locations the world has ever known, where people come from every corner of the globe to stand and stare and become a part of something greater than the little worlds we inhabit during our daily isolation from the planet at large.
I don’t care if you aren’t interested in Paris, or France, or even Europe.  Sacrifice enough in life to save up some money and travel to a place that will mean as much to you.  Go stand on Golgotha, or look out over the Great Wall of China, or plant your feet in the middle of Red Square and marvel at St. Basil’s Cathedral.

For more information on the book, please visit the Saint James Infirmary Books website.

You can also order the book from Amazon (both print and Kindle editions are available).

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