Nov 1, 2014

An Eyeful, Finally: Touré


How could I spend this long talking about life in France, and Paris in particular, and not cover the Eiffel Tower? Frankly, if there were no Eiffel Tower, I wonder what the symbol would be on every key chain, bracelet, apron, notebook, coffee mug, shot glass, T-shirt, and scarf sold in the tourist shops. Even at other French monuments and tourist spots, the souvenir shop is generally a wall-full of Eiffels; it's an awful eyeful. (I'm so very sorry.)

One of the nice things about living here is that I get pictures from unusual angles and under conditions that I never would have had if I was just blowing through town. I'm sure your Eiffel Tower shots are fabulous, but this might give you a more diverse perspective on the monument.

Like the Montparnasse Tower of its day, the Eiffel Tower was once considered an awful eyeful quite literally; many saw it as an eyesore, a blight on the beautiful Paris skyline. Now, of course, it's just about impossible to imagine Paris, or France, or the world (or Las Vegas) without it. In fact, there's a famous quote that is sometimes mistakenly believed to be about the Montparnasse Tower that originated with the Eiffel Tower -- attributed to French author Guy de Maupassant and sometimes also to British author/publisher William Morris. Whichever one it really was (or possibly neither, or both; why is there so much confusion about this quote?), he was supposedly asked why he dined so frequently in the Eiffel Tower and replied that it was because it was "the only place in Paris from which one did not have to look at the Eiffel Tower." De Maupassant did go on record protesting the building and called it “this tall skinny pyramid of iron ladders, this giant and disgraceful skeleton.”

If that's the case, then De Maupassant must have been rolling in his grave when the Montparnasse Tower was built. Or perhaps he was smiling up there, thrilled out of his mind that he didn't have to look at it. Or perhaps, even, it made him re-think his position on the Eiffel Tower from the afterlife. Here, looking over at the (hideous, atrocious) Montparnasse Tower from the Eiffel Tower, you'll see my point.

But the view from the Eiffel Tower also looks out over gold-domed Les Invalides, Sacré Coeur, the Trocadero, the Arc de Triomphe, the Seine, and the beautiful rooftops of Paris. Much nicer.

While engineer Gustave Eiffel designed it for the 1889 World Fair, it has remained a permanent fixture, and arguably the greatest national marketing tool anywhere in the world, for over a hundred years. This famous, traditional bread bakery brought to you by...guess who?

It is an often-imitated and referenced monument, even here in Paris. Here, at Paris Plage this summer, an artist took 324 iconic Paris bistro chairs and created an Eiffel Tower on the Right Bank, across from the Conciergerie in order to celebrate the 125th anniversary of both the chair style and the Eiffel Tower, both created in 1889. In the photo on the lower left, if you look very carefully, you can see the real Eiffel Tower, on the Left Bank in the far distance.

No matter how long I live here, I still get a little voice in my head that marvels "You're really in Paris!" every time I see the tower. I'm wondering if I've ever passed the Eiffel Tower when I have a camera available and not taken a photo. I doubt it. 


And, as an American, this is one of my favorite views. It messes with my mind, in a good way.


The view inside the tower is impressive in a different way. You really feel the steel (and the burn, if you're walking the stairs). Looking down, you see the crowds, like ants on the ground. Just a few weeks ago, the Eiffel Tower opened up a glass floor, so that you can really look straight down -- if you dare. No, I haven't tried it yet, but I'm sure I'll head back up there with another visiting friend or relative sometime soon:

It pops up everywhere, mixed in with the old...

...and the new...

...and in different seasons.


For the turn of the millennium, the Eiffel Tower was bathed in lights and illuminated with a sparkle -- a regular champagne bubble of lights -- in the darkness. This proved to be so popular, that, like the tower itself, it became a permanent fixture. Year-round, the Tower sparkles every hour on the hour, during the dark evening hours (later in the summer, therefore), for about 5 minutes.


It's a special, impressive sight. Here, it looks like an impressionist sight.


Today, besides being the top tourist draw in the top tourist city in the most visited country in the world, it also serves as a communications tower. What it mostly communicates to me, however, is simply, "Hello, you're in Paris!"


Touré is a raw goat's milk cheese from Berry, which is the name given to an area that historically included the modern-day Cher and l'Indre departments, in the Centre region, near the Loire valley, south of Paris. This is a farmhouse, lactic cheese, made in small batches and named after its shape -- a tower, called "tour" in French.

It's a relatively new cheese, from this millennium, and the farmers who invented the cheese wanted to come up with an original goat cheese that wouldn't dry out. Mission accomplished: Touré is aged 10-days up to a month, and yet still at room temperature, the half-tower I buy still collapses in an oozy, melty mess -- so much so, I can't even get a picture of it vertical.


The gray, blue, ashed crust is delicate and soft. The flavor also is delicate and soft, but not bland. It's a lightly goaty, salty, creamy cheese that has character without being too strong or stinky.


It's a connection of two towers, of course, and the names even sound alike: Touré, pronounced "too-RAY" and Tour Eiffel, pronounced in French "too-ray-FELL"). One tower is far more likely to melt and collapse than the other.



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