Ei-chel, Paris, France


photoWe all have our routines. We go to and from work. We drop off and pick up the kids from from school. We run errands. On weekends we try to get out for some exercise.

I am no different. But I am fortunate that my routine unfolds on and around the Champ de Mars, the park on Paris’s Left Bank that is home to the Eiffel Tower. My wife, Ashley, and I are Americans who have been living in Paris since 2010. Our first apartment was in the east of the city, far from the Eiffel Tower. In early 2011, we moved to a tiny top-floor studio that boasted a full-on view of la grande dâme, as Parisians call her. In 2012 our son, Miller, was born, necessitating a move to a larger apartment on the other side of the Champ de Mars.

When Miller first started speaking, Ashley taught him to call the tower by her name. Perhaps it’s the tower’s graceful feminine shape — “not phallus into sky,” as Adam Gopnik writes in “Paris to the Moon,” “but skirt into bodice into long throat.” Perhaps it’s the way she soars above the nearby apartment buildings. Or perhaps it’s just the thing he’s happened to fixate on, as kids inexplicably do. Whatever the reason, he loves her. Our apartment is littered with Eiffel Tower paraphernalia — from tiny keychain Eiffels to a soft, fuzzy, anthropomorphic “stuffed animal” Eiffel. He calls her by her name, as often as he can, even though he hasn’t quite mastered the “f” sound: “Ei-chel. Ei-chel. Ei-chel.” Each time as if for the first time.

I have my approaching-middle-age worries. About my whether my career is advancing quickly enough, whether our money will go far enough, whether I’m being a good enough father and husband. And of course I have my routine.

And yet there are those moments. I am waiting at the bus stop in the early-morning dark, glancing from my watch to the “Next bus in X minutes” sign, wondering whether I’ll make it to my appointment on time, when her darkened silhouette catches my eye. I am walking home from work, when its searchlight sweeps across the sky, and the bustle around me on the sidewalk and street go momentarily silent. My son and I are hurrying across the Champ de Mars for our Saturday morning swim class, weaving among the tourists and their silly poses in front of the tower, when he sees her in all her unobstructed glory and calls her name. “Ei-chel. Ei-chel. Ei-chel.” Again as if for the first time.

It’s in those moments — when I allow myself to regard the Eiffel Tower with the same wonderment as when Ashley and I came here as boyfriend and girlfriend and posed in front of her as tourists ourselves; or when we were in the taxi from the airport early that January morning, just off the red-eye and starting our new life here, and we saw her familiar outline in the distance; or when threw open the shutters in that tiny studio apartment to behold her, our new neighbor, for the first time — that I remember how lucky we are. To be living in Paris. To have our routines and the rest of our lives play themselves out in a city so many people dream of, in the shadow of an attraction that more people visit each year than any other. To have the name of the tower be one of our son’s first words, and to have Ei-chel itself be one of his earliest and, we hope, enduring memories.

About the Author:  Lawyer by day, diaper-changer by night, Matthew Benz lives in Paris with his wife and 22-month-old son. They enjoy traveling as much as they can, even if it’s the the boulangerie down the street for a pain au chocolat.

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