Carnet de Voyage: Mila

Carnet de Voyage: Mila

Travel notes from the real France. Carnet de Voyage is a weekly personal travel story in France sent in by readers. If you’d like to write a story for Carnet de Voyage, head here for details on how to submit.

All night we’d been gawking at the Eiffel Tower through the tightly intersecting girders that held up the glass ceiling at Les Ombres, touted as the restaurant in Paris with the best view of La Tour. The bloggers and food critics were right. It’s just not possible that any other place could be located at just the perfect distance, height and angle to better see this iconic landmark – a wonderful choice for our “holiday in Paris” dinner. We were along the banks of the Seine, on the fifth floor of the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac reveling in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.    

Les Ombres is built atop the roof of the musée so the view through the glass walls is unobstructed – of the tower’s massive, sharply skewed legs, anyway. The top of the spire was visible through a kaleidoscope of crisscrossing steel supports overhead. The superstructure of the tower was bathed in yellow light and on the hour the whole thing began to sparkle. The Tower’s two floors with restaurants in them were filled with white lights and looked like diamond bracelets. Two blue laser beams shot out from the antenna at the top and swept around in circles. The monument blinked on and off for five minutes. To add to the spectacle, the lights in Les Ombres’ ceiling blinked in unison with those of The Tower. For two hours we admired Gustave Eiffel’s crowning achievement. Our conversation was punctuated by the occasional squeezing of the hand in acknowledgement of how lucky we were. 

We could see on the other side of the restaurant’s giant curved glass walls a patio, empty of people, which had a perfect unobstructed view of The Tower. We wondered aloud if we could get to it and take a few pictures. We waited until l’addition was presented and then asked the waiter if what we wanted was possible. “Of course,” he said and told us that the door to the outside was behind the receptionist’s desk. “Merci,” and we headed towards the elevators where we had been greeted earlier by the happiest hostess we had ever met, Mila. She was still there with a huge smile as we approached her work station.  We moved slightly to the right where we could see that there was a door in the glass that encircled the dining area. We nodded and she gleefully pushed it open. 

La Tour through Les Ombres’ ceiling © Michael Harrelson

It had been cold and rainy in Paris this past week but that night it was nice enough for us to go outside without our coats and scarves. We had only taken a half-dozen steps beyond the door when we stopped to get a few shots with the Eiffel Tower just over our shoulders. There was a potted tree, a waist high wall and an overhang that we tried to keep out of the frame. The five or six shots we took were, to us, magnificent. Right as we thought we were done, the Eiffel Tower began to put on its show. We figured a few more pictures were in order and my wife struck a pose. Suddenly, the door burst open and Mila came running out. She’d been watching us. “Follow me,” she said, “I know the perfect spot,” and then she sped off to the open space where all of the other customers inside could see the two us sprinting to keep up with her. “Here,” she directed and held her hand out for my phone. We stood in front of a marble bench next to a Christmas tree and Mila gave us directions on which way to turn and, of course, to smile. “Think of your happiest moments. Think of your dreams”.  Snap. Snap. Snap. “Now come with me. I know a secret way,” and off she ran again, this time toward the Plexiglas barriers behind the landscaped patio. She slid through a small, offset opening to the expansive roof of the museum.  She pointed to a spot and said, “Here. Together.” We clutched each other and smiled. Smiling was easy because Mila’s joiedevivre was contagious. It just radiated from her. “What is your wish?” she shouted, “Make your wish. What is your wish for this moment?”  Snap. Snap. Snap. Run. Run. Run. “Now, over here. You see?” She was pointing to a spot in front of a shallow, rectangular catch basin filled with water from last night’s rain. Reflected on its surface was the twinkling Eiffel Tower. Amazing! “Face each other and hold hands.” At this point we just did what we were told. Standing at arm’s length we reached out and grasped each other’s hands. “You see,” she said and we saw two Eiffel Towers, one mirroring the other. La Tour loomed not only behind and above us but upside down between us, as well. Mila was creating this incredible illusion just for us. “You are in love with Paris, I can see.” Snap. Snap. Snap. And then The Tower’s incredible display stopped. 

Mila handed me my phone and stared off at the Eiffel Tower. “Do you know why it is shaped that way?” she asked. She turned to face the structure and brought her hands in front of her face. “Gustave Eiffel stood near here and made like to pray,” and she slightly spread her palms. “He decided on the shape that way.”  “Do you know why it has two floors at the bottom?” She pointed to her fingers. “They are wedding rings to show that La Tour is married to Paris.” 

Back inside, Mila retrieved our coats and scarves. We thanked her and took the elevator to the ground floor. As we walked back to our apartment, crossing over the beautiful pedestrian bridge, Paserelle Debilly, we wondered aloud about where this special human being had come from? How was it our good fortune to have timed this moment so perfectly? What had just happened? We stopped halfway across the wooden surface of the span and turned towards the Eiffel Tower, then each other. “Paris,” my wife said. “Paris,“ I answered. 

La Tour at night © Michael Harrelson

Michael Harrelson is a retired “orthophonist” and has chosen to dedicate his travels almost exclusively to France and, always, Paris. Michael and his wife, Nancy live in San Diego, California.  

Lead photo credit : Passerelle Debily in Paris © Michael Harrelson

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Michael Harrelson, 73, is retired and has chosen to dedicate his travels to primarily France and, always, Paris. Michael and his wife, Nancy, were both “orthophonistes” who worked in the public schools of San Diego, California. They have explored most of the regions of France and love the small village of Semur-en-Auxois; quiet, beautiful and the perfect place to contemplate the slow moving Armançon River and write.

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