I had 4 hours left before I had to catch my train back to Tours from Paris.
“Alright,” I told myself. “I need to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower today. A Parisian experience is incomplete without it.”
After eating at Les Deux Magots, a café made famous by Hemingway, which was also a really sweet time because I am almost certain that there are scenes from Paris je t’aime that take place in there, I took off for the Eiffel Tower. After a series of subway connections, I finally emerged on the street a mere couple blocks away from the monument. Nearly beneath the top, I noticed a group of people surrounding a guy with discs on the ground.
“It’s very easy!” he said, in the voice of a French carny. “Find the white disc and double your money!”
I remember specifically telling myself that I should pass right by without stopping. There have been so many occurrences in my life where impulse has gotten the best of me, and the results have not been so favorable. 21 years of unfortunate experiences should be enough to know when I should just keep walking, right? Curious, I decided to stop anyway, telling myself that I was only going to see what they were doing, satisfy that curiosity, and move on.
I watched him shuffle the discs on the piece of felt, and then turn the platform once 180 degrees to reverse the disc. Easy, I thought, and from my vantage point, which was slightly off to the side, I had a pretty clear view of the disc’s bottom before it landed. I watched for three or four rounds, guessing correctly each time, yet watching people hand their money over having lost.
Just as I was feeling confident with the game, the carny reeled me in. He was waiting for people to put in some money, and I stumbled eagerly through my wallet, perhaps a bit anxiously knowing that I was going to win and walk away with more money. All I had were two 50 euro bills.
“That’s all I have,” I told him. And he saw that I had two and tried to get me to put it all in, but I resisted and put in just one.
“Way to go Matt for not losing all of your money in one go.”
You have that much self-restraint. Now, it should have been easier considering that a girl before me had guessed wrong, and that left two possibilities. At that point, I was more than sure that I was going to win.
I couldn’t believe it. I was absolutely shocked, as if someone had just diagnosed me with cancer and I had months to live. My heart was racing; I felt shaky. I should have left their, but my natural response was this:
“OMG!!! I need to get it back, FAST!”
I threw in my last 50 euros the next round and guessed wrong again. In 30 seconds I had emptied my wallet of 100 euros.
I could feel the world around me beginning to collapse. My vision felt as if it were blurring. I honestly felt like falling over at the shock of what had just happened.
And there was no one there to turn to for comfort or sympathy, and moments later, after the crowd had finally begun to realize what a scam all of it was, the guy packed up his discs, pocketed his money, and walked off. The crowd dispersed, and I was left there by myself, still trying to comprehend what had just happened.
In my dazed state, I willed my feet to bring me to the tower, hoping that the mere sight of it, and all that it represents to me (my love of French culture, the moment I first watched Amélie and had decided that I wanted to start learning French) would lift up my spirits, and perhaps comfort me somehow–I imagined two of its legs detaching and scooping me up, rocking me back and forth, telling me that it’s alright that I just got scammed out of 100 euros–enough spending money to go out for lunch for two weeks or 4 plane tickets for Ryan Air, destination Sicily, London, Madrid…
I ended up sitting, on one of the many cement cubes, gazing up at the top of the tower, sad that I now didn’t have any money to go to the top.
“I am not going to eat lunch for two weeks,” I told myself.
I thought that if I could regain all of the money back through sacrifice, I would somehow feel better.
“That’s just stupid,” I thought. “It’s not worth punishing yourself over, and that will make you only more unhappy.”
As I sat there, feeling down, I began to think about what had come out of the situation. I definitely learned something: Don’t ever, ever engage with street vendors, no matter how curious you may be! My parents always told me that I have always been one to learn the hard way. That is definitely true looking back at a couple major events in my life: the $170 fine for bridge jumping in the middle of a busy channel at noon on Saturday, perhaps the busiest time, and place, that one could have gone bridge jumping on Lake Minnetonka; throwing stones at an abandoned church building at 5am during a sixth grade sleepover (granted, those were my rebellious years by far–skateboarding, punk rock music, eating sugary foods all night long!!!), stapling my finger (twice) in first and fourth grade. I have made a lot of mistakes, but losing 100 euros in 30 seconds tops that list.
BUT the point is, I learned something! and after I had gotten over myself and my mistake, I bought an ice cream, engaged a non-English speaking Romanian in conversation (and forced the conversation even after he waved me away saying “No English”). The best part about the day was that I found out there are not one, but two ways to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower: the elevator or the stairs. It turns out that the stairs cost a mere 3,50 euros, and I was able to make it to the top of the Eiffel Tower after all.
I threw myself up those stairs, determined to make it to the top, feeling as if once I were there, everything would be alright. I rushed past ambling families taking their time, taking the steps two or three at a time. I finally made it, calves burning and all. The sensation of looking out across Paris, of finally being at the top of the tower after so many years of seeing it in movies, idealizing it… I am sure that the only thing that could have been better is if the tower were to actually have come alive and scooped me up with two of its legs.