2-Eiffel Detail 4-R Synopsis:  What to do on a rainy day in Paris? From the Mali embassy to the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower.

Paris was an afterthought for this trip, as I am on my way to Mali and only here because my visa got delayed.   If it had been a welcoming sunny spring day I probably would have enjoyed it, but as it was raining and cold  (mind you that I had packed for 100+ degree weather and even layering my clothes left me cold), I felt a bit like a fish out of water.

Going with the main goal of the trip I decided that a visit to the Mali Embassy might be a good idea – perhaps I could get information and ideas on how to organize my inland trip there.  For some reason I still have this idea that embassies should be helpful to visitors.   Twice I have been disappointed:  my emails to the German and American embassies in Mali still remain unanswered.  I was in for a third disappointment:  the doorman at the embassy did not even want to let me in.  He asked if I was affiliated with the military.  No, I was not.  He then questioned the purpose of my visit.   Seeking information was obviously not sufficient reason to let me in.  As I was going back and forth with him over this, a nicely dressed gentleman approached.  The cultural attaché of Mali; just the man I was looking for. 

When he heard that I was going to Mali he laughed.   I am glad somebody finds this funny.  Where I was going?  All over the country, I told him.  Impossible, was his answer.  Well, you can go to Bamako, he added and maybe to Dogon Country.  When I asked him if there was any information he could give me, he took me across the entrance hall to a locked wooden door.  There used to be a shop there for visitors, but it looked as if it had been closed for some time.  He tracked down a woman who opened up and pulled a variety of travel brochures out of dusty stacks of papers and books.   Well it was a start and it was obviously all I could get out of him or anyone around here.   I was thoroughly depressed.   Perhaps, I need plan B?  Morocco? 

It took me almost an hour to shake this horrible feeling of a sinking ship.  Mali is a week away and I am in Paris and damn it, I will make the best of it, rain or not.  So I shifted into tourist mode and headed to one of the destinations I had wanted to see for some time:  The cemetery of Père-Lachaise.  By the time I reached my destination it was pouring and there was no way I could visit the cemetery.  This day was not going well…

Onward to the Arc de Triomphe.  At least I wanted to have a look at it, perhaps, go up inside.  By the time I reached it, the rain had slowed down to a light drizzle and once I was up, the views were quite stunning.  One of the most interesting features was inside the arc.  It is massive, of course, and on the platform above the two legs is a full-scale visitor center, book store, toilet facilities and more.   Two models of the arc are displayed connected on one end to a play station and on the other to a full-scale screen.  You can manipulate the play station (turn and bend it) and the screen will display various close-up views of the arc decoration which are impossible to see from below.  That was fascinating.    It reminded me of the Panathenaic frieze by Phidias which adorns the Parthenon so high up that most Greeks would have never been able to get a good look at it. You needed to stand on a scaffold looking at the reliefs straight on to fully appreciate them.  Why did Phidias bother?  Why did Napoleon bother?  He could not have anticipated aerial photography with zoom lenses or the digital displays I was looking at.  None of his fellow citizens could ever appreciate all the self-glorifying reliefs he put on the arc.  Why did he execute them nonetheless? 

The day had gone on and by the time I got out of the arc the weather had cleared up.  But now, almost all tourist attractions were closed.  But there was still the Eiffel Tower!   It was open until dark.  And so I crisscrossed Paris further on my subway pass and went to see the Eiffel Tower.   Standing in line for an hour was no big deal.  I had all the time now.  The day ended with the sun illuminating the city of Paris in a deep, warm glow.  Even though I was freezing, I enjoyed the spectacular views and took it as a good omen:  What starts on the wrong foot can still end well.  And so went my second day in Paris. 

Good night.