“Please help me,” I said in a low voice to the man in the ticket office. “I’m going to propose to my girlfriend.”
The man in the ticket office puffed thoughtfully on his cigarette. He was French. The French love romance, don’t they? A Frenchman would help a young man in love?
“Go to the back of the line!” he growled.
In the precious moments I had wasted pleading with the world’s most unromantic Frenchman, the line had gotten even longer. Everyone in that line had been there so long they’d all married, had children and died, and the children had grown up still standing in that line.
Why did so many people want to go up the Eiffel Tower? They couldn’t all be proposing, could they? The line was so long, at the back of it you were standing in Germany.
“Let’s just get out of here,” growled my girlfriend. Normally she is sweet and delightful, but when she’s hot and hungry, she becomes like Samuel L Jackson.
But we couldn’t go back to the hotel. I was going to propose to her at the top of the Eiffel Tower. I had to propose to her somewhere spectacular and perfect, because that way she wouldn’t notice at first what a cheapskate ring I’d bought.
“You’re just hungry,” I said, and scuttled off to get her another crepe with Nutella.
It was mid-summer, and I was seeing a side of Paris you don’t usually see in the movies. In the movies it’s always spring or autumn, and there are pretty girls wearing scarves and riding bicycles with baskets on the front, and loving couples huddling and canoodling by the Seine. No one huddles and canoodles in mid-summer. It’s so hot it feels like someone has put tinfoil over the top of the city and rubbed Deep Heat all over your body. The Parisians all leave to escape the heat, and the only people left are you and a zillion waddling tourists in backpacks and Bermuda pants. Paris in a heatwave is as romantic as a croissant oven if you happen to be a croissant.
It was so hot in the queue I watched an American melt like butter. He became so shapeless and lumpy I wasn’t sure which part of him was which any more. Bits of him made puddles at our feet. The queue never moved. Every so often we’d shuffle our feet a bit but the Eiffel Tower never came closer. My girlfriend poured a bottle of water over her head, and then complained about her hair. Someone tried to pickpocket me.
Finally, after ten days of queuing we reached the end. My girlfriend and I hated each other now. If I wasn’t going to propose marriage, I would have broken up with her. We shuffled into the elevator, but the Americans behind us just kept on piling in. It was like being stampeded by a herd of dough. They squished us into a corner and just kept on squishing. “We can get more people in!” someone shouted. It smelt like a teenager’s pillowcase in there. I thought I was going to drown in an armpit.
Then I remembered I’m claustrophobic.
“Wait! Hold the door!” I cried, and on hands and knees we crawled out through the pale fleshy jungle of their legs.
“Let’s just go,” she begged. “Please.”
“No,” I said. “There are stairs.”
Have you ever climbed the Eiffel Tower in a heatwave? I hope you can handle the romance, but halfway up I stopped to vomit into a garbage bin. I didn’t have any breath-mints and I worried about how that might affect the general romanticness of the proposal, but fortunately five minutes later she vomited too.
Finally we reached the platform. It was packed with Americans fanning themselves with sandwiches. As we trudged around, looking for a spot where we could see something other than the back of an American head, we passed a couple proposing to each other.
I glared at them. Proposing up here was my idea.
Apparently it was a lot of people’s idea. We turned a corner and saw three guys down on their knees. This was getting ridiculous.
“I’m in hell,” said my girlfriend. “I’m going back to the hotel.” It was now or never.
I took her by the shoulders and looked in her eyes.
I said the speech I’d been practising all week, about how I loved her, and we should be together and all that. Then I knelt and produced the ring.
“Will you marry me?” I said.
And suddenly she understood everything: why I’d been so nervous, why I’d insisted on climbing the tower. Everything became clear.
Oh!” she said. And then: “No.”
And the funny thing is, she meant it.Darrel Bristow-Bovey is a columnist, screenwriter, travel writer and aspirant retiree - follow him on twitter: @DBBovey