At 125, the Eiffel Tower’s romance still lights the world

Mar. 29, 2014 @ 10:10 AM

It’s no accident that the Eiffel Tower has appeared on the cover of five of my romance novels. Lovers are drawn to that tower like magnets. And in its light, their love sparkles.

As the 125th anniversary of the tower's inauguration approaches March 31, it’s worth noting that no structure has ever been co closely and powerfully linked to love and romance. Even when a book or movie purposely minimizes its presence, the briefest glimpses of that beautiful tower send a profound message.

In Lawrence Kasdan’s romantic comedy “The French Kiss” (1995), Kate’s inability to spot the tower becomes a symbol of her inability to see the possibilities of happiness and romance around her.

“Midnight in Paris,” Woody Allen’s 2011 archetypal romance between a man and his Paris, showcases the Eiffel Tower repeatedly during its saturated-color opening ode to all the most beautiful elements of the city. And when we hear Inez telling her fiancé Gil that she “could never live in Paris,” we know the relationship is doomed.

Because how could love live without Paris? (Don’t we always need to have that dream of it, somewhere in our hearts?)

And while the City of Love existed as one of the most romantic dream destinations long before the Eiffel Tower was built, the loss of that tower would be an incredible blow to dreamers all around the world, which may explain why terrorist threats to it are a regular occurrence. Rare is the romantic cinematographic or literary vision of Paris that does not include the Eiffel Tower.

The tower might have saved my own romance with France. When I was struggling to adjust to the winters of Paris and the challenges of a new life with someone in another country, my now-husband said, “Let me show you how I fell in love with Paris.” And he took me inline skating, again and again, through the midnight streets of Paris -- from the Hôtel de Ville, past the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, beside all those illuminated bridges that bracelet the Seine, to end up at the Trocadéro, from whose esplanade we and those other rare couples out so late would watch the Tower go black at 1 a.m., when its now-famous sparkles dance one last time over its darkened form before it, too, finally goes to sleep.

This moment appears again and again in my novels, the Eiffel Tower sealing the beauty of a relationship between two people and between that couple and the city.

Yet many people who pride themselves on really understanding Paris snub the tower just a little -- preferring their more intimate knowledge of the city’s streets and quarters. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 film “Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain” imbued Paris with a nostalgic romance yet used the Eiffel Tower only twice: a tiny distant glimpse on the horizon in an opening scene and an almost secret wink of it on a poster in the background of Amélie’s dream of romantic happiness right at the end. Perhaps Jeunet wanted to show that the essence of the romance of Paris is in its streets and parks and people, and not in the tower that can be so easily imitated from Las Vegas to China.

He is right. And yet, at the same time, such discreet references as those in “Amélie” prove how powerful that symbol of the Eiffel Tower is, a tiny glimpse of it is all that’s needed for an establishing shot.

Because just that one-second glimpse of a minuscule Eiffel Tower in the distance says all you need to know:

We are here in Paris.

Romance happens here.

Laura Florand is a romance studies lecturer at Duke University and bestselling author of the Amour et Chocolat series of romance novels, all set in Paris.