September 2, 2011

"Large numbers of Parisians could not see the point of placing an enormous functionless derrick in the middle of the city."

Writes Bill Bryson, in "At Home: A Short History of Private Life":
The Eiffel Tower wasn’t just the largest thing that anyone had ever proposed to build, it was the largest completely useless thing. It wasn’t a palace or burial chamber or place of worship. It didn’t even commemorate a fallen hero. Eiffel gamely insisted that his tower would have many practical applications—that it would make a terrific military lookout and that one could do useful aeronautical and meteorological experiments from its upper reaches—but eventually even he admitted that mostly he wished to build it simply for the slightly strange pleasure of making something really quite enormous. Many people loathed it, especially artists and intellectuals. A group of notables that included Alexandre Dumas, Émile Zola, Paul Verlaine, and Guy de Maupassant submitted a long, rather overexcited letter protesting at “the deflowering of Paris” and arguing that “when foreigners come to see our exhibition they will cry out in astonishment, ‘What! This is the atrocity which the French have created to give us an idea of their boasted taste!’ ” The Eiffel Tower, they continued, was “the grotesque, mercenary invention of a machine builder.” Eiffel accepted the insults with cheerful equanimity and merely pointed out that one of the outraged signatories of the petition, the architect Charles Garnier, was in fact a member of the commission that had approved the tower in the first place.
Do large useless things bother you?

ADDED: If you're wondering what got me to post about the Eiffel Tower, it was this.

41 comments:

Crimso said...

"Do large useless things bother you?"

On the 15th of April each year.

gerry said...

The federal government.

pbAndjFellowRepublican said...

They told me that my large purchase was useless in my hood.

But, now they walk to work.

ndspinelli said...

Yes..like Robert Traylor, Elizabeth Taylor and Carol Ditzy" Herman.

Tom said...

Like Obama's Ya-yas?

S said...

Maybe Bryson gets to this, but I read once that somebody I had heard of - maybe on that list of "notables" - made a habit of eating lunch at a restaurant in the Tower on the grounds that it was the only place in Paris where he could eat without seeing it in the skyline.

Peter said...

I don't quite get the meaning of "useless" here. The purpose of the Eiffel Tower was to attract visitors to the Paris Expo, and, as with all world's fairs, to promote the achievements of the host nation.

E.M. Davis said...

Parisians cannot see the point of a lot of things.

Scott said...

Large useless things... aside from the President's ego? I'm upset that they're building another skyscraper on the World Trade Center site. No company is going to put its offices in the upper floors -- would you work there? I sure wouldn't. That's useless

MikeinAppalachia said...

Several of my neighbors come to mind.

traditionalguy said...

Large things humble men.

The monument was to Engineering then along with science seen as man's savior.

WWI and WWII made science and engineering suspect.

But human psychological engineering is our god today. It took over science's role and hides under it as the minds of men become owned assets of the best media craftsmen.

Scott M said...

In Dan Simmon's "Olympos", set far into an Eloi-like future, a future emperor commissioned the building of an Eiffelbahn Basically, a giant ski-lift sort of transportation, but instead of going up the side of a mountain, it was a multistory, plush house that road cables between Eiffel Towers that stretched all the way from Paris to India.

Astonishing imagination, that guy has. Can you imagine seeing a line of Eiffel Towers stretching to the horizon like mundane power poles?

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Yeah. Publicly-financed stadiums for privately-owned sports teams.

Economically unfeasible light rail lines.

Perpetual-deficit 'high-speed rail' lines.

Gargantuan Federal bureaucracies like Homeland Security.

rhhardin said...

The Eiffel Tower was great for launching tiny paper airplanes from in 1960.

AJ Lynch said...

Staying with the theme of the President's upcoming speech- how long do you thionk his speech should be?

I'd recommend a concise 15 minutes to slam home 8-10 bullet points that outline his jobs plan. Of course, he will take at least an hour.

Scott M said...

I'd recommend a concise 15 minutes to slam home 8-10 bullet points that outline his jobs plan. Of course, he will take at least an hour.

Why, in Obama's post-Arizona Shooting-era, do you have to use such violent imagery?

MadisonMan said...

I thought you were going to link to the "art" statue at the corner of Regent and Breese Terrace.

chickenlittle said...

Eiffel erected a manument.

Jim said...

Speaking as a rather large, useless thing myself, my family and I went to the Eiffel Tower the first day we were in Paris. It was cool.

I can't really see how it was more useless than Versailles, though. As an engineer, it stirred my imagination of what the frontier looked like then.

Paddy O said...

Does the rest of Paris really have "a use"?

I mean besides kissing and romantic adventures?

edutcher said...

The line, “the deflowering of Paris”, explains it.

Then the Germans heard it calling them, too.

Twice.

So they could do it to the French, as well.

Scott said...

Large useless things... aside from the President's ego?

Pretty much sums up this Administration.

chickenlittle said...

@edutcher: Parisian partisans sabotaged the elevator in 1940 to prevent Hitler from ascending the tower. I don't know if he ever returned to make it to the top.

ricpic said...

Barry Schwartz was completely flummoxed by the Eiffel Tower. Stairs or elevator? Stairs or elevator? So he went down to the Seine to think about it. Left bank, right bank? Left bank, right bank? So he flew home.

Oxbay said...

I don't know if I ever will but watching the video makes me want to go to Burning Man.

Hazy Dave said...

Without the Eiffel Tower, the Ferris Wheel would likely have not been commissioned for the 1892 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Scott M said...

Without the Eiffel Tower, the Ferris Wheel would likely have not been commissioned for the 1892 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Yes, it would have. Ferris does not really exist. It would have been the Cameron Wheel.

Kirby Olson said...

I'm for wind power.

Leftists don't want nuclear, don't want fracking, don't want wind power, don't want oil. But they want to use energy to fly all over and scream about their preferences.

I love the Eiffel Tower, and wish the whole country would put up wind towers.

edutcher said...

chickenlittle said...

@edutcher: Parisian partisans sabotaged the elevator in 1940 to prevent Hitler from ascending the tower. I don't know if he ever returned to make it to the top.

He didn't. Al only made one trip to Le Big Crepe. Didn't like it much.

Unfortunately, that was about as brave as a lot of Frenchmen got for the next 4 years.

Carol_Herman said...

After the Eiffel Tower was built, it needed electricity to really work.

Before electricity came along ... it would loom above as a dark shadow. But when night fell, you'd bang into it, surprised.

After electricity came, you could light it up like a Christmas Tree. And, even better ... there was room to stick an elevator inside. Making going "up" easier than having you climb stairs.

Also, once the elevator was in place, you could add a restaurant! And, people who wanted to peer into windows ... got to go up ... and look out ... And, that, too, was fun.

Today? The only way you could build it is if you proved it was detrimental to traffic. Like a "go-round."

You know, IF instead it had been built as a university ... it could also have become famous.

Now, imagine lugging all these skeletal parts through the streets. And, piling them on top of one another? Wouldn't you ask for at least a bridge to be built ... which means to work, you'd need TWO Eiffel Towers.

You just couldn't build an end to the bridge as going into someone's apartment window ... you know?

Look at London Bridge! That's practical.

bagoh20 said...

The stuff in the linked to Burning Man project is amazing. That thing has really come a long way from the pile of wood it was at one time.

I wanna go, but it's happening right now. If you would have posted this last week, I'd be there now.

Dammed hippies partying without me. I might have gotten laid.

Paddy O said...

"So he flew home."

With so many airlines to choose from?!

E.M. Davis said...

No company is going to put its offices in the upper floors -- would you work there? I sure wouldn't. That's useless

I would. It's a fuck you to terrorists.

The sad fact is that the tower should have been up at least 6 years ago.

They'll never be able to pull off a carbon copy of 9/11 again.

Scott M said...

The sad fact is that the tower should have been up at least 6 years ago.

Why wasn't the group of potential architectural firms kept to American teams only? When I found out a European team got the award and the business, I really wondered if we've sunk that low.

Coketown said...

Let the Eiffel Tower be a lesson to all you small government-loving wet blankets. Today's Obamacare can be tomorrow's Eiffel Tower! An expensive, useless blight on our national image that everybody abhors except the megalomaniacs responsible for it.

Paul said...

Do large useless things bother you?

Michelle Obama.... for one.

BJM said...

@Althouse, you'd dig the visuals at BM.

Jose_K said...

As Peter said it was part of the expo and was disposable. it was supossed to be destroyed afterthe expo.
Anyway, every city have a useless symbol.
After ramses ii expelled the hitties( Eusebius though wrongly they were the the Israel people) we went on a conquest rampage . To honor those cities that made oposition to him , he ordered obelisques to be buil in those cities. That is to put a fallus on them to show those people were braves. Since then some cities have phaluus: Paris, Washington, London. Other like Rome ,who would think ,females symbols( the colisseum)

Sixty Grit said...

Rive Gauche is the right bank for you.

I walked up as far as I could - was too cheap to pay for the elevator ride to the top.

Liked the tower, didn't care too much for the gypsy beggars at the ground level.

bwebster said...

I saw the Eiffel Tower in person for the first time last December. Went up on it, too. It was (for me) more impressive than other large structures I have been on (World Trade Center, Empire State Building, Sears Tower), probably because it is an open structure that you can walk under.

jr565 said...

Pioneer of aerodynamics (little Eiffel, little eiffel)
they thought he was a real smart alec (little Eiffel, Little Eiffel)
He thought big and they called it a phallic (little Eiffel, Little Eiffel)
they didn't know he was panoramic.
Little Eiffel stands in the archway
Keeping low doesn't make no sense
Sometimes people can be oh so dense
They didn't want it but he built it anyway (little Eiffel, Little Eiffel)
Little Eiffel stands in the archway (little Eiffel, Little Eiffel)
Keeping low doesn't make sense
Keeping low doesn't make no sense (little Eiffel Little Eiffel)
Little Eiffel stands in the archway
Oh Alexander I see you beneath the archway of aerodynamics

Perhaps the coolest song about architecture ever written.

Cedarford said...

E.M. Davis said...
No company is going to put its offices in the upper floors -- would you work there? I sure wouldn't. That's useless

I would. It's a fuck you to terrorists.

The sad fact is that the tower should have been up at least 6 years ago.

They'll never be able to pull off a carbon copy of 9/11 again.

===================
There is sometimes a point to saying "fuck you!" to the bad guys, then there are times when only stubborness and stupidity guides the "Fuck you" same as before response.
1st day at the Somme, the Brits lost 60,000 men on stupid tactics and strategy.
They decided that the 2nd day doing things the exact same way would send a huge fuck you to the Germans.
40,000 casualties on the 2nd day.

************************
Scott M said...
The sad fact is that the tower should have been up at least 6 years ago.

Why wasn't the group of potential architectural firms kept to American teams only? When I found out a European team got the award and the business, I really wondered if we've sunk that low.


You forget the original WTC was a Japanese architectural firms design.

The delay was disgusting given whole European, Japanese, Soviet cities flattened in WWII vs. one city block in NYC - were rebuilt in 5 years. And the main delay in those war-ravaged countries was getting the money.
(The rubble, inc. unidentified body parts was bulldozed out in short order as a fire and health hazard. Rubble was combed through as best as possible for scrap metal and other recoverables...bodies and parts looked at for ID, the rest separated out for assignment in a mass grave).

In NYC, the money and Will to rapidly rebuilt was there - but was derailed by years and billions squandered on "forensics", arguments between the sacred Victim Families Wishes, 100s of NGOs claiming to champion certain Victim Families and NYC constituencies, lawyers, and competing political interests.