By Tony Iyare
HER mastery of the subject, daunting radiance and ravishingly beautiful gait was the elixir to jazz up the French class.
Unlike some subjects that you wish for the cup to pass, we always looked forward to her lessons with admiration. Ever since our path crossed nearly 40 years ago, the picture of the splendour, glamour and eminence ofParis, the world’s most prominent city of arts, fashion and gourmet had stuck.
Then known as Miss Fatimah Umar, this very amiable teacher infused a lot of life to her work as she took us through many passages of the French lessons in the now fossilised fully air-conditioned language laboratory in my formative school days.
Donning our listening aids as we stayed glued to the video documentary in this chilly laboratory, we usually reeled out in almost what later became a refrain: Voila une grande ville, Voila la Tour Eiffel, C’est la Place d’Italie a Paris. The rendering of the passage on Monsieur Thibo would normally bring the French lesson to a close.
A pioneer member of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, Umar was a toast of the students of my alma mater,United Christian Secondary School, a foremost business high school founded jointly by the Anglican, Methodist and Baptist Missions as her simplicity, dedication and devotion to duty struck a chord. Hopping daily from her abode on Pelewura Crescent, she was one of the early risers to the school straddled between Bombay Crescent and Oyekan Road, all in the then serene Apapa in Lagos.
Later known as Mrs Fatimah Abubakar after her marriage to a former director general of the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, she was appointed Minister of Power under the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo. But just as the United Christian Secondary School Alumni Association, UCOSA, was rolling out elaborate plans to honour their famous French teacher along with others, a car crash on the Kano-Kaduna Express Way unfortunately ended her life sourjorn shortly after she left office.
As we waited patiently with hundreds of other visitors in a long line to ascend the EiffelTowerlocated in Champ de Mars around 8pm during my last visit to Paris, her memory kept popping around me. I could hear her say fondly “Antoine, viola la Tour Eiffel”as I beckon to my guide, Inam Akrasi, one of my seniors who has lived in France for more than 40 years.
The eminence of theEiffelTower, built in 1889 is daunting leaving you with awe as to why the mere cobbling of several pieces of metal continues to attract millions of visitors every year. Last year alone, 7.1 million visitors were at the tower. Named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower as the entrance arch to the1989 World’s Fair, it has become both a global cultural icon ofFranceand one of the most recognizable structures in the world.
Apart from a scenic view of River Seine and the alluring image of the city ofParis, the Eiffel Tour provides a view of the Military School (Ecole Militaire) and the Pantheon, a building in the Latin Quarter of Paris now used for the burial of important personalities in France.
There’s also Notre Dame de Paris, the country’s most famous cathedral located in the cradle ofFrance. Its construction started in 1163 and was completed in 1345.
Most visited paid monument
According to Wikipedia, the tower is the tallest structure inParisand the most-visited paid monument in the world; 7.1 million people ascended it in 2011. The third level observatory’s upper platform is at 279.11 metres the highest structure accessible to public in the European Union and the highest in Europe as long as the platform of the Oatankino Tower, at 360 metres, remains closed as a result of the fire of August 2000.
The tower which was conceived to last for 10 years received its 250 millionth visitor in 2010. Its communication asset to French soldiers during the First World War saw it being retained as a monument.
The tower once described as “useless and monstrous” by a group of protesting artists comprising writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the then untouched beauty of Paris, stands 320 metres (1,050 ft) tall, about the same height as an 81-storey building.
During its construction, theEiffelTowersurpassed theWashingtonMonumentto assume the title of the tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for 41 years, until theChryslerBuildinginNew York Citywas built in 1930. However, because of the addition, in 1957, of the antenna atop theEiffelTower, it is now taller than theChryslerBuilding.
I never met Akrasi in school but his daunting prowess in French was visible. He long shifted base toFrancewhen former Miss Umar made her entry. But our path crossed when he flew in fromParisto attend a luncheon hosted by UCOSA to honour him and some other distinguished alumni inLagosin 2003. Our chemistry struck a chord ever since. He broke his vacation to the South West of France to receive my wife and I at the railway station, Gadu Nord when we arrived by the bullet train, Eurostar from London last year.
Although he was on vacation also in South west ofFrancethis year, he had set up all appointments including arranging a guide to ferry my family roundParis. One of my guests drove eight hours fromToulouserenown for the building of air buses to meet us in our hotel. Akrasi also rode on a 12 hour train to see us off at Gadu Lest as we departed toKasselinGermany. The Eiffel Tour, a fitting memorial for my late French teacher radiated its eminence in the background as our friends bid us bon voyage.