Somewhere in the middle of a 10-day vacation overseas, my wife casually mentioned that we had a $50,000 life-insurance policy on the trip.
“You know,” she said, “in case one of us has to ship the other’s remains home.”
This was hardly what I needed to reassure me about the consistent aches I was having in my feet and lower back since leaving U.S. soil. My primary memory of London and Paris is that they are one unending stairwell. Indeed, there are more steps in these two metropolises than in any other place in the world. I don’t need to Google that or call a research librarian. I feel it throughout my body. Call it a Tailbone of Two Cities.
There are steps on the subway. Steps to and from hotel rooms. Steps into and out of major and minor monuments and museums. Steps on and off buses. Steps with a 60-degree pitch to the basements of all those charming little French bistros that charge you 60 euros for the privilege of using their bathrooms, even when all you have in your pocket are a few stray American quarters or some leftover pounds from England.
According to the Association for the Proliferation of Abnormal, Interminable, Never-ending Stairs (AssPAIN, for short), Great Britain and France have approximately 3,275 separate and unique stairs for every tourist with the temerity to set foot in either country.
In Paris, for instance, there are approximately 1,655 steps to the top of the Eiffel Tower, although the French show some mercy and allow visitors to climb a little less than half of those before forcing them aboard elevators for the rest of the ascent. This decision must have been reached in a moment of uncharacteristic charity, because it’s not the rule elsewhere.
At the Arc de Triomphe, for example, visitors are faced with 284 steps up and 284 steps down. They say the view from the top is stunning, but most visitors I saw were too busy hyperventilating into brown-paper bags to enjoy it. Personally, I was so winded at the top that I considered jumping. Not because I’m suicidal, mind you, but because the fall would have been somewhat preferable to another 20 minutes in a stairwell.
I’m convinced that both the English and the French periodically install escalators to toy with tourists. They entice you into some big marble slab of a monument with the promise of an easy ride up, only to betray you midway with an “Out of Order” sign and an arrow pointing to approximately 865 stairs. All that’s needed to complete the scene is a snide Frenchman in a beret, twisting one end of his black, pencil-thin moustache and chortling somewhere off to the side.
If it’s true what they say about every flight of stairs adding a second to your life, I figure I’ve added about 3,000 seconds to mine over the last week and a half. That’s a whole 50 minutes, time I can use to climb more stairs and thus, if I play my cards right, live forever.
That makes any future life-insurance policies just a big waste of money.
But if what I suspect is true, stairs don’t actually make you live longer. Instead, like other rotten activities — root canals, vasectomies and mandatory overtime — stairs merely make you feel that life is interminable, especially when you’re climbing them.
Stairway to Heaven? No thank you. I’ll take the lift.
cschillig on Twitter
Originally published Aug. 14 in The Alliance Review.