on, let's say, a slow kiddie ride at an amusement park. I can't help it. The moment the ride starts going up, no matter how silly it is or how slow it goes, the tears start running. But today, as I'm about to hover over the city of Grenoble--France, I'm psyching myself up. I look at the ride and think: Piece of cake. I can do this. My heart thumps loudly under my rib-cage. I can hear the whoosh of blood rushing about inside my ears. We haven't even bought the tickets for the cable car and I'm about to pass out. Get a hold of yourself, woman. I want to see Grenoble from above and this cable car is the easiest way to accomplish just that. I look at the plastic bubbles: they are impressive. They look safe, sturdy, fun. I focus on fun. My knees feel weak. Like they won't carry me past the ticket office. Don't make a scene. Breathe normally. Don't hyperventilate. I distract myself thinking of the rewards: At the summit (1000 feet above the town) is a 19th-century fortress, La Bastille. I'll explore the fortifications, take great photographs, breathe fresh air, find and follow secret paths up the mountainside, and maybe, if lucky, spot Mont Blanc. I will my feet to walk and the moment I step into the bubble, I know I've made a terrible mistake. I'm terrified of heights, of free falling, of being sucked back down into an invisible vortex of mean gravitational pull. It's not like I don't know real danger. I do, trust me. Think guerrillas in Colombia, a mob of rowdy pilgrims in India, angry elephants in Kenya, Saddam Hussein threatening with invading the country I was living in...I know danger. Yet, I remain my worst enemy and nothing makes me crumble as fast as this irrational thing called acrophobia.
I've been brave in the past. I've had fleeting moments of courage during which I've looked at fear straight in the eye and cursed it, middle finger sticking up in the air. Take the Eiffel Tower and its three lifts (North, East and West pillars). Of course I wanted to go all the way up (again app. 1000 feet), who wouldn't? I closed my eyes and stepped into the first lift. The little voice was screaming inside me: Open your eyes. Enjoy the scenery. What's the point of going all the way up if you're not going to see anything? I didn't pay attention. When the elevator stopped I opened my eyes and made the mistake of looking down. People on the ground below me appeared dwarfed and distant, and the tears, which by now were freely flowing, made everything around me go out of focus. The other two elevators were open design glass bubbles that left me no option but to shut my eyes, my mouth, my ears, an empty attempt to deprive myself from any sensorial awareness of the heights I was reaching. By the time I stepped out of the last lift, I was paralyzed. I leaned against the first wall I found, grabbed a rail behind me, and shed many Acrophobia-induced tears.
The bubble car opens up and there its is: Grenoble in all its splendor. It's a beautiful sight. But, the wind starts picking up and so does my paranoia. What if I get swept away, whisked up in the air, and dumped 1000 ft below like a rag doll? It's an irrational thought, I know this much, but that's the thing about phobias. They are immune to logic. They don't belong in the rational world.
Breathe fresh air. Check. Snap some pics. Check. Look for Mont Blanc. Check. Time to go back down. The idea of climbing down on the cable car morphs into the absolute certainty that the wind will knock my bubble down and I will free fall and crash onto the river below. I can't swim. Quickly I discard the bubble as a means of transportation down the hill. Instead, I walk the path to the rear of the Bastille for almost an hour and find fantastic little places such as a memorial to the soldiers who fought in WWII and a monument commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Grenoble in 1944. I also stumble upon abandoned tunnels, old tree houses and a fantastic arch called Jardin des Dauphins. All hidden gems that I would have missed if I had been courageous enough to take the cable car down.