With Love Locks Leaving Paris, Give Peace a Chance


‘Tis Better to Have Loved and Lost . . .

The French are turning their back on love! Oh, say it isn’t so! Well, it really isn’t so. But as you may have heard, last Monday, the city of Paris began removing the approximately 700,000 padlocks clinging to the Pont des Arts. As a symbol of their undying affection for each other, couples have been adding their “love locks” (not to be confused with “Locks of Love“) to the fencing of the pedestrian bridge, throwing the keys into the Seine river below.

The tradition started in Rome after the 2006 publication of Frederico Moccia’s best-selling novel I Want You, and the following movie adaptation, in which a young couple proclaim their love by fastening a padlock to the Milvian Bridge.

From there the practice has become something of a global phenomenon, with businesses springing up to cash in. For example, there are Lovelocks and MakeLoveLocks, which sell their own lines of locks and post maps showing sites around the globe for locking up love.

Looks as if they’ll need to remove at least one of those map markers, as Paris has decided that enough is enough. Actually, it’s too much, as sections of the Pont des Arts railing have begun to collapse under the padlocks’ 100-ton weight.

If US expats Lisa Anselmo and Lisa Taylor Huff have their way, Paris will soon be love-lock free. In January of last year, the two started No Love Locks with the slogan “Free your love. Save our bridges.” They’ve also started a petition asking the mayor of their city to ban the locks once and for all.


Make Peace, Not Love

Where, oh where, then, will young lovers and tourists go to take selfies in a Paris sans love locks?

Well, the French capital does have another photo-worthy site. You might have heard of it, though probably not. It’s one of France’s best-kept secrets, but it may just turn the City of Love into the City of . . . Peace.

It’s the Mur de la Paix, or the Wall for Peace, situated on the Champ de Mars, in front of the École Militaire. Created by artist Clara halter and architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, the wall was installed in 2000 to celebrate the arrival of the new millennium.

The structure is made of metal and glass panels and 20-foot-tall stainless-steel columns, all displaying the word peace in 32 languages. Inspired by the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the Wall for Peace contains slits so that visitors can leave messages in them. And virtual guests can leave their messages at the wall’s site to be displayed on monitors and online.

When it was built, the monument was supposed to be temporary, lasting only a few months. Some of the locals regret that its removal hasn’t happened, and a few are very vocal about it. In 2011, Rachida Dati, mayor of the area surrounding the Wall for Peace, was found guilty of defamation after accusing the wall’s creators of lying to keep their work in place. The wall has also been the target of vandalism. And yet, 15 years after its construction, it still stands.

3372837834_f11dcbdd97_zIf you look from the right vantage point, you’ll see that the Wall of Peace frames a nice view of a rather tall radio and TV antenna at the end of the Champ de Mars, opposite the École Militaire. It also was built as a temporary structure, to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the French Revolution at the 1889 World’s Fair. Originally meant to stay for only 20 years, it was saved from the scrap pile when it’s creator realized how useful it could be for broadcasting. The tower’s still there, and if you’d like to get a glimpse of it, just go to the Wall for Peace and look southeast.

Ahh, Paris. What a fickle city. That which is meant to be forever is taken away. And that which is meant to be temporary lives on. C’est la vie.

C’est l’amour. C’est la paix.

(Emanuella Grinberg, “Paris Ends Relationship with ‘Love Locks,'” CNN, May 31, 2015; Angela Diffley, “Rachida Dati Libelled Peace Wall Couple, Court Rules,” RFI, November 22, 2011)

[photos: “Paris: Love Lock Bridge,” by Abi, used under a Creative Commons license; “Paris—Champ de Mars: Le Mur pour La Paix and Eiffel Tower,” by Wally Goetz, used under a Creative Commons license; “The Tower with Letters for Peace,” by Vincent Brassinne, used under a Creative Commons license]


“An Extraordinary Theory of Objects”: A TCK in Paris and the Things That Keep Her Sane, Sort of

31703109_4ad6f7ce2c_nI just finished reading a cool little book entitled An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris. It was a Christmas gift from my son, the one who got a Moleskine Journal from me.

An Extraordinary Theory of Objects is a series of vignettes by Stephanie LaCava about her move to France as a twelve-year-old in 1993, her years there growing up, and then her visits back again after attending college in the States.

On the cover of my copy of the book are romantically filtered and tinted photos of the Eiffel Tower, and on the pages inside, her writing style evokes the same kind of mood. If stories could be sepia-toned, this is how they might sound.

Actually, the filter through which LaCava encounters the world is her attachment to things. First, there are the small, curious relics—a skeleton key, a mushroom, an opal necklace found in the mud—that she gathers and places on her windowsill. Initially they replace her old collection, “everything that represented [her] past life and its predictable ways,” which is on a container ship making its way across the ocean from New York.

And then there are the objects she encounters from day to day, common things that she illuminates in copious footnotes often taking up more than half a page. Cataloging these objects gives her security and makes sense of her life in a new city . . . as she faces depression and what she calls her own “kind of crazy.”

Some might find her footnotes distracting, but they cover just the kind of obscure topics that intrigue me, such as a Japanese smuggler of black-market butterflies, a photo book dedicated to Salvador Dali’s mustache, and the origins of the tea bag. And they are replete with references to a variety of figures, from Pliny the Elder to Kurt Cobain, from Anne Boylen to Kate Moss.

Much of LaCava’s narrative is about time spent with her father, often searching flea markets for items to fulfill their eccentric tastes. At other times, she talks about her classmates at the international school. She says she was “mostly alone” her first year there. Even among these other outsiders, she doesn’t fit in.

I rode the bus to school and listened to my Discman while the girl in the back row threw gum wrappers at my head. The girls at school didn’t like me very much. They had never given me a chance, decided immediately that I didn’t belong, which was funny, as they didn’t either—at least not in France. They made me feel as if I had done something wrong, and they spoke badly about me to each other. Through my own odd rationalization, I decided excommunicating me meant they belonged to something, simply because I did not. . . .

Come the new academic year, the old class would be replaced with another set of students who had just moved overseas. Only a few remained year after year—and still the same insensitivity.

One day, a classmate tells her that she looks like Angela from the TV series My So-Called Life.

“I haven’t seen it,” she replies.

“Everyone’s seen that show,” he says. “Don’t you have friends in the States? They can send it to you.”

In a footnote, LaCava delves into the significance of the series, quoting Matt Zoller Seitz of The New York Times, who writes, “What the series’ narration does best: it shows how teen-agers try to control their chaotic inner lives by naming things, defining them, generalizing about them.”

That’s what LaClava does, as well—controlling the inner chaos of her life in a Paris suburb by naming the objects she encounters. Then, years later, she examines them even more closely and writes about them so that she can share with us her own kind of strange . . . and her own kind of normal.

(Stephanie LaCava, An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris, New York: Harper Perennial, 2013)
[photo: “Eiffel Tower,” by charley1965, used under a Creative Commons license]

Paris: The City and the Syndrome

from Trey Ratcliff at www.stuckincustoms.com

Though I often looked for one, I finally had to admit that there could be no cure for Paris.

These are the opening words of Paula McClain’s novel, The Paris Wife. Told from the viewpoint of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, the book shares the story of the young couple as they dive into life in Jazz-Age Paris.

I’ve not read the book, but I’ve read the first page, on the back of the most recent issue of the travel magazine Afar (which, by the way, I purchased with frequent-flier miles). The page is part of an advertisement, displayed on a Kindle Paperwhite held by a tourist overlooking the iconic white and blue buildings of Santorini, Greece. The caption for the ad reads, “Perfect for Getaways.”

It seems that some Japanese travelers have the same view of Paris as Mrs. Hemingway: It’s a condition in need of a remedy.

Back in 2006, BBC published an oft-quoted story about a phenomenon called “Paris Syndrome.” According to the article, each year, a dozen or so Japanese tourists have a psychiatric breakdown of sorts upon visiting the French capital. First identified by Hiroaki Ota, a Japanese psychiatrist in France, the syndrome is brought about when the realities of Paris don’t match the visitors’ romanticized expectations. While some of the symptoms sound like culture shock, others, such as delusions and hallucinations, are more extreme.

While some deny the existence of an actual syndrome, BBC reports that the Japanese embassy in France has set us a 24-hour hotline to help deal with the situation.

Below is a short documentary from John Menick, Paris Syndrome (2010). It takes a more in-depth—and sometimes sceptical—look at the condition, including interviews with French psychiatric professionals. Besides Paris Syndrome, the video also touches on such topics as Stendhal Syndrome, psychiatric portraiture, and historical views of travel-related mental illnesses. It even looks at Mehran Karimi Nasseri, the inspiration for the movie The Terminal.

So . . . what is the cure for Paris? While some are searching for one, most see no need. The author Gertrude Stein, a friend of the Hemingways from their time in France, saw the City of Light as a place that nurtured her creativity. “America is my country,” she said, “and Paris is my hometown.”

(Paula McClain, The Paris Wife, New York: Ballantine, 2011; Caroline Wyatt, “‘Paris Syndrome’ Strikes Japanese,” BBC News, December 20, 2006)

[photo: “Another Summer Day in Paris,” by Trey Ratcliff at Stuck in Customs, used under a Creative Commons license]

Chinese Towns with Châteaus and Pubs

421040590_416a162457If imitation truly is the greatest form of flattery, then many in China believe that flattery will get them everywhere.

Over the past decade, China has experienced a boom in the building of look-alike cities and structures, fashioned after architecture from non-Chinese locales. Leading the trend is Shanghai’s “One City, Nine Towns” project, building foreign-inspired housing developments to draw residents out of the city’s crowded center—though it seems that the people have been a little reluctant to make the move.

There’s been a bunch written about the carbon-copy construction—lots of photos, too. Here are links to some of the articles around the Web:

Welcome To the Bizarre Chinese Ghost Town That Looks Like It Was Plucked from the British Countryside
(Julie Zeveloff, Business Insider, June 14, 2011)
“Thames Town is not nestled in the British countryside; it’s located in the northeast corner of China in Songjiang, near Shanghai. And it didn’t grow gradually over hundreds of years.”

Anting New Town: Car Museum, Cafes and Homes, but No People
(CNN Travel, September 24, 2010)
“The Anting New Town development was designed by Albert Speer, the son of Hitler’s favorite architect, to accommodate 50,000 inhabitants in apartment buildings and stand-alone houses.”

Going Dutch: Shanghai’s “Holland Town” Brings Europe to the City
(Mathias Guillin, CNN Travel, July 8, 2010)
“Life in Shanghai can be a bit monotonous: work, party, brunch and then do it all over again the next weekend. If you need to break things up and don’t want to hop on plane, head over the river and check out Pudong’s Nederland, aka ‘Holland Town.'”

Luodian—a Slice of Sweden in China
(Ulrika K Engström, Sweden.se, February 10, 2006)
“Luodian is a fully fledged copy of a Scandinavian town. Even the weather seems to have been specially imported to this newly built development in Baoshan, one of 16 districts in Shanghai.”

China: Shanghai: Citta di Pujiang
(Bret Wallach, The Great Mirror)
“An Italian city in Shanghai? But of course: this is another of Shanghai’s new towns, like Thames Town, but in this case Venice. Well, that’s what you’ll read in the press, but this new town doesn’t ape Europe: it has lots of water, in other words, but an intensely modern architectural style.”

China Builds Its Own Eiffel Tower
(Metro News, September 21, 2007)
“Chinese architects copied the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the famous fountain in the gardens of the Palace of Versaille to make their own version of the French capital. Famous buildings and Parisienne style gardens are surrounded by rows of European-style villas where up to 100,000 Chinese people will live in a special gated community called Tianducheng just outside Shanghai.”

Made in China: An Austrian Village
(Reuters, June 5, 2012)
“A $940 million Chinese clone of one of Austria’s most picturesque villages, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Hallstatt, recently opened its doors to visitors in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong amidst some controversy.”

Photos: Jiangsu City Has Four Fake US Capitols
(Michael Evans, Shanghaiist, December 3, 2012)
“The Jiangsu city of Wuxi is home to not one, not two, but four buildings with a less-than-coincidental resemblance to the US Capitol.”

Village Uses Famous Site Replicas to Draw Tourists
(Wang Hongyi, China Daily, October 12, 2011)
“[T]ourists can also see replicas of the US Capitol building, the Arch of Triumph in France and the Sydney Opera House by going to Huaxi village, which is deemed the richest village in China.”

Dorset Town is Re-built in China
(BBC News, July 26, 2007)
“A town in China has been modelled on Dorchester after planners saw the town’s picture on a Christmas card. The development in Chengdun, Sichuan province, named British Town, is complete with mock Victorian and Georgian architecture.”

Mr. Zhang Builds His Dream Town
(James Fallows, The Atlantic, March 2007)
“After lunch, Zhang thanked the guests for coming and invited them to spend time seeing some of the other highlights of Broad Town: the 130-foot-high gold-colored replica of an Egyptian pyramid, for instance.”

China’s Elite Learn to Flaunt It while the New Landless Weep
(Joseph Kahn, The New York Times, December 24, 2004)
“Chateau Zhang Laffitte is no ordinary imitation. It is the oriental twin of Château Maisons-Laffitte, the French architect François Mansart’s 1650 landmark on the Seine. Its symmetrical facade and soaring slate roof were crafted using the historic blueprints, 10,000 photographs and the same white Chantilly stone. . . . ‘It cost me $50 million,’ Mr. Zhang said. ‘But that’s because we made so many improvements compared with the original.'”

Château China: $30 Million “Hobby”
(Sheila Melvin, The New York Times, January 10, 2006)
“The town of Changli, in Hebei Province, resembles any other nondescript county seat in northern China. . . . But just outside the town center is a 200-hectare, or 500-acre, vineyard replete with a state-of-the-art wine production facility; a villa with tasting rooms and restaurants; a three-story wine school; a luxury hotel, and an immense private château. The Tuscan-style complex is so opulent and incongruous in the Hebei countryside that it at first seems like a mirage.”

Related Post:
Shanghai Calling: “Come Home”

[photo: “07/02/23 15:10:06 Shanghai,” by 2 Dogs, used under a Creative Commons license]