Friday, February 27, 2015

Love locks, graffiti and more in Paris (part ll)

In part l of this post I reminisced about going with my mother to a Paris department store, La Samaritaine, and looking at the River Seine and the bridges below from its rooftop terrace (click here for part l.)  We often strolled along the quais of the Seine and checked used books in the "bouquinistes" stalls.  Unfortunately in those years I never had a camera with me, as Paris was not a tourist sight for us - who carried a camera in their home town while shopping?  Here is a painting of the bouquinistes by Granick, a contemporary French artist born in 1932, showing both the Pont Neuf and the Pont des Arts.  (Copyright Granick.)  (I talked about both bridges in part l of this post.)

My parents had a serious automobile accident resulting in my mother's broken knees among other injuries.  After that we could not walk as much as before and would often take a rest on the Pont des Arts.  We would bring a "pain au chocolat" and sit on a bench on this bridge, watching the Seine and the passers-by.  Below is a photograph of the Pont des Arts taken in 1857 by Gustave Le Gray next to one taken in 1987 by Michel Kena.

Often there would be an artist painting the scenery or even some art exhibit.  Many famous artists painted the Pont des Arts, as it was such an elegant bridge.

Vue du Pont des Arts, Paris, 1905, painted by Charles Victor Guilloux, French 1866-1946

The Pont des Arts was a calm and charming bridge then.

Every time I flew back to Paris to visit my family - at least twice a year for decades - I would try to walk one afternoon by the bouquinistes to buy some second-hand French books, because books in French are not so easy to find in the Atlanta area.

Some bouquinistes sell also vintage postcards.  After buying books and postcards I would sometime go and sit on the Pont des Arts to look at my purchases.  Below are some of the books I bought during my last trip to Paris in 2013.  The books are covered in see-through plastic paper with the price written on them, as you can see from the top books in the picture below.  The top Marcel Proust book was 6 Euros and I turned the other Proust book next to it to show its price - 4.5 Euros - which is not inexpensive for second or rather third-hand used paperbacks.  (Click on photo to enlarge and read book titles.)

During our visit to Paris in May 2011, my husband and I walked on the Pont des Arts.  That was the first time I noticed locks on the bridge as we had not walked on it in our previous visits.  There were not too many locks as you can see below.  There were even less on the Pont de l'Archeveche near Notre Dame.

It appears that this trend started from a few lines in an Italian novel by Federico Moccia.  The novel was turned into the 2007 movie entitled "Ho Voglia di Te" (I want you.)  Locals began copying the characters in the film and placed locks on "Ponte Milvio" a bridge over Rome's Tiber River that was built in 206 BC.  This lovelock bridge mania then spread to Paris and other cities thus it is not a Paris tradition as some tourists have declared.  Some say that love padlocks were also used 100 years ago on a Serbian bridge, but the Paris bridges did not fall prey to this craze until after the Italian film came out.  At first people thought it was cute.  But then crowds of copy-cat couples started to fix their locks on Paris bridges, especially the Pont des Arts.  It seems in our times that people love to copy each other, then talk about it and place photos of themselves on the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the rest of social media.  This is truly the culture of the "Look at me!" fad.  (Below are locks on Rome bridges.)

When we were in Paris in May 2013 we went down Avenue Winston Churchill to the Alexander III Bridge, one of the most beautiful and elaborate bridges in Paris.  It was named after Czar Alexander III to commemorate the alliance between France and Russia in 1892.  As we approached the bridge the art nouveau lampposts and sculptures of cherubs and nymphs looked fine.

We stopped on the bridge and looked at the view toward the Eiffel Tower.  I took some photos and noticed locks on some of the lovely bronze sculptures of the bridge.  I was stunned and horrified, truly.  This is disrespectful of the city and its historical monuments.  Parisians are very upset that egotistical visitors come to their city and attach their locks on their bridges, above all on the Baroque sculptures of the majestic Alexander III Bridge.

We did not walk to the Pont des Arts because I had seen pictures of this unique bridge now looking like a dump site with all the rusting padlocks, and I knew this would be painful.  It's hard for me to understand that people think it is OK to visit another country and vandalize its historical monuments.  The tourists come to the Paris bridges, place their locks, bicycle locks and even plastic garbage bags, or write and paint graffiti, then leave and it is up to the citizens of Paris to pay for the cleanup and damages.  This is shocking vandalism.  Why don't they paint a heart and their initials on their own cars?

Now three-quarters of a million locks have infested several Paris bridges like a plague of locust.  Last summer a section of the fencing on the Pont des Arts collapsed because of the weight of the locks.  The City of Paris placed some plywood panels on the bridge in front of the railings and these were immediately spray-painted with graffiti.  This proves that when people see love locks they don't hesitate to scrawl their graffiti on public structures as well.  Fifteen more grill work panels had to be removed from the Pont des Arts for safety reason as each panel contained nearly 500 kg (1102 pounds) of locks or four time the allowable load limit for this lightweight pedestrian bridge.  Three glass test panels were installed on the bridge, each with different anti-graffiti properties, antiglare, shatter resistance, etc.  All the bridge panels, 110 of them, will have to be slowly replaced with the shatter-proof glass, which is extremely expensive and will have to be paid by local taxpayers.  So it is easy to understand why Parisians are quite upset (furious) about these horrid locks.

Last year two ladies, Lisa Anselmo, a New Yorker who also lives in Paris, and Lisa Taylor Huff, an American writer who moved to Paris and has dual French-American nationality founded
No Love Locks™.  They are trying to stop this trend.  They say on their website "Unfortunately, the historic bridges of Europe and around the world aren't feeling the "love" at all, nor are the citizens of the cities who are burdened with maintenance costs from a trend that has escalated out of control."  They started a petition, which I signed back in 2014, for the Mayor of Paris to ban these love locks - you can click on their website here ( and sign the petition.  I think more than 10,000 people have already signed.  These ladies have energized concerned and angry Parisians and others who love Paris to fight for the city.  For Valentine Day 2015 they had a No Love Lock Campaign asking visitors to refrain from placing locks on Paris bridges or even on the railings of the Eiffel Tower.  (Pictures courtesy No Love Locks.)

NBC evening news, on February 15, 2015, the Sunday after Valentine Day, had a segment on how mass tourism is damaging the Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris.  The reporter was on the bridge as a man was scrawling graffiti on a board (and was later arrested, thankfully.)  At the end of the story the reporter interviewed a couple on the bridge who came to install a lock, and asked them something like what did they think about French people who do not wish tourists to place locks on the bridge and have banned them?  I was appalled to hear their reply: "They are French, we are Americans!" meaning that it's OK for us Americans to come to Paris and destroy their UNESCO World Heritage Site, since we are Americans we can destroy anything we like .... This is the type of people who give American tourists a bad reputation "the ugly Americans" when most American tourists are respectful of other people's property.  It's hard for me to understand this infantile narcissism and to willfully damage the legacy of a foreign city's architectural history.  Not to mention the pollution from all the hard metal keys thrown into the river (over 70,000 or more.)  Here is this snickering couple that I photographed from the TV show.

When it is in the USA, vandalism is quickly stopped.  In Washington, DC, a foreign tourist placed green paint on the Lincoln Monument.  She was arrested.  It took hours to remove the paint from the Georgia marble and a US Park policeman was guarding the statue.  So why is it OK for Americans to come to Paris to vandalize our monuments like the couple above?

National Geographic had an article on the padlocks last year: "Has a craze on the world's bridges gone too far?"  where the two Lisa had written a comment - you can read it on the article.  Here is an excerpt from it: "One thing we hope people think twice about, before they put a lock on a bridge or monument in Paris, or any other city, is this: Whatever happened to "responsible tourism"?  The love locks seem to be part of a rather egocentric shift in thinking among some (though fortunately not all) travelers, to what I call "Entitlement Tourism."  Instead of following the adage of "Tread lightly.  Take only photographs.  Leave only footprints"  when traveling, instead of taking a voyage with the idea of accumulating new experiences and special memories, an increasing number of tourists NOW actively seek ways to "leave their mark" on the place they are visiting."  This is so true, it reminds me of animals placing their marks, or scent, on the territory they believe is theirs, or dogs claiming their lampposts.  Has our species gone down that low?  Below are locks on Pont de l'Archeveche going to Notre Dame de Paris cathedral.

Their comment goes on "... the "entitled tourists" really represent a problem the world over.  They're the ones who will attach a padlock where it isn't wanted, needed or invited - because they believe they have the right, having spent thousands to travel there.  They will scrawl their names and graffiti tags over any surface, or carve messages into the bark of trees or into the stone of the pyramids - because they are so puffed up with their own self-importance that nothing else matters.  They will leave a trail of trash in their wake wherever they go because they can't be bothered to clean up after themselves - they're on vacation, let someone else do the dirty work!  They will break off pieces of a coral reef or chip off a piece of landmark stone church - because "What's one little piece of coral or stone, and I really WANT one to remember my trip!"  (Photos courtesy No Love Locks.)

Some cities have had enough though.  Venice had workmen remove more than 20,000 padlocks from the wooden bridge "Ponte dell'Accademia" over the Grand Canal, twice.  Citizens of Venice were so furious with tourists placing their padlocks on their bridges that they were calling for fines up to 3,000 Euros and up to a year in jail - but I don't think this law passed, although I think that fines are being served.

In 2012 Rome started removing locks from their bridges and giving a fine of 50 Euros to anyone attaching a padlock or writing on the Milvio Bridge.  Not long ago, an Australian father and his son were charged with vandalism by the Rome Court - the 12-years old son had to report to the public prosecutor of a juvenile court in Rome.  In addition the Mayor of Rome made it illegal to consume snacks or junk food on or around the city's monuments or having to face a fine of between 25 to 500 Euros.  I think Italy is fed up with misbehaving tourists.  The fine for padlocks on Florence's bridges is now 160 Euros and they have fined several tourists.  They were also ordered to clean the Ponte Vecchio Bridge.  I wish Paris would do the same as money talks.  The French Government did ban the padlocks in September 2014 but they still need to fine tourists who keep attaching their locks, and also padlock sellers who are usually aggressive and illegal street vendors.

 In New York thousands of love padlocks are periodically removed from the Brooklyn Bridge.  I read one of the comments at the end of a New York article that someone had said "Please this is NYC and not Paris where there is a bridge just for that purpose placed on top of a river so it's easier to get rid of the keys.  If you want to place a love lock go to Paris."  I was aghast.  Below are pictures of padlocks on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York and their removal.

A lock is not an appropriate symbol of love in France.  French people find it mind boggling - love is free.  A lock is cold and makes me think of a jail, of the Bastille, of a chastity belt.  How can copying a gesture done by millions of people be a show of love?  It is incredibly unoriginal.  It is also tacky and mostly irresponsible when it pollutes public spaces and property.  It is not romantic to do something because everyone else is doing it - where is the romance in following the unthinking herd?  Why not buy a pretty illustration of lovers in France, and take it back home to enjoy?  Peynet is a well-known Paris born painter who specialized in painting lovers (1908-1999.)  Here are some of his distinctive paintings below.(Copyright Peyney.)

Another idea - buy a reproduction or lithograph (or even a postcard!) of a painting by Marc Chagall, the Russian-French  painter born in Belarus in 1887 who spent most of his life in France and became naturalized French in 1938.  He re-painted the Paris Opera ceiling in 1963 and made it a fabulous work of art.  Here are two of his paintings "The Blue Lovers" and "The Lovers in Green."  

It hurts me to see what tourists are doing to my beautiful city, turning my City of Light into a City of Blight because of their egocentric thinking.  I am distressed because it is my city, but I believe that it is everyone's responsibility to stop self-centered people violating any city, site or the environment - it is our global conscience to defeat this destruction and vandalism.

As I was writing this, we had our first snow.  The view from my backyard may not be beautiful, but it is pure and intact.

I do not think that in Paris, under the snow, the Pont des Arts looks as romantic, peaceful and lovely as when mother and I used to stroll across it.  Its beauty has now been obliterated by a mass of clunky padlocks into an eyesore - what a terrible shame!  In my mind's eye I want to remember it as when I was a child in Paris.

UPDATE:  This past June 2015 the City of Paris finally removed 45 tons of love locks from the Pont des Arts.  For now the more than 700,000 love locks keys will remain at the bottom of the River Seine to decay.  I hope tourists will be respectful of other bridges and statues of Paris.  But if not, I trust the City of Paris will removed all these locks as well.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Paris - La Samaritaine, love locks, graffiti and more (part I)

When I started my blog, in March 2009, I wrote in the "Introduction" that it was mostly intended for my grandchildren (then aged 2 years+ and 9 months) and would contain my recollections of my past in Paris and my travels.  Now, in 2015, we have four grandchildren aged 8, 6, 3 and 1 1/2 years old.  I have not reminisced much about my childhood so far, so I'll try to include some more recollections in my future posts.  Today I'll start with some remembrances of Paris.

Growing up in Paris as a child, and even during my teenage years, my mother and I would often visit the department stores in the city.  When the weather was pleasant we liked to have a pastry and a refreshment in the cafe of the rooftop terraces which could be found in the Galeries Lafayette, the Printemps, the Bazar de l'Hotel de Ville and La Samaritaine department stores.  We liked the terrace of La Samaritaine because of the panoramic view of the river Seine, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and on the other side, the Sacre Coeur de Montmartre and more.  I cannot count the times we went there but I never took photographs.  (Click on collages and/or photos to enlarge.)

My mother, who in later years developed Parkinson's disease, entered an assisted living establishment in the fall of 2000.  After visiting her there from the US a couple of times I realized, in 2001, that she had no pictures on her walls.  I went back to the terrace of the Samaritaine department store and took photos with my film camera, set on "panorama."  The pictures were not very good, but I had them developed and placed them on her bedroom walls so she could still see Paris around her (she was born in Paris and lived there all her life.)  I found these pictures in a box a few days ago and scanned them - see some of them below.

From then on, whenever I went to Paris I took pictures.  Two famous bridges are close to the Samaritaine, le Pont Neuf (the New Bridge) and Le Pont des Arts (the Bridge of the Arts.)

The Pont Neuf, or new bridge, is the oldest bridge in Paris.  It was started in 1578 under King Henry III and finished under King Henry IV in 1604.  In 1607 it was named Pont Neuf, or New Bridge by King Henry IV as it was a new bridge in comparison to the other old Paris bridges that were lined on both sides with houses.  It connects the Right Bank to the Left Bank of the river, going through the Island of the City.  It was renovated in 1994 and completed in 2007 for its 400th anniversary.  Below are some postcards of the Pont Neuf.

I also took a photo of it last May 2011.

Le Pont Neuf has been an inspiration for many artists.  Below on top is the Pont Neuf in 1940 by Gustave Cariot, French, 1872-1959.  Below on the right is the Pont Neuf in 1872 painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, 1841-1919 next to the Pont Neuf in the Snow by Camille Pissaro, French, 1830-1903.

Below is a print by French photographer Noel Paymal Lerebourg (1807-1873) from a daguerreotype taken in 1842 from the Pont Neuf near the statue of King Henry IV and looking toward the Pont des Arts.

From the top of the Samaritaine there was a good view of the Pont des Arts (Bridge of the Arts.)  I took this photo for my mother in 2001.  Even from this distance you can see how lovely this bridge is, so light and airy.

The Pont des Arts was built between 1802 and 1804 under the reign of Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte) to link the Institut de France and the central square of the Louvre Palace which, at the time, was called the Palace of the Arts, hence the name of this bridge.  This was the first metal bridge built in Paris and it served pedestrians, only.  It was a very advanced design for the time and used light materials.  From the start Parisians loved this bridge even though, when it opened in 1804, you had to pay a toll to cross it - 64,000 people paid the toll to cross it in 1804.  Below are some vintage postcards of this bridge.

From the beginning the Pont des Arts attracted local, tourists, and famous photographers, such as Charles Augustin Lhermitte, French, 1881-1945, Andor Kertesz, Hungarian, 1894-1985, Brassai, Hungarian, 1899-1984, Marcel Bovis, French, 1904-1997, Robert Doisneau, French, 1912-1994 and Edouard Boubat, French 1923-1999 - see their photographs below.

There are so many paintings of the Pont des Arts that it was difficult to chose just a few.  Below are paintings from Edward Hopper, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Bernard Buffet and Stanislas Lepine.

In 1976 the Paris city government made a study of the bridge and determined that it was no longer safe for pedestrians.  After two wars and collisions with ships, etc., the bridge had been weakened and was dismantled in 1980.  It was rebuilt to the same design and inaugurated by then Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac on June 27, 1984.

My mother and I did love to look at the Seine and the Paris bridges from the rooftop cafe of the Samaritaine.  We went there many, many times.  Ernest Cognacq and his wife Louise Jay opened a small shop in 1869 which they called La Samaritaine after a hydraulic water pump near the  Pont Neuf.  They enticed customers with their new selling methods - the display of fixed prices and the opportunity to try clothes.  The store expanded in 1883 and 1933.  They also sold items through mail order (with a low margin of profit.)  Below are a 1927 postcard of Les Grands Magasins de la Samaritaine and some advertisements.

In 1904 the buildings were renovated in the Art Nouveau style.

The interior of the stores had beautiful mosaics and decorative steel work.

The last time I shopped at La Samaritaine must have been in 2004 when I purchased some soap from Provence and a French CD.  The stores were closed in 2005 after it was found that buildings nos. 2 and 4 were not up to fire safety standards.  A French Luxury Group had purchased the buildings and obtained a permit to upgrade them to a new Japanese architectural plan.  But in December 2012 the Society for the Protection of Landscapes and Aesthetics of Paris filed a complaint over the plans arguing that the modern design would not fit within historical Paris and would distort the charm of the area.  The Japanese plans anticipated a 470 million Euros ($535 million) renovation with a massive undulating glass facade over the building.

The Luxury Group owners wanted to transform this historic landmark into a luxury hotel, high end restaurants, designer stores, duty-free shops and other luxury shops (intended mostly for Chinese tourists) and office space.  After numerous complaints by environmental and historical societies as well as from Paris citizens who said it would be an "eyesore" the Court of Appeal revoked the planning commission in January 2015 and halted further renovation.  Who knows what will happen now.  As for the Parisians (who compared the new facade to a shower curtain,) they feel that they gained a victory and hope that a new plan may be proposed that will retain more of the 18th and 19th century Haussmann style buildings.  As for me, I hope the Samaritaine will not end up looking like another super modern shopping center that can be found in Dubai or Los Angeles.  (Below postcard of one of the buildings of La Samaritaine in the 1950s.)

I wish that I had taken photos when we shopped in Paris.  I had a small box camera but I used it mainly during vacations.  It was not like now with digital cameras, cell phones, iPads and more, photos had to be developed and this was expensive for my student budget.  I looked at my old albums to see if I had a photo from my teenage years in the 1950s.  I found one taken during vacations at Courseulles sur Mer in Normandy in the summer of 1954 when I was 14.  It was taken on the beach.  I used to like walking behind the sand dunes and look at the German WWII bunkers.  This beach had been called "Juno Beach" during the Normandy landing of World War II.  In fact, this is where, on June 6, 1944, 14,000 Canadian soldiers landed.  Ten year later, spending a month by the beach on holiday was not so long after the war - 2005 was ten years ago and it seems close, no?  (The other pictures in the collage courtesy Wikipedia, click on collage to read better.)

This post is getting long, so I'll call it part one and finish in part two.  Tomorrow, Saturday 14 February is Valentine Day, so I'll stop with a couple of vintage postcard greeting this happy day.

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