Friday, September 26, 2014

No Love For Paris?

 Love along the Seine in Paris

Paris is collapsing under the weight of too much love. You like Paris. I like Paris. The food, the art, the fashion. L’amour. Yes, l’amour. The City of Lights has also had a reputation as the City of Love. On my flights over to there, sometimes it feels like half the people on the plane are on honeymoons or anniversary trips. There is love on the streets and along the rivers. The tiny cafĂ© and bistro tables seem to be perfect invitations for two lovebirds to snuggle up close. However, all this love is slowly killing one of the most beautiful large cities in the world.

This summer, an iron panel from the Pont des Arts — one of the most famous bridges across the Seine and located near the Louvre — collapsed into the river below because of the weight of all the “Love Locks” tourists and locals had attached to the metal panels. The Seine River, its riverbanks, and the bridges over it make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yet around 2008 padlocks started appearing on bridges in Paris as a supposedly romantic gesture. Couples write their names on a lock, attach it to the bridge railings and then throw the key into the river below to signify their eternal love. However, with over a million locks on bridges (and now starting to adorn the Eiffel Tower), the beauty that is Paris is literally collapsing.

 Locks on one of the bridges below the Notre Dame in Paris

The website and Facebook page No Love Locks, started by two American expats living in Paris — Lisa Anselmo and Lisa Taylor Huff — document the destruction of centuries-old architectural structures in Paris (a trend quickly taking hold in other countries as well). The city officials of Paris were very slow to take action, and any action they try to take now is met with extreme resistance by the tourists, lock sellers, and others. After the ancient panel collapsed into the river from the weight of all that metal (thank heavens no one on the river boats was injured) they removed other panels supporting literally tons of locks and replaced it with plywood. Which was immediately defaced with graffiti.

Standard graffiti on the walls of France

In all of my travels, I’ve never once had the urge to place my mark or stake my claim on any place I’ve visited. Yes, I’ve taken shells from beaches (but no living sand dollars or starfish), perfectly smooth rocks from trails I’ve hiked, and one coin from Tunisia last year even though the law states no currency can be removed from the country. Places live eternally for me in my photos and memories. I travel to see what I can get from a place, not to impose myself on it.

When I visit ancient churches in France, sometimes back behind the main altar somewhere past the choir stalls I can find a bit of graffiti scraped into a massive column holding up the magnificent arched roofs — “Jacques 1742.” Perhaps it was the work of a bored altar boy. Throughout Paris — and my second home of Dijon — I see bits of art painted in out-of-the-way places as social statements. We could discuss whether leaving any marks on anything that doesn’t belong to you is acceptable. But one drawing on the side of the building is not the same taking cans of spray paint to the entire Acropolis. Would tourists go to the Lincoln Memorial with a chisel and chip off a chunk of Lincoln’s boot as a sign of how much they admire him?

Dijon and Paris walls are plastered with announcements of political uprisings.
But by the next time I visit, the weather has worn them away.

What makes the state of the Paris bridges so depressing, though, is that the city of Paris cannot move faster than social media, as millions of couples place their locks, snap their pictures, and then Instagram, tweet, and update it to every person they know and by effect to every person that those people know until a million more people think that this is a great way to celebrate their love. Every space the city clears of locks is covered again in a matter of days.

What is more important to me than brief romantic acts is history. And culture. And architecture. And the uniqueness of the places I visit. Now that the Paris officials have decided to say “No, we will not let you do this anymore to our city,” the tourists blast them for trying to ruin their moment of love. But their gesture really only lasts a click of the lock for them, while the city will have to live with the destruction forever. What a shame these visitors can’t love the city more.

Forgive me for a small lapse into revenge fantasy. I wish I knew where some of these people lived so that I could go to their house and under darkness of night cover their houses with thousands of locks as they slept. All in the name of l’amour, of course.

Share in the comments box situations where you saw signs of visitors running rampant and drastically changing a place to the point of ruin. Or tell us about the favorite small thing you brought home as a memento.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What's Growing In My Garden

"Bloom Where You Are Planted" -- oh, the lessons a garden can teach us 
(Ashland County, OH)

Summer seems to resist letting go this year. We’re reaching the end of September and still the sun bakes me as I weed like a madwoman and begin preparing the garden for some of that end-of-season moving and shuffling of plants. The lilac that was planted in the spring just doesn’t have as commanding a space as it deserves. It needs to be advertised more and thus will be move next week. My anemone that grew and smothered a lot of my spring-blooming plants as the summer progressed did get moved, but now I realize that small runner plants are exploding out of the ground like a million little volcanoes. The whole anemone must be ripped out and destroyed before it takes over my entire front garden.

My aenemone blooms glow in the night

On the other hand, my zinnias seem to dance continually on their tall, arching stalks, having made a deal earlier in the summer with the butterflies and hummingbirds that they would stay as long as needed. My impatiens have patiently waited out the heat of July and August and are as fresh as the day I planted them.

Almost-opened zinnia and friend
I seem to be blest with a late summer yellow columbine, a plant I thought was strictly about spring’s cool weather. This week an iris bloomed in the most beautiful pale lavender. I love it but don’t understand its untimely appearance. The same with my delicate evening primrose — as pink and hardy as it should have been in the spring but wasn’t. It’s these unexpected surprises that spur on a gardener.

  Unexpected gift of autumn

As I’m tending to my garden, I’ve also been paying more attention to my life. Hence, my long absence from my online world. I don’t know if it’s been the reduction of carbohydrates in my diet or the beautiful weather we’ve had this summer, but I’ve experienced a drive to de-clutter my mind and re-arrange my life in an attempt to gear up full speed ahead to a writing life.

My summer residency at Ashland University’s MFA program left me exhausted, confounded, and exhilarated. Just when I thought I had defined my writing path, they introduced me to new strategies, fabulous writers I hadn’t read, and new perspectives on the work I had thought I had finished. So now I feel like I’m at square one because I want to pour everything I’ve learned into the first draft of my thesis, which is due in December. But I can’t do it all.

To clear my mind for writing, I’ve become overtaken with an impulse to purge spaces in my house (clean house, clean mind?) and start making phone calls on that whole-house renovation project I’ve threaten to do for too long. Now that I’ve more fully embraced the writing life I’ve wanted for so long, energy for other things seems to lift me and carry me along with house projects, tackling French again, organizing my books (although I admit that it only lasts until about 9 o’clock at night, at which point it’s a cup of tea and TV).

Surprise, surprise. When I tend to my life as energetically as I tend to my garden I seem to be rewarded with unexpected blooms of words, feelings of accomplishment, and creativity. It’s going to be a good autumn, I believe.

Meanwhile, a some books I’ve enjoyed and hope that you might:
Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt — When his daughter dies unexpectedly Rosenblatt and his wife move in with their son-in-law to help raise the three young children. His story of dealing with his own grief and the more important job of helping his grandchildren grow is told in a series of vignettes in the spare, beautiful, fluid language that Rosenblatt has been known for in his lifetime of essay writing and as a political columnist.

Kayak Morning by Roger Rosenblatt — the follow-up to Making Toast. The style is just as spare and beautiful as the previous book as Rosenblatt continues to reflect on the new direction his life has taken.

Carrier: Untangling the Danger in My DNA by Bonnie J. Rough — Rough and her husband are ready to begin a family, but her biological legacy sits heavily on them. As she begins to research her family’s medical history she begins to unravel something deeper in their past. Steeped in scientific research and family stories, she and her husband must face modern personal dilemmas in their own quest for a family.

Safekeeping: Some True Stories From a Life by Abigail Thomas — Thomas eschews straight narrative technique as she examines her life. Through vignettes and stories she tells, with vivid style, the life of an ordinary woman who made mistakes and had successes, who had failed marriages but tended to her ex-husband during his last days with the help of her current husband. She goes from an 18-year old single mother to a doting grandmother who always finds cooking as the answer to many life problems. It’s a confession and a universal story about a woman who figures out who she is and holds on to that.

You never know who you'll meet on the backroads of Ohio

Tell me in the comments what’s growing in your garden. Have you tackled any new projects or completed any old ones? What’s giving you energy these days? What have you read?
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