Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Love Locks and Americans in Paris

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, France welcomes more tourists than any other country in the world.  Paris itself was expected to attract almost 16 million visitors in 2014.  Such a large influx of tourists cannot help but shape a city's character and workings.  Mass tourism has also shaped our experiences as F&M students and faculty in Paris.  To what degree do we feel like the many American and Chinese tourists we hear and encounter in the city?  To what degree do we feel different because we live here with French families?

The intersection of Americans living in Paris with American visitors lies behind one of the stories of Parisian life in the news this fall.  On our first full day in Paris, we walked from Notre Dame to the Île-de-la-Cité.  Just behind the cathedral, we visited the Pont des Arts, a beautiful bridge covered in small padlocks.  Beginning about seven years ago, following the release of the Italian movie "I Want You," tourists – frequently couples in love – began affixing locks to bridges, especially the Pont des Arts, before throwing away the keys to symbolize the permanence of their love.  In June of this year, sections of the bridge's railing collapsed under the locks' weight, leading the Parisian government to install several glass panels in an effort to thwart more leaving of locks.

Interestingly, the popular campaign to restore the Pont des Arts to its unlocked state has been led by two Americans living in Paris (  Their story is part of a wonderful article titled, "The View from a Bridge: Shopping, Tourism, and the Changing Face of Luxury," by Adam Gopnik in the December 8 issue of The New Yorker, sent to us by a faithful blog reader, Professor Ed Fenlon of F&M's Chemistry Department.  Gopnik, author of the classic Paris to the Moon, juxtaposes the story of the love locks with the ongoing controversy regarding the renovation of the La Samaritaine, an iconic Parisian department store on the banks of the Seine.  In so doing, Gopnik ruminates on the questions of to whom Paris belongs (Parisians?  tourists?  both?) and why it is Americans who care more about saving the Pont des Arts from the tourists' locks, while it is Parisians up in arms about transforming La Samaritaine into a luxury hotel.  Gopnik's questions about Paris' identity and future are timely ones, especially in these weeks as the Christmas tourists arrive.

Pont des Arts with the Love Locks

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