How romance almost destroyed Paris.
I get it. Truly. I can huff and puff and complain about the world’s obsession with Paris (at least when it comes at the expense of overlooking other incredible francophone cities), but at the end of the day, I’m obsessed, too.
The French capital is drop-dead gorgeous and worthy of obsession. Stand in the middle of Place de la Concorde, where you can take in the Tuileries Garden, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe in one spin, and you’ll see what I mean. Stroll through the Jardin du Luxembourg or Parc Monceau and you’ll find it hard not to fall in love. Sit down at a sidewalk cafe and watch well-dressed Parisians saunter past and… you get the picture.
Paris is beautiful. It’s f***ing beautiful. Objectively one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But, like most beautiful things, it sometimes gets a lot of attention for all the wrong reasons.
Like a mega-hot celebrity, the perfectly-plated smoothie bowl, an infinity pool with an ocean backdrop, or the latest Instagrammable cocktail bar, Paris is begging to be photographed. And there are hundreds of thousands of locals and visitors who capture it perfectly on camera. My heart aches every time I see a friend post the view from their apartment building rooftop or their latest walk along the Canal Saint Martin. I feel homesick when I see advertisements for little shops and bistros in corners of the Marais. And, yes, I am moved, deeply moved, every time I see the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe in films.
But for every picture that makes me fall in love with Paris, there’s this merde:
Tourists (and some locals!) who are there to ruin each corner of the city by recreating every obnoxious, over-the-top, doing-it-for-the-’gram cliché that they’ve ever imagined or seen portrayed. People who flock to destinations around Paris, overlooking its historical or cultural value in order to gain more Likes. Travelers who sidestep quiet moments of pleasure in favor of more stereotypically-French moments than an episode of Emily in Paris.
This adulation, this romantic aura, and the need to somehow document or recreate displays of love, nearly destroyed the city in recent history.
That’s right, love almost killed Paris.
As most things in Europe, it all started in Rome. A book-turned-romantic-comedy marketed towards young Italian adults featured a scene where lovers fastened a small lock featuring their names onto an ancient Roman bridge before tossing the key into the Tiber River below. Young people and tourists began to imitate this behavior in the Italian capital, carrying the practice over to France shortly thereafter. Instead of the Ponte Milvio, romantics flocked to the Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge over the Seine built during Napoleon’s rule, and began filling it’s chain-link sides with what came to be known as Love Locks.
The gesture seemed sweet and small enough at first. But the Pont des Arts was soon covered with over 700,000 locks. The added weight was equivalent to twenty elephants.
When every available centimeter of the Pont des Arts was covered, couples began attaching the locks to the city’s remaining bridges, then landmarks - including the Eiffel Tower. The weight of the locks was beginning to make some of these sites, particularly the original bridge, dangerous to visit. Graffiti began to accompany locks, and soon after, desperate street vendors arrived to sell cheap locks and other romantic accessories (fake flowers, selfie-sticks to capture the moment) at each location.
In short, these romantic, picturesque spots turned into some sort of postmodern nightmare.
Finally, in 2015, the municipal government stepped in. Signs were put up begging lovers not to make monumental desecration part of their Valentine’s Day celebration. And the locks on Pont des Arts were taken down.
But beyond the love locks, so many Paris landmarks - especially the Eiffel Tower - are still bombarded by couples eager to buy into romantic clichés. Call me a snob, but I can’t help but feel that the long lines, endless selfies, and peddled merchandise rob these locations of their original charm - and ruin it for the rest of us.
At The French Collective, we love Paris and want our members to celebrate its beauty and romance. But we just hope that they’ll also take time to discover the small bookshops, the wine bars, the clothing stores, the residential streets, and small parks that aren’t the usual go-to spots. Beyond that, we hope that everyone will consider the beauty of other French cities and villages, as well as French-speaking countries around the world.
And leave the locks at home.