Saturday, May 27, 2017

Love Locks or Love Litter?

Source: AP

The City of Paris just auctioned off about a ton of scrap metal, raising $250,000 for charity.

This was no ordinary junk heap, but 165 parcels of “love locks” that the City of Love stripped from the Pont des Arts in 2015. (See the video here.)

The heavy metal, some 50 tons of it, threatened to ruin the Arts Bridge, a Unesco World Heritage site. City officials worried that lock-laden sheets of the bridge would fall onto the heads of tourists below on the bateaux mouches. That would have been a new kind of guillotine, for which France is also famous.

The love lock auction in Paris
It was a cruel fate for these symbols of eternal love to disappear before they had even had a chance to rust. The auction, however, was a twist of fate, a second life for some of the locks. The city, previously seen as heartless for tearing them down, received hearty publicity for the selling them off in an art-style sale.

The love-lock trend started about a decade ago, but has become a global phenomenon and metallurgical dilemma. Locks are found on the Brooklyn Bridge, the Great Wall of China, near the Millennium Bridge in London and on bridges in Stockholm.

Love locks have even made it to my hometown of Pittsburgh. The city takes a no-nonsense approach, routinely chopping off the locks as it carries out work on its bridges (see a story here).

How did it start? No one knows for sure. But in fact throughout history, it was common for travelers who visited ancient sites—like the Pyramids--to leave their mark. With graffiti.

More often than not today, tourists want to take something, which has led to the whole souvenir industry—itself a French word for memory or remembrance. 

Tourists are still leaving locks around Paris, for example at the Flame of Liberty at the end of the Pont de l’Alma. The weight of the metal threatens to ruin that monument too. The whole thing is making some people so love-lock-sick that they’ve formed an association: No Love Locks.

OK, I get it. Hanging tons of locks from historic sites isn’t exactly sustainable tourism. But, City of Paris, why not channel this romantic energy in the City of Locks by building a monument where tourists are officially encouraged to attest to their love?

Turn Love Litter into Love Art.

Who knows, if locks are recyclable, and recycled once a year through an auction, the whole project could even pay for itself (and then some).  Love Locks Forever!

The annual take-down of the locks isn’t so very romantic, but as we know the bits of metal do tend to get rusty if exposed to harsh conditions for too long. A lot like love.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

How To Say "Merci" To Mom

Whether you’re in France or the U.S., it’s that time of year again to give thanks to the mom of your life. Over 100 years into the holiday, is it time to think more universally about what it is to be a mother?

Mother’s Day is celebrated today in the U.S. and in most countries of the world. In France, where it’s known as fête des mères, it’s the last Sunday of the month.

The founder of Mother’s Day in the U.S. would be upset with the French version, which is Mothers’ Day in translation. (If you missed the difference, one is a singular “mother” with an apostrophe “s” and the other is a plural “mothers” with an apostrophe. End of grammar lesson!) That’s because Anna Jarvis, who started the commemoration in 1908, wanted us to celebrate our personal “mother,” not “mothers” or motherhood in general.

A typical pasta necklace.
Ms. Jarvis came to hate the commercialism of the day. Instead of buying flowers or presents, in her view people should honor their mothers with a handwritten letter. I personally like to be taken out to dinner, but I’m open to cleaning, laundry, and window-washing too!

In France, according to French blogger Clotilde Dusoulier, “children usually craft some kind of project at school for their maman — most iconically, un collier de pâtes, a necklace made of dried pasta — and graduate to buying her flowers, chocolates, or beauty products when they are older.” Hmm. Somehow my teenage daughter hasn’t yet graduated out of the dried pasta stage.

Sorry Ms. Jarvis, I see nothing wrong about using the holiday to reflect on what motherhood means in this day and age.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today is running a story about Christie Pham, who lost her mom at 17, and now commemorates Mother’s Day by performing random acts of kindness.

Source: Pinterest.
In “The Birth of The Mother,” The New York Times today published an article by Dr. Alexandra Sacks saying that the becoming a mother in medical terms is largely unexplored territory, and argues for greater understanding of post-partum depression, and other psychological issues that grip women.

That’s not to deflate the role of fathers or grandparents, or aunt and uncles—teachers too--who may not have children but devote countless hours to child care. Now that’s the way to build a “maternal" instinct. Happy Mother’s Day to you too!

Believe it or not, it’s become trendy to affectionately tag these people as “moms” on social media. If a handwritten note is not going to happen, why not log on and reach out each #mom or #mere in your life to say thank you.
Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After many years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." Want to follow this blog? Enter your email address into the “Follow me” box. Or find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.

Monday, May 8, 2017

New President, New Era?

Macron supporter at last night's celebration in Paris.
Source: AP, Francois Mori.

Last night we hunkered down in front of the TV set at 7:45 p.m. in anticipation of the historic moment. At 8 p.m. sharp, the polls were going to close in France, and the name of the new president was going to be announced. (Until then, the country imposes a media blackout.)

I felt a hush fall over France as the countdown proceeded: 3 … 2 … 1 … 

It was like watching the countdown on New Year’s Eve, or a countdown to blast-off. Would this be the beginning of an era? Or a countdown to catastrophe? I wedged myself on the sofa between my daughter and husband for moral and physical support.
And then the winner was announced: Emmanuel Macron. The 39-year-old leader of the brand-new party, En Marche!, won by a wide margin with 66% of the votes against the National Front’s Marine Le Pen. However, Macron was weak in rust-belt areas of France like Pittsburgh that have suffered from the decline of manufacturing. And a high number of voters didn't cast their ballots.

For us, as foreigners here in France, it was a relief. For me, who works in the world of finance, it was a relief. And for those who believe that the European Union is (generally) a good thing, it was a relief.

But it won’t be easy for the new president, who takes office in a few weeks. Macron has to build a cabinet and start campaigning for legislative elections. It’s uncertain whether the French people will give him a strong mandate to govern by electing En Marche! representatives.

Macron posters
in our neighborhood
I frankly don’t know much about Macron, but most people don't. He's new to the game and didn’t have much chance to win until the top candidate on the right became tainted by scandal. (Because Macron is so young, he doesn’t yet have a political past!) He’s by all accounts smart, reasonable, and likeable. Just a few days ago, one of his campaign workers handed me his program, a 32-page booklet of campaign promises. Many of them seem, again, reasonable. (By the way, all serious French candidates publish a “programme.” Good idea, U.S.!)

Regarding education, one area where I feel half-way competent to comment, Macron promises access to special needs assistants in schools to all children who need them, which is sorely needed. This in a country where special education is rare and where the educational system is in general denial about special needs. France is definitely behind the U.S. here, which made education a right for special needs children in 1975.

What I like most about Macron is his optimism and genuine love of France. It’s so refreshing in this great country that’s often mired in negativism.

With the election of Macron, I’m hoping that France will enter a new era of economic growth that lifts all boats. And I hope that last night’s blast-off won’t end in catastrophic failure but instead show the country new horizons.

Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." Want to follow this blog? Enter your email address into the “Follow me” box. Or find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.