Friday, April 18, 2014

Bridges too far?

See the love locks?
Well, I just recovered from a cold that ruined last weekend. But now, on the eve of a three-day Easter weekend, the weather forecast talks about rain for the next few days. You just can’t win. Not that I’m usually inclined to step outside the apartment on weekends, anyway, since I can’t really afford it, but still …

Anyway, this evening I walked across the Pont des Arts on the way home. I was struck by the tremendous increase in “love locks” on the bridge. Those are the little padlocks that lovers attach to the bridge before throwing the key away into the river. They are supposed to symbolize eternal love, or some such nonsense, and they’ve been popular on the bridges of Paris for several years now—mainly since the Italian author Federico Moccia published his book, I Want You, in which he speaks of them (although that might be a coincidence).

At first, the practice seemed charming, while there was only a smattering of locks on the bridge. Today, however, the locks are several inches thick, on the railings, on lampposts, and on any part of the bridge to which a lock can be attached. I’ve read that the locks weigh as much as 600 pounds for each small section of railing to which they are attached, which is now enough to raise concerns about the structural integrity of the railings and bridge. They are so thick that they look like some sort of rust-colored tumor growth from a distance. The original aesthetics of the bridge are obscured. And this isn’t the only bridge in Paris afflicted in this way.

Unfortunately, the locks are very difficult to remove, because they are, well, locks, after all. And City Hall still isn’t sure what to do about them, if anything. On the one hand, the weight of the locks is getting large enough that safety issues are raised, but on the other, the city is reluctant to interfere with a romantic custom that seems harmless enough in principle. If the locks were not so numerous, it wouldn’t be a problem, but it seems that millions of tourists cannot resist putting locks on the bridges. My guess is that anyone with the personality and infatuation likely to be associated with this sort of custom isn’t going to be in his or her relationship very long, but the locks remain even after the love is gone, so to speak.

Even worse up close!
Some think it might be a good idea to have a designated spot in the city for love locks. Good idea, but where? Presumably it would have to be near the river, if people want to throw their keys away. And how would the city persuade or compel tourists to put the locks in the designated place and not on the bridges? And what would be done about eventually removing them? What do you do with used padlocks for which you have no keys?

Anyway, it has become quite ugly now, as my photos show. I wonder how and when it will (inevitably) end.

I keep forgetting that this is Good Friday, which is fine, since I couldn’t care less about religious holidays except insofar as they correlate with days off from work. Most French people feel the same way. It’s Passover, too, but nobody cares about that because employers don’t give days off for Passover. I guess if this is Good Friday, then Sunday must be Easter, or something like that. I get all the Fridays and Tuesdays and Mondays and such mixed up. I prefer to limit my tracking to Days Off and Days Not Off.

Now that's a tripod!
I saw a guy taking a photo of Notre-Dame with an almost comically huge tripod yesterday. I’m not sure why he needed a tripod this big, since it’s still small in comparison to the height of the cathedral and won’t significantly change the viewing angle. Maybe it was just to keep the camera above the constant crowds of tourists on the plaza in front of the church. I wonder if he got a permit. Normally you don’t need a permit to use a tripod on public right of way, but if it’s big enough to pose a possible safety or traffic hazard, you typically need to get permission. And to think I’m shooting handheld with a smartphone!

These days, come to think of it, smartphones provide photos good enough for most vacation snapshots, at least for people who aren’t also  photographers. Of course, a good digital SLR with a pro lens will blow away a smartphone, but most people aren’t willing or able to spend $10,000 on a camera when they can take pictures that are adequate for their needs with a phone. And there’s a fundamental rule about taking pictures: if you bring fancy equipment to take fancy pictures, you need to resign yourself to doing nothing else. You can concentrate on photography or you can concentrate on visiting the city, but you cannot do both, and anyone who doesn’t realize this is going to be unhappy on his Paris trip if photography is important to him.

These days I have no decent cameras, since I had to sell everything just to eat. But the smartphone takes pictures good enough for my blog or Facebook, even if they aren’t necessarily pictures that people would pay to use or see. In fact, I’m amazed by the “bang for the buck” provided by mobile devices. They are very cost-effective for photos if your standards are not too high.

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