Paris Day 11: A Lesson in Enduring Churches and Everlasting Love – French Style!

Sandy and Judy enjoying the cool and the rain in Paris with their typical lunchJudith and I had another fascinating excursion in and around the Left Bank, specifically along Boulevard Germain St. des Pres’.  We walked IN THE RAIN! on very old and narrow cobble stone streets and then explored the newer avenues.  The colder rainy weather was the perfect backdrop for this memorable day as we trekked along under our newly purchased umbrella’s through this ever-facinating city.

One of the highlights of the day was visiting what is known as the oldest church in Paris – St-Germain-des-Prés.   Parts of its structure date to the 6th century when a Benedictine abbey was founded on the site.  The church was originally founded by Childebert to house a relic of the True Cross brought from Spain in 542. In the Middle Ages, the Church of St-Germain-des-Pres was so powerful, both religiously and culturally, that it became like a town within the town.

Unfortunately, the Normans all but destroyed the abbey at least four times, and only the marble columns in the triforium remain from the original structure. The carved capitals on the pillars are copies of the originals, which are kept in the Musée National du Moyen-Age.  The church was enlarged and reconsecrated by Pope Alexander III in 1163. The abbey was completely destroyed during the Revolution, but the church was spared.

The quiet reverent sanctuary of the cathedral is a beautiful testament to enduring faith.  Judith and I remembered our loved ones and lit candles in their honor.

Our walk led us along Boulevard Saint Germain des Pres and on to the Pont de l’Archevêché Bridge overlooking the Seine River with views of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.  When crossing over the Seine on the bridge we came across an interesting spectacle – thousands of small padlocks neatly attached to the metal side railings.

Lovers everlasting love padlocks on the Pont de l'Archevêché bridge in Paris

Here is what we learned, from a New York Times article, that explains it with a little different twist than I would have expected…

An Affront to Love, French-Style

PARISIANS can’t remember when it all began. At first, the appearance of the locks was nearly imperceptible. Soon, though, they felt like a statement. On some of the city’s most iconic bridges, thousands of visitors left small padlocks, neatly attached to the metal railings.

Once discreet, doing their deed at night, visitors soon acted in broad daylight, in pairs, photographing each other in front of their locks, and videotaping the throwing of the keys into the Seine. The Paris town hall expressed concern: what about the architectural integrity of the Parisian landscape? One night about two years ago, someone cut through the wires and removed all the locks on one of the bridges. But in just a few months, locks of all sizes and colors reappeared, more conspicuous than ever.

For couples visiting from all over the world, these locks were symbols of their everlasting love. Indeed, in other cities the locks have also caught on as an expression of passion — in Seoul, Budapest, Rome and Tokyo.

Living in one of the world’s most visited cities, with 27 million visitors a year, and supposedly the world’s capital of romance, Parisians should have guessed from the beginning that this strange ritual had to do with the fantasy of everlasting love. Yet, instead of sharing the naïve joy of the world’s Romeos and Juliets, some Parisians have felt increasingly irritated. Walking on those bridges has become almost insufferable for them. The pain doesn’t come only from the fact that some bridges, like Pont de l’Archevêché,  now feel as if they could collapse under the weight of tourists’ undying love but also from the idea that a lock could represent love. Such an idea is abhorrent to many French people.

“The fools! They haven’t understood a thing about love, have they?” was the conclusion recently of a 23-year-old waiter at Panis, a cafe on the Left Bank with a view over Notre-Dame. At the heart of love à la française lies the idea of freedom. To love truly is to want the other free, and this includes the freedom to walk away. Love is not about possession or property. Love is no prison where two people are each other’s slaves. Love is not a commodity, either. Love is not capitalist, it is revolutionary. If anything, true love shows you the way to selflessness.

To understand love in the French style, you need to go back to the 16th century and the emergence of the libertines. If today the word means “dissolute person,” in France it has also retained its 16th-century flavor, carrying with it an air of much-envied audacity and liberty. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir famously never married and never lived together and, although a couple in the absolute sense of the term, they had lasting and meaningful relationships with strings of brilliant minds and pretty faces. They deemed jealousy bourgeois and banal.

You’re reading this and you’re thinking: “You mean, like Dominique Strauss-Kahn?!” The man we call D.S.K. has certainly tarnished the French concept of love. His lifestyle belongs to the sordid rather than the realm of love as liberty. I suggest we all forget about D.S.K.

In his recent book, “In Praise of Love,” the French philosopher Alain Badiou reminds us that love implies constant risk. There is no safe, everlasting love. The idea that you can lock two people’s love once and for all, and toss the key, is a puerile fantasy. For Mr. Badiou, love is inherently hazardous, always on the brink of failure and above all vulnerable. Embrace its fragility, wish your beloved to be free and you might just, only just, have a chance to retain his or her undying gratitude, and love. But don’t ever dream of locks and throwing keys overboard, especially not in Paris.

We left our mark anyway, as sisters!

sandy and judith tagged the Pont de l'Archevêché bridge in Paris
Our walk then led us up again to the beautiful Avenue des Champs-Élysées where we did some late night shopping before heading back home on the Metro.  What a day…what a city!
Trying to get to bed earlier tonight, we have an early day tomorrow and will be sharing more adventure and photos.  Until then….bon nuit!
Bisous Bisous!
2 Sisters in Paris

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