I love Paris. I could write 15 pages on just the things that are great about the 'city of light'. But every time I visit, the increase in the number of tourists is clearly noticeable. The first time I visited the Musée d'Orsay (mid 90's) there was no line to get in and plenty of elbow room once inside. But on a visit this spring, I waited in a very long line for over an hour, and once inside it seemed more like a packed metro station than a museum. And this is true of all the major venues. There are mobs of tourists all over Paris now.
As bothersome as this is, an even more troubling development, which I first noticed 3 years ago, has now developed into a full-blown plague. It's graffiti. And not just your average spray-can variety left by local teens - but tourist-generated graffiti. And the irony is that the tourist graffiti is ostensibly a sign of each tourist's love of the beauty of Paris.
It first started less than 5 years ago. I was walking across the Pont des Artistes - a pedestrian-only bridge on the Seine - when I noticed 3 or 4 padlocks in the bridge's grilled wall. And on each padlock was written the names of two lovers. After inquiring, I was told they'd been locked there as a sign of the lovers' unbreakable bond to each other - and to Paris. "Interesting", I thought. Even a tad romantic. And I forgot all about it.
Then - as I walked across the same bridge a few months ago - I was stunned to see not just 3 or 4 such signs of "love" - but literally hundreds. Padlocks of every imaginable variety and color, each with names written on them - and each permanently sealed in-place. And what had once been a simple, and delightfully artistic grilled-wall, was now a cluttered monstrosity resembling more a junk-yard than anything else.
And like any plague - it is now spreading. Each and every bridge in central Paris with such a wall is now being targeted by these "lovers" of the city. And the cumulative impact of this love-fest is the slow, methodical destruction of one of the great works of art in Paris; the sublime simplicity of her bridges.
In his book The Revolt of the Masses, Jose Ortega y Gasset asserted that the advent of the consciousness of 'mass man' as a social phenomena is new to the age of industrialism. And further, that this 'mass man' intervenes in everything - and that this intervention is solely by violence.
When I first read that in college, I didn't understand what he meant. But now, each time I walk across the Pont des Artistes (once upon a time, my favorite), I not only understand, but I also mumble a quiet, "Amen".