Long before Paris was the Paris of Kings and Queens, Haussmann buildings and the Eiffel Tower, it was a small settlement called Lutetia, home to the Gallo-Romans, more than two thousand years ago...
I was so excited to discover that one of the two remaining remnants in Paris of the Roman period is in my neighborhood -Les Arènes de Lutèce (French for Lutetia), a partially reconstructed Gallo-Roman amphitheater originally built around the first century AD. It showcased wild animals, gladiatorial combat and theatrical performances until 280 AD, when it was sacked by the barbarian invasion, then buried for centuries until its foundation was rediscovered in the 1860's during the road construction of Rue Monge. A committee led by writer Victor Hugo pleaded for the site's preservation, whereupon more of the arena was excavated and restored over subsequent years.
Historians have estimated the amphitheater once held roughly 16,000-18,000 people. Some of the lower portions of the tiered seating was restored, the platform and niches from the stage settings are still visible, as well as cages where animals were kept before being let out onto the arena.
My son and I watched a burlesque show at Les Arènes de Lutècerecently, and I couldn't get over the haunting sense of the past... sitting in the ancient space of gladiators and wild tigers, of shouting spectators and stoic Roman statesmen. At once disquieting and extraordinary...
A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in...what more could [one] ask?
A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars. ― Victor Hugo
The other day, I noticed these exquisite dahlias at the market up the street and couldn't resist taking two bunches home. The florist was quick to tell me that dahlias are extremely delicate and should be handled with great care, that I should change their water and clip their stems every day. Doing so would make them last longer, at least a week. So off I went (a half-hearted black thumb) with an armful of delicate beauty.
For the first couple days the dahlias lit up the room, each petal perky and bright,... but around day three I began to see browning. The disappointment that usually follows though, didn't. It was around the period of rentrée (back to school)... and their wilting petals seemed to parallel the ache that always comes this time of year - the end of summer and my boys heading off to school. So this time, I didn't blame my black thumb but accepted the fading dahlias as an act of consolation, mirroring the goodbye to the sweet summer days my boys and I spent together in our new city...
What do you think about the padlocks on the Pont des Arts, this iconic metallic footbridge in the heart of Paris? To many, they resemble walls of adoration symbolizing everlasting love and to others simply an eyesore that pollute the city views and the River Seine below (the keys from the padlocks get thrown into the river)...
In either case, the Pont des Arts is suffering from the shimmering yet weighty force of love.
Since its debut in 1804 under Napoleon I, Pont des Arts has had its share of turmoil - bombarded from both World Wars, hits from river traffic and a barge that nearly collapsed half the structure in 1979 (and most recently, a railing that fell this past summer from the massive weight of the locks).
The current day Pont des Arts, rebuilt in 1984 from all its damages and deficiencies, is an identical reconstruction of the original design, albeit a few structural changes that make the bridge more sound and more aligned with its neighbor to the east, the Pont Neuf.
There is now a NoLoveLocks petition to stop romantics from locking their love onto the railings of Pont des Arts as well as other bridges around Paris (along with the Eiffel Tower!).
Despite all the controversy, whenever I step onto the Pont des Arts, I can't help thinking this:
One thing will never change, and that is the frisson of nostalgia, the romantic flush that overcomes you when you stop on the Pont des Arts and gaze upriver towards the Ile de la Cité, the historic center of Paris that was the home of kings until the 14th century... (essayist Gina Doggett)