Wednesday, 2 December 2015

UNLOCKING PARIS – Dianne Hofmeyr

There’s a pedestrian bridge in Paris – the Pont des Arts – where the side grids have had to be systematically removed to cut off the locks attached. The bridge was collapsing under the weight of 4 tons of lover’s locks. Since late 2008, tourists have taken to attaching padlocks with their names written or engraved on them to the railings on the side of the bridge, then throwing the key into the Seine river below, as a symbolic romantic gesture.

In total opposite to this symbolic and romantic gesture, I’m struck by how many abandoned bicycles are left locked to posts and railings in London to slowly disintegrate until all that remains is perhaps a wheel rim or a mangled frame and a lock… almost sculptural in their simplicity of form. Who left them there? And why?

On Friday 13th when I was texting my son in Paris at 21.45 London time… “Just heard. Please send a one liner to say you’re OK” locked bicycles were far from my thoughts. The same text must have been going out in its hundreds. He was OK. But so many weren’t.

I found over the week-end that followed, I avoided buying newspapers. I didn’t want to see the images of carnage. Then suddenly on the Sunday evening I was drawn to the TV news. A bicycle locked to a railing near the Bataclan flashed across the screen with a single red rose stuck into its frame. It was a distinctive bike with a brown leather saddle that had sort of designer holes in it. Not a bike that would easily be left abandoned and unclaimed. This was the locked bike that would never be unlocked again – the key lost forever.

In the days that followed I saw this photograph below – a solitary man mute with despair rising high above the crowds, the tricolor at his back, his banner telling the whole story … "still no news of my cousin"… riding the kind of tall bike we associate with circus acts – a mute almost Marcel Marceau figure that seemed to condense all the hurt and sadness into this single silent act of cycling.

And then there was this image caught by someone in black and white, almost Henri Cartier-Bressonlike, with the litter on the grey street, the zebra crossing and the gritty silhouette of the man pedalling his bike and dragging behind him a portable piano. The silent pedalling standing stance. The man staring ahead into the distance. He was the German pianist who played John Lennon's Imagine outside the Bataclan to the crowds that gathered there on the Saturday.

I’m not even sure why I’m writing about bicycles and locks and things so unfathomable. Maybe it’s my own way of coping with what happened in Paris. And rather than be locked into the images of carnage I’m trying to look for others that sum up the collective spirit of the city of Paris. I don’t have that image of the bike with the red rose that flashed up on the TV screen, except for the one in my head. But if there is any monument that might help recollect those that died, perhaps it’s the unclaimed bicycle that says it all. All over Paris, there must be similar bikes to the one outside the Bataclan, still locked to railings waiting for an owner who will never return.

The art of silence speaks to the soul like music, making comedy and tragedy, involving you and your life... Marcel Marceau
twitter: @dihofmeyr


Joan Lennon said...

Thanks for this post, Dianne.

I come back to Mr Rogers'* words:
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers--so many caring people in this world."

*Mr Roger's Neighbourhood was a sweet gentle children's TV programme in the late 60s, early 70s in North America.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Joan that's wonderful! Some children are naturally worriers. I remember a South African friend's son (growing up in a climate of high-jacking at gunpoint and having just seen the Tsunami images) asking me what were the things I had to be worried about living in London. A 'worrier' child would gain enormous comfort thinking about the helpers.

Natasha Mostert said...

Wonderful, touching, powerful piece, Di. Thanks for posting.

David Thorpe said...

I liked this post so much I wrote a follow-up, Dianne