Love at first sight. Many of us, at least the very young and very naïve, believe it happens. But whether love occurs with the speed of lightning or following long and complex efforts at a relationship, most agree romantic love exists. Being humans our expressions of love, our fascination with romance take many forms, most of them relatively harmless. We shower gifts of jewelry on our beloved, share preferences in food and wine, proclaim our feelings on social media. We search for examples of love in films, music, art, and enjoy emotions vicariously.
Recently on opposite sides of the globe, however, authorities are intervening in physical demonstrations of attraction. First up, Vietnam, where the Publishing and Printing Department is cracking down on “clichéd, useless, obscene and offensive” works that are “poisoning” the youth. This same claim has been used off and on in the U.S. during various censorship battles. Furthermore, “government needs to regulate an activity related to culture and people’s way of thinking so that it can benefit people.”
If only. If only all of humanity could agree on a method to truly benefit people. Unfortunately, down through the ages, this activity always seems to include punishing, even destroying those who don’t concur with authorities, like Nazis and various religious fundamentalists.
Let’s move on to Paris, where the city is removing locks from the Pont des Arts and other bridges on which star-struck lovers have attached fixtures as symbols of their relationships. A book and film started the craze in about 2006, and thousands of visitors adopted the fad. However, now sections of fencing on bridges are crumbling under the weight, posing a safety risk as well as “degradation of property heritage,” not to mention problems associated with graffiti, pickpockets and street vendors.
At least in this example of anti-romanticism, official action carries some weight. The equivalent of some 20 elephants to be accurate.
Other cities face the problem ways different from removing locks. In Rome city officials created official spots—steel posts with chains on the bridge—to eliminate damage to the infrastructure.
I’m not optimistic either activity will control the interest in and demonstration of romance. Humans are nothing if not creative. We’ve been dodging censors for millennia and finding creative ways to express emotion even longer. However, the attempts at restraint are ever-changing and as entertaining as the many paths of love.
love, censorship, Paris, Vietnam, locks, bridges, books, romances
When I look at one particular photo from my childhood, it captures my family perfectly: Disneyland, 1950s, planted on the edge of a circular planter. With one hand, my mother grips the stroller containing the current baby (there always was a new one), staring off to the right. The kids strewn to her side, also sitting, probably for fighting or misbehaving, each of us looking into the distance, not at one another.
Way over on the left, separated from the rest of us, my grandpa. The fedora hat he always wore, even in the California heat, alone, isolated, also staring off. My father, the one behind the camera, trying to capture visually what he always sought emotionally, and never succeeded in finding—the perfect happy American family. I can almost hear him saying, “Okay, everyone, smile,” as he stretched his lips in a grin, pointed his camera and shot.
Leo Tolstoy wrote, “All happy families resemble one another; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I don’t know if I agree. Nothing in life is that simple, especially as I grow older. I started thinking about families when reading an author who’d entered some hyper-critical observations on his own father—his over-protectiveness, his predictions of failure. I imagine that dad wanted to protect his son. I now know after having children and grandchildren of my own that most of us simply try to do the best we can.
At times, if I imagine one of mine in danger, or hurting, or discouraged, the love I have swells inside me, like yeast doubling, tripling in size until it’s about to choke me. I have to think my parents had the same response, even if I didn’t know then.
There’s much more to the photo of my family than just an image of people together on outing. Separate, isolated, roiling with emotions that at least some of the time were resentful and angry. There’s much more to the stories those people lived: my mother, abandoned by her mother before adolescence; my father, whose first wife died in pregnancy, leaving him with two little girls to raise; several sisters still to face death, poverty, disappointments in their lives; brothers with their own challenges.
I’ve avoided writing about my family for years because it hurt too much. Was my family dysfunctional, or simply normal? Life can’t be happy and smooth all the time. What hurts the most is my inability to change myself in the past, compensate for my shortcomings. Perhaps it’s time for me to stop running away. Time to honor those people for being themselves, doing their best. Acknowledge the closeness we had, what we brought to one another, and, yes, the love we felt. But whether to use memoirs, essays, or fiction, I don’t know yet.