Why The World Still Needs Love Letters - And Not Just On Valentine's Day

Has technology made love letters obsolete? Not quite. Old-fashioned epistles take time to write and send. But in these days of nearly instantaneous communication, that “delightful delay” – and the thought that goes into it – may be just the thing to set h

A street artist's adaptation of a 'love letter box' in Paris (Daquella manera)
A street artist's adaptation of a "love letter box" in Paris (Daquella manera)
Mélina Gazsi

PARIS -- On March 7, 1833, a young woman received a note from a man she had met a few months before: "I love you, my poor angel, you know it well, and yet you want me to write it. But you are right: One has to love, and then one has to say it, and then write it ... "The young woman in question was Juliette Drouet. The man who wrote the letter was Victor Hugo, who would go on to shower his mistress, a young French actress, with hundreds of such epistles.

Anne-Sophie Moutier, 23, is not yet that prolific a writer. But since this past November, when her boyfriend first went off to military school, she too has discovered the joys of "letter" writing. Granted, many of her correspondences involve e-mails and text messages. Not all, however. Anne-Sophie and her boyfriend sometimes write real, handwritten letters. The old-fashioned kind. "Nothing can replace a love letter," she says. "The phone is not enough and when you write, you can say things that may sound a little cheesy when said aloud."

Is Anne-Sophie a big romantic? Well, she's in love, at any rate. As is her fiancé. Before leaving for his training camp, he slips one of Anne-Sophie's letters underneath his shirt, "close to his heart." Are they being too lovey-dovey? Is their candor bordering on naiveté? Not at all. According to Philippe Brenot, a psychiatrist and president of the International Observatory of Couples, love letters are part of the romantic discourse and are "of considerable importance."

"Love letters are the place where confidences are made," he says. "They remain a powerful means of expressing one's feelings and one's desire – of declaring one's love, breathing life into it at the beginning of a relationship, and even allowing to rekindle the flame when love seems to be waning."

"With the telephone and with the arrival of new technologies, love letters almost disappeared," Brenot adds. "But actually, they've become unique, because time adds value. The time you take to write a letter, the time it takes for it to reach its recipient, and the time the latter takes to read it." It's hard to argue with the fact too that a handwritten letter, all alone in a mailbox full of flyers and bills, has a certain cachet.

"A delightful delay"

Are love letters still pertinent in this modern era, when sexual relations are no longer so taboo and elusive and when hardly anyone courts anymore? "More than ever!" says Roger Schembri, a French psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who says love letters provide a "delightful delay."

"It's always been easier to write down feelings than to say them aloud. Especially nowadays, at a time when people find it easier to say ‘I want to have sex with you" than ‘I love you,"" he says. Love letters, Roger Schembri goes on to say, "deliver a fragment of a dream we all want to believe in."

It would seem, in other words, that the new means of communication haven't killed off love letters after all. For Joëlle-Andrée Deniot, a sociology professor at the University of Nantes, "Internet, Facebook and Twitter have rather encouraged letters'. And the youth, although addicted to all things virtual, is no exception to the rule. Young people express their feelings using all media, from paper to parchment, from Post-it notes to postcards, via text messages and e-mails. Their creativity knows no bounds.

The letter we receive, the one that bears the signature of our beloved, is as sensual and carnal as the expression of desire itself. Writing is like an extension of oneself. "It's like a caress, like a reassuring kiss," says Abiwen Josiane, 48.

Sometimes the person we are writing to is far away, or is leaving us for good. In those cases the act of writing can be a way to escape pain and sorrow, or a way to help us better understand our own feelings, to really discover what it is that's turning us upside down. "When I realized I would never see her again, I decided to write her the most beautiful love letter ever," says Jérémie Franc de Ferriere, 27.

A love letter definitely contains this fragment of dream we're all looking for, to protect us from the world's hardships and from our own turbulent times. At the same time it can give meaning to our sexuality, helping sort out that complicated but exciting rush of pleasure and feelings.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo – Daquella manera

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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