The city of romance got a lesson in love's hard knocks Sunday, as thousands flocked to the French capital's first divorce fair.
In France, nearly one out of two marriages ends in divorce, according to the country's National Institute of Demographic Studies. More than 130,000 divorces were registered in 2007, as compared to just 50,000 three decades ago.
The "New Start" trade fair aimed to tap into that booming market by bringing together 60 stands offering up both services obviously related to separation — law firms and counselors — and also more obscure disciplines aimed at helping people get back on their feet, like tarot card readers, makeover specialists and self-esteem coaches.
Conferences held throughout the two-day-long fair included talks entitled "Plastic surgery's role in re-conquering your image" and "How to re-seduce your partner using the Gestalt method," as well as "Meeting on the Web" and "Separation: What does a lawyer do?"
‘A commonplace thing’
The fair's organizer, Brigitte Gaumet, said she had the idea for the event after President Nicolas Sarkozy divorced his second wife months after taking office in 2007.
"For me, that crystalized that divorce has lost its stigma and is really a commonplace thing," Gaumet told The Associated Press. "Lots of people going through divorces — and also people getting separated or who are widowed — are looking for information on how to bounce back and how to reconstruct."
"We have long had the Marriage Fair," a massive annual trade fair in Paris catering to brides-to-be, "and I thought, 'why not a fair for people going through separations?,'" said Gaumet, adding that some 4,000 people visited the event over the weekend. "That's a real success for a first-time exhibition."
At the fair, held at a conference hall in northwestern Paris, the stands offering legal advice attracted the biggest crowds.
Charles Rene and Verena Carlo were among the rare couples waiting in a long line to talk to a lawyer. Married — but not to one another — both were about to leave their long-term partners and were seeking to make the process as painless as possible.
"Choosing a lawyer can be really complicated and this isn't the kind of thing you just want to pick someone randomly out of the yellow pages for," said Rene, a 46-year-old father of two.
‘I think it’s a bit weird’
Carlo hailed the fair, which she said they'd heard about on the radio, as a "good initiative to help people going through a hard time" but said she was put off by some of the services on offer.
"Just because you're going to a divorce doesn't mean you need to get laser hair removal or your fortune told," she said. "I think it's a bit weird, to be honest."
Other visitors appeared to disagree. The line at several of the makeover specialists snaked out of their stand and down the corridor, as dozens of women waited for advice on which haircuts would better suit them or tips on how to apply more seductive makeup.
At the Instutut Cellusionic, a stand offering weight-loss solutions, a young woman in a black bikini underwent an extensive ultrasonic anti-cellulite massage while a small crowd gathered to watch.
"The clients here are mostly women, which is the same as at the Wedding Fair," stand manager Sidonie Morlet said. "Except that there, they're mostly trying to squeeze into a wedding gown, whereas here, they want to look good to seduce others and, in a deeper sense, please themselves."