- The Washington Times - Monday, November 9, 2009

PARIS | 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 with 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 services obviously related to separation - law firms and counselors - and also more obscure disciplines aimed at helping people get back on their feet, such as tarot card readers, makeover specialists and self-esteem coaches.

Conferences held throughout the two-day fair included talks titled “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?”

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,” Ms. Gaumet said. “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 Ms. Gaumet, adding that about 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 Mr. Rene, a 46-year-old father of two.

Miss 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.”

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.

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