When holidaying goes very wrong: Paris, Jerusalem and Florence Syndromes

More dangerous than it looks. Maybe. Image: Pedro Kummel/Creative Commons.

An important part of any holiday is immersing yourself in a new culture. Ideally, this should involve being swept up by the place you’re visiting – its people, food, art, languages, and more – but for a few unsuspecting tourists this can go too far – with disastrous consequences.

It sounds too bizarre to be true, but there are certain places – namely Jerusalem, Paris, and Florence – that have been known to evoke in tourists such strong mental and psychological reactions that area-specific syndromes have been identified.

Jerusalem Syndrome

Since the 1930s psychiatrists have reported a strange phenomenon among visitors to Jerusalem: occasionally, a tourist will, upon arriving in the city, become possessed by religious-based psychosis.

The syndrome appears in three forms, the most common of which affects a person who has displayed no previous mental instability, but who, upon arrival, parts from the group they travelled with, becomes obsessed with cleanliness and bathing or showering, fashions themselves a toga out of bed linen, and begins preaching religious doctrine from the city’s streets or holy places.

Although the syndrome does not affect any one religion – with the ancient city holding high importance in Judaism, Islam and Christianity – Christians do seem to be more frequently affected.

Perhaps the most famous sufferer of Jerusalem Syndrome is Denis Michael Rohan, an Australian sheepshearer from a town 370km west of Sydney, who, it’s worth noting, had previously been hospitalised with mental health issues. In 1969, Rohan arrived in Jerusalem, where he became convinced that his mission in life was to establish a new Jewish temple on the embers of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the principal place of worship for the city’s Muslim residents and the third holiest site of Islam.

A fire started by Denis caused causing extensive damage to the Mosque. His actions triggered riots across the Muslim world as far flung as Kashmir, warranted a complaint to the UN Security Council signed by 25 Muslim countries and exacerbated the already volatile Arab-Israeli conflict. A major diplomatic incident all from a little-known psychological disorder. Boy, did that escalate fast.

Florence Syndrome

Now this city-specific syndrome is slightly more benevolent. Also known as Stendhal Syndrome or hyperkulturemia (which offers a clue as to the key trigger to this particular mental disorder), sufferers report a racing heartbeat, dizziness, fast breathing and, in the most extreme cases, even paranoid psychosis.

But this raft of symptoms occurs only after seeing the beautiful art and buildings of Florence.

The affliction is named after the 19th century French author, Marie-Henri Beyle, who wrote under the pseudonym Stendhal. He described his experience:

“I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen [Machiavelli, Michelangelo and Galileo are all buried there]. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty ... I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations ... Everything spoke so vividly to my soul... I had palpitations of the heart... Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling”

Paris Syndrome

Paris was the third most visited city in the world last year, welcoming 17.4 million international visitors. Enticed by the idealised view of Paris seen in films such as Amelie, Ratatouille and Moulin Rouge, people travel from across the planet to see the City of Love and Lights.

But where they expect to visit a romantic, quaint city of cobbled streets and well-dressed locals, some tourists instead find a sprawling metropolis covered in murderous multi-lane roads and angry Parisians; a city that, in many ways, is just as terrible as the place they came on holiday to escape. And they can’t handle it.

Symptoms include hallucinations, paranoia of persecution and anxiety, alongside physical responses such as dizziness and vomiting. Not exactly what you want from your mini-break in Paris.

Curiously, Paris Syndrome is particularly noted among Japanese tourists, likely due to the Japanese media’s particularly romantic representation of the city. The Japanese Embassy in Paris has even set up a 24-hour helpline for sufferers.

All of which got me thinking about what symptoms or syndrome London might induce in hapless tourists. Possibly a bad crick in the neck after a walk through the City, trying to have a good look at the buildings towering over narrow streets. Or anxiety brought on by trying to do battle with Oxford Street. Or, thanks to the pollution, being forced to blow black gunk out of your nose for 12 hours after visiting. See, London isn’t all fun and games either.


Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.

Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.