Recently, I read this article in the New York Times complaining about the small locks that have started appearing on some bridges in Paris. Coincidentally, I was myself in Paris, a couple of weeks ago, and my reaction to this new phenomenon was quite different.
I first noticed the lines of padlocks on the Pont des Arts, as the bus took us to the Musée d’Orsay. I couldn’t figure out what they were, and wondered briefly if maybe it was some Modern Art exhibit. Then, as we came out of the Musée d’Orsay, we decided to cross to the other side of the Seine river. We went up the steps of the Passerelle Léopold Sédar Sanghor, and there they were again, thousands of padlock attached to the metal railings.
The author of the article is so annoyed about them, she titled her piece “An Affront to Love, French Style.” An affront, really? I’m French (maybe not the “Frenchest” of French people, but nevertheless born and raised in Paris, with a French father, a French passport, and the first 24 years of my life lived in that country), and I happened to think it was a cute, rather endearing thing to do. Some people complain, apparently, about the preservation of our architectural heritage. I’m not sure how the architectural heritage is desecrated, here. The Passerelle Leopold Sédar Sanghor is not even an old footpath : the original Pont de Solférino built under Napoleon III was destroyed and rebuilt first in the Sixties, and then in the Nineties. Not exactly old. As for the Passerelle or Pont des Arts, well, art and love go well together, don’t they? One of the comments at the bottom of the article’s online version mentions that young people used to make love on that small footpath, at night. Different times, different customs ? Besides, the city administration already had the bridges cleaned of all those locks, once – they can do it again whenever it becomes too much.
According to the author of the article, “Walking on those bridges has become almost insufferable for” Parisians. Bah ! Parisians certainly love to grumble and complain – All French people do, it’s a national passe-temps. Still, “insufferable?”
Finally, using this as an excuse to wax philosophical, and give us a lesson about how French people have lived and understood love since the Sixteenth Century, no less ? N’importe quoi, as we say in Molière’s language ! I’d bet some of those locks don’t belong to lovers, but simply to tourists who wanted to leave a little souvenir back in the beautiful city of Paris. And I’d also bet that some of those padlocks belong to lovers who happen to be French. If the red one in the picture below is any indication, it also takes some preparation. I don’t know many people who walk around with a padlock bearing a heart, two names, and a date…
Whether in Rome, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or numerous other places around the world, people throw coins in fountains and make a wish. The love locks or wish locks have their own diverse history, it seems, and whether the tradition started in Taiwan, in Serbia before the Second World War, or in Uruguay, it certainly touches hearts on some level. It’s a basic human need for symbols that transcends cultures and borders. Like carving hearts and names on a tree bark. If I’m to choose, I’d rather see lines of padlocks on a metal railing.