When I was photographing a bridge on day 1 of trip to Paris, I noticed this lock with the words "I love you" attached to the bridge. How romantic, I thought. But also, What an eyesore! Still, you could imagine the scene: two lovers visit Paris, put the lock on the bridge as a symbol of their undying love, and throw the key in the river Seine to show that the bond will never be broken.
Then, I walked to the pont des arts—the artsy, bohemian bridge where artsy bohemian Parisians and groups of young tourists gather nightly for picnics until 1 or 2 a.m.
The pont des arts has a chainlink fence—all the better to hold padlocks. Hundreds and hundreds of them (which you'll have to imagine, because my photos must have been blurry and hence, deleted). Here, the locks fit the mood of the bridge and felt like the sort of art installation that asks for audience participation. But as expressions of love, I have to say that the aesthetics left something to be desired:
Let's take Olivier, who heart heart hearts Laura. Assuming he didn't just happen to carry a padlock around with him in case of a sudden bout of eternal love, he must have taken the trouble to go somewhere and buy a padlock and a sharpie. Is this the best he could do? Why choose a lock with a huge XINLEI brand marking right where the hearts go? Or is this a love triangle between a man, a woman, and a padlock company? Get on that, XINLEI marketers.
Olivier could at least take a cue from the Sid and Nancy aesthetic of Vick and Julien:
Or is it a serial killer aesthetic? A ransom note? Maybe not the best choice after all.
Then there's more ephemeral choice that I've only seen once so far:
A photo that, in all likelihood, will outlast their summer romance.
I overheard a couple of Italian women walking by (this one was near Notre Dame) and wondering if this was some sort of Paris tradition. It's not! I wanted to call out in Italian. But unfortunately, my spoken Italian doesn't extend beyond ordering gelato these days. I was in Paris for three months this past fall and there were no locks to be found. So where did it come from?
Google to the rescue. According to an article in The Telegraph, the lock phenomenon is a worldwide one. Locks can be found "on fences and bridges in Moscow, Verona, Brussels, and Mount Huang, China."
It is unclear who started the fashion. Italians claim it was sparked by a romantic novel called I Want You, by Federico Moccia, in which the hero and heroine attach a padlock with their name onto a lamppost on Ponte Milvio, near Rome, kiss and throw the key in the river Tiber.Who are these Italians claiming it was sparked by a novel I've never heard of? Certainly not the women on the bridge. No, a phenomenon of this scale can only mean one thing: the crop circle aliens got bored. (Don't let M. Night Shayamalan anywhere near that idea. The man really needs to stop making movies)
For me, what started as an isolated case of quaint bemusement has become an irritation. When I went to photograph the pont Alexandre III, easily the most beautiful bridge in Paris, I saw this:
That's a whole lot of Photoshop work for me and a whole bunch of ugly for Paris.
If I could talk to these lock loving readers of Italian fiction (or sheep or aliens), I would tell them to use my own personal rule of graffiti: If it is well done and adds interest to an otherwise drab and dull space, then go for it.
But if it defaces something that is already beautiful or has historical significance, then you're just an irresponsible vandal.
Want to do something romantic on the bridges in Paris? Throw some rose petals in the Seine (it could use a little freshening up). Or kiss. But only if you're attractive and don't mind me taking your picture. I still need photos of romantic scenes before I leave. That, and more dogs. Lots and lots of dogs.