|So many ways to say "I love you"|
Romantic Paris: A Valentine’s Day Parable
Once upon a time, there was a city of light known as the most romantic city on Earth. Paris opened its heart to lovers around the world. Romance in Paris was a part of life.
Couples strolled the banks of the Seine arm in arm, kissed in the secret (and not-so-secret) corners of the well-tended gardens, and paused to embrace on the graceful bridges.
|Romantic Paris (a view from the Pont des Arts before the love lock craze)|
Then a heavy weight threatened life as romantics knew it. Love locks came to Paris. Tons of them. And the city of romance began to feel the strain of too much love.
|A new kind of love (view from the Pont des Arts today)|
Can Too Much Love Be a Bad Thing?
The love-lock craze arrived in 2008. Locks were becoming cultural symbols of commitment, from Italy to China.
The locks first appeared on the Pont des Arts, a historic wooden walking bridge connecting the Louvre and the Institut de France.
Couples pledged their love by placing a padlock on the bridge and throwing the key into the Seine. Their love was “locked” forever.
|Love locked forever|
Love Knows No Boundaries
At first, the locks were random—a few here and a few there—with space between to let the beauty of the city filter through.
|At the beginning|
© Sheron Long
Little by little, the spaces were filled, and the architecture of the bridges began to change—the railings became sheets of bumpy metal and the added weight strained the structures.
Locks were attached to locks. Huge industrial-strength megalocks were added (no doubt by the lock sellers), so that lock territory could be extended.
|Is there such a thing as too much love?|
When the bridge railings were full, determined lovers turned to new bridges and then to other lockable structures such as lampposts, statues, fences, and even the Eiffel Tower. Everywhere you looked, there was love.
When lovers could not find or buy a lock, they improvised with ribbons, tissue, shoelaces, and plastic bags. What could be a more beautiful way to say “I love you” than with a plastic bag?
Canny lock sellers raised the price for a lock with more than one key. Throw one key into the Seine, but keep an extra in case “eternal love” needed to be reassessed in the future.
Can Love Conquer All?
Love was indeed conquering the city. The elegance and history of Paris were in jeopardy. Kitsch was taking hold.
There were more than a million locks in town and even more rusting keys in the Seine. It was only a matter of time before a bridge would collapse or a Bateau Mouche would run aground on a mound of love-lock keys.
|Kitsch takes hold|
At the urging of disgruntled Parisians, including the No Love Locks activists and the arrondissement mayors responsible for the most burdened bridges, the city finally stepped in to find a solution to all this love.
The Weight of Love
Their work intensified when, in August 2014, a section of the Pont des Arts collapsed under the weight of the locks. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
Several key solutions were proposed. The simple response was to cut the existing locks, but that didn’t solve the problem for the future.
|The plywood solution (Cartier-Besson rolls over in his grave, remembering a very different view)|
The city tested several bridge materials to discourage the visiting lovers’ quest. Plywood and plastic panels. Both materials invited graffiti. The bridges began to look like abandoned warehouses or New York subways. At least the sheer panels could be cleaned every so often.
The final solution is a work in progress, but, at the moment, nothing seems to deter lovers from finding a place for their locks. They rise to the romantic challenge.
Oh, I See
There are many sides to this story of romance.
There are the romantics who would say that the expression of love is the good part of what makes us human. In fact, we need more love in the world.
|Broken locks, broken hearts?|
There are the business people who would say that the love-lock craze has become one of the top tourist attractions in the city.
There are the nostalgic Parisians who want the elegance and beauty of the historic bridges left in their original form.
There are the activists who say that the placing of locks on any historic structure is the height of vandalism.
There are the realists who ask the visitors if they would want Parisians to come to their town and leave a memento behind that defaced their public spaces.
And there are the philosophers who value the idea of liberty—the freedom to express yourself as you wish—but who add a note of practicality.
Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins. —Philosopher Zachariah Chafee
Love Will Find a Way
And then there’s me. For the sake of the beauty of Paris, I hope that love will find another way. There is no need to jump on the love-lock bandwagon.
We can stroll, kiss, embrace, and enjoy the bridges as they were—the ultimate romance in Paris.
|The Pont des Arts in all its beauty, before the love lock craze|
Happy Valentine’s Day
A day to say “I love you.” Cards, chocolates, flowers, and love locks. These cultural symbols miss the point.
The real OIC Moment is this: If we could say “I love you” every day, love might be “locked” without the need for things like love locks.
|Pont de l'Archeveché|
For information about the Valentine’s Day “Give Paris Love (Not Locks)” campaign, go to No Love Locks.
Thank you to Nicole de Groot for the article in The Protocity.com quoting philosopher Zachariah Chafee.