Love Locked Down

August 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Everyone survive the hurricane? I spent my time catching up on laundry and crocheting a hat. How did you spend your time in lockdown? Speaking of lockdown….

While the following article has nothing to do with yarn, knitting, or crafting, here at Be Sweet we find anything that’s sweet and makes us smile is worth sharing:

Love Locks Back on Paris Bridges

by Ken Pottinger

The Petit Pont de l’Archevêché is the latest Parisian lovelocker paradise — or eyesore, depending on where you rank as a romantic. For while widely seen as hugely appropriate symbols of undying love in the heart of eternally romantic Paris, lovelocks piling up on Seine bridges do have their detractors. They have for instance, been described as “vandalism” by those of a more jaded bent, such as author and blogger Stephen Clarke. Clarke who delights in provoking the French — mainly so as to sell his French-provoking book — wrote recently: “It’s become fashionable in the last couple of years for couples to go on to the Pont des Arts with a padlock inscribed with their names and seal their love forever by fastening the lock to the wire-mesh railings, then throwing the key into the river below. Aah, cute. Except that the railings are now covered in padlocks, as though several thousand elves had parked their invisible bikes there. Of course it is highly romantic to say your loving vows in the middle of the Seine, but I’m really not sure about the padlock as a symbol of eternal union”. More in this most ungallant vein can be found here.

Now while it is true Paris City Hall made clear it was not that charmed by love locks chaining themselves to the capital’s bridges – the earliest date back to 2008, it has shown itself sensitive to the wider public view. It initially announced, possibly without much foresight, that there were 1 600 locks on the Pont des Arts alone and these clearly posed a threat “to the preservation of city heritage”. It noted the invasion was also spreading to nearby Pont de l’Evêché and the Passerelle Léopold-Senghor. City Hall suggested an alternative would be to set up metal trees on the river banks to which lovers could repair with their locks — an echo of earlier practises, to which many existing trees bear witness, of Parisian lovers carving their love deeply into the bark.

Then early in May 2010, Paris City Hall announced that while it appreciated that the love locks were a “pleasant, likable and spontaneous,” manifestation the locks would have to be removed in the interest of the national heritage. On May 13, pedestrians crossing the Pont des Arts found that all but a handful of the locks festooning the bridge had been removed overnight. There was uproar.

City officials hastened to assure the public that “the municipality had not intervened.” Despite weeks of conjecture the mystery of who cut loose the locks remained unresolved. However rejoicing, if rejoicing there was, at City Hall was short-lived.

Lovelockers streamed back in force delighted to find the clean-up had offered them a fresh slate for their poetic declarations of everlasting romance. This new wave of lovelockers soon relaunched the lock-their-love-to-the-bridge-throw-the-key-into-the-Seine pilgrimage.This has proved greatly satisfying to the closest bouquiniste ( street-based, second-hand bookseller) who finds himself back in a booming business selling two sizes of cadenas de l’amour – four euros for a discreet one, and five euros for a jumbo declaration of undying affection.

And so today a year after the first locks were cruelly cut down, breaking the love bonds and vows of some 3000 visitors, the bridge is again a pilgrim site and there are no signs of any reduction in the activities of the besotted lovers.

The lovelock ritual is practised in several European cities with padlocks found on bridges in Rome, Moscow, Prague, Cologne and Florence. It all began it is said, in Pecs, Hungary. A recent visitor to the repopulated Pont des Arts overheard a rather jaded or cynical tourist guide suggesting to his tour party that truly smart lovers “use a combination padlock as it can be ‘recycled’ if the relationship turns out not to be eternal.”

As travel blogger Ralf E Kruger attests after a recent visit in advance of St Valentines day: “Most of the padlocks are dated 2010. Most are new because about 2,000 disappeared from the bridge’s railings overnight last May. The city of Paris and the Paris police department both denied any involvement. After initial public outrage the number of padlocks on the bridge exploded as if the people were in their own way protesting against an unromantic gesture unworthy of the City of Love. Artist Michel Maurice, son of a German father and French mother, has been painting on the bridge for years. Asked about the disappearance of the Pont des Arts padlocks, he said he believed scrap vendors had stolen them overnight.”

The history of love locks is obscure, with explanations as to the origin of the practice ranging from pagan custom to the work of Italian novelist Fredericco Moccia, whose book Ho voglia di te (I want you) relates how a couple attach a padlock to the third lamp post of the Mivio Bridge in Rome. The book has become a best seller and the author is a cult figure among adolescents. Shortly after publication in 2006 the Mivio was overwhelmed by love locks.

Scribbled or carefully engraved, most of the names on the Paris love locks seem to be non-French, for young Parisian lovers have long been used to carving their names on trees lining either side of the Seine.

As one blogger enthused by the steely outpourings of love noted after a visit to the repopulated bridge: “Paris could commission a large, hollow, translucent statue – a copy of Venus de Milo or a huge lock, a heart, or a key and place it in the sculpture garden on the Quai St. Bernard which enjoys unparalleled views of Notre Dame. Then visitors entrusting their declarations of love alongside thousands of others on a Paris bridge, would know that at some point, the City would remove them, recycle some and put a randomly-chosen few onto the statue. I think this would be an elegant solution because even the most ardent lover knows that you need to be lucky to survive in love.”

Meanwhile as City Hall continues to wrestle with love locks, one enterprising business operation has set up a website that lets you personalise your own lock engraving and send a picture of it to your friends, even if you’ve never been near Paris in your life.

Here’s ours:

 

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