Winter has descended on my corner of Canada. It is dark for many of our waking hours, the air is icy and yes, we have snow. I’m one of the rare people who likes shovelling and being outside in the cold. I love roaring fires (Santa – please bring me a fireplace) and snuggling in to watch a movie with snow falling in big flakes outside. The long, dark hours give us time for reading, crafting, cocooning and reflecting.
Rather than reflecting on the “One man, one bike, one shuvel” let’s wonder how best to conserve what we cherish. Now there’s an interesting topic, n’est ce pas? Today’s post frames that enquiry in the context of lock bridges, particularly the Pont des Arts in Paris. For those of you who think that history is about old and boring stuff, this post is for you. What you are reading about is HISTORY IN THE MAKING!!!
If you haven’t been to Paris in the past five or six years, you may be asking, “What is a lock bridge?”. When we spent two weeks on a narrow boat in England and Wales last spring, we encountered many locks and bridges, and bridges over locks. That is NOT what we are talking about today.
A lock bridge is a regular, run of the mill bridge that has innocently been standing over a river for a good long time until someone decides to just randomly attach a lock to it. Huh? Well, he is in love, you see (let’s assume it’s a he). Head over heels in love. Crazy, stupid love. So he gets a lock, maybe he has it engraved with “Jürgen & Annie, 2011”, then he stands on the bridge with Annie and locks the lock to the bridge, he looks deep into Annie’s eyes and then throws the key into the river thereby ensuring eternal happiness. Makes me weepy just to think of it.
Makes a whole gang of people weepy to think of it. So they all rush out to buy locks and to grab Fred or Patsy or Jamilla or François or Ahmed or Kaitlin and to run over to the bridge and presto – a lock bridge is born.
The first lock bridge I saw was in Frankfurt in 2012. And I must say, seeing your first lock bridge makes you stop and stare and think and become flustered. Your sentiments can best be summed up thusly, “Holy Consternation, Batman, this old bridge is full of love locks!” Now, much has been written in the blogosphere and in the old school media about the origin of love locks and the bridges they adorn. It makes for fascinating reading, especially since so much of it is uncorroborated urban legend. Suffice it to say that the love lock bridge mania is recent. Most love lock historians confirm that carbon dating puts the first love locks at about 2008. The phenomenon is also proliferate with love lock bridges springing up all over the world – California, China, Rome and so on and so forth. Love locks have become a veritable alien invasive species!
Paris is a city known for romance and the Pont des Arts, now obscured by love locks has become the mother of all LLBs (not Lollobrigeda – Love Lock Bridge). It has also become the focus of a growing protest movement.
Recently, two English speaking Lisas living in Paris started a small protest movement, No Love Locks, which has since garnered a huge following and significant media attention. They argue that love locks are weakening the structure of heritage bridges, marring the beauty of a UNESCO World Heritage Site (the Seine and its bridges), and causing pick-pocketing and vandalism to flourish on the bridge. Protesters are keen to educate the public and are encouraging lovers to express their romance in other ways, like by taking selfies on the bridge instead.
In March 2014, I spent a month in Paris with my family. We saw the Pont des Arts and were quite smitten with all the locks and all the love and all the spring blossoms. We later bought six (!!) locks – one regular sized for Fahbio and SWMBO and then five small ones for the kids. We made an outing on a nice day specifically to lock our locks and throw our keys in the Seine. It was marvellous and we really felt like we were part of something. There were tons of people on the bridge, locking locks or photographing lock lockers. We were blissfully ignorant of the Two Lisas and their worries.
Shortly afterwards, Fahbio heard about the Two Lisas and I became fascinated by the whole global love lock phenomenon. I developed a deep seated guilt that I had participated in love locking AND enjoyed it. I have a Master’s Degree in Heritage Conservation. Seriously. If anyone should know better, I should. How did I get swept up in all this?
All Spring 2014, the love lock/no love lock debate raged in Paris, with city officials wading in. In June, the bridge partially collapsed from the weight of the locks. The bridge collapse brought the debate to the world’s attention as major media players like CNN picked up the story.
People on both sides have offered interesting arguments, solutions, pleas, and rants. What I find so fascinating about the love lock phenomenon is:
- How quickly it has spread
- How far it has spread
- How love locking is a bona fide movement that has grown without anybody telling anybody to do anything
- How much power each individual has and how movements like this have the ability to completely change a landscape
- How social media and grass roots efforts are probably the only way that such a movement can be deflected
It is easy to say that irresponsible lovers are vandalizing built heritage, scarring a place and jeopardizing the future of some of the world’s iconic treasures. It’s also easy to say that conservationists are a bunch of stuck-in-the-past bores who are hate anything modern and are so personally repressed they wouldn’t know love if a great big engraved lock came and hit them on the forehead. I’m here to say that I don’t believe anything is easy to say and I hope today’s blog post has made you think that you need to think some more to know what to think.