June 13, 2014

French Friday: Too Much Love

Le Pont des Arts, a footbridge linking the Grand Louvre on the Right Bank to the posh St. Germain district on the Left,  used to be one of Paris' loveliest bridges. Originally constructed in 1804, Le Pont des Arts has long been a favorite venue for artists and lovers who linger on the bridge to appreciate its sweeping vistas.

I spotted a few padlocks neatly fasted to the Pont des Art in early 2009, and learned that this tradition originated in Florence on the Ponte Vecchio where lovers began imitating a romantic rite mentioned in two contemporary Italian novels. In 2007, the Italian authorities outlaws the locks in both Florence and Rome, but by that time, the tradition had spread to Paris and as far as London, Germany, Stockholm, Hungary, Russia, China, Guam, and even Brooklyn (BBC News).

In the spring of 2011, while strolling on the Pont des Arts, I spotted this large, old-fashioned padlock with Eric's and my initials. I snapped a photo to send to him from Paris with love! Later this picture was featured on England's Travel Supermarket World Photography Map.

When Eric and I traveled to Paris together in November of 2011, there were many more locks on the bridge. Since this was Eric's first time in The City of Love, we reveled in all of the clichéd, romantic traditions: strolling hand-in-hand, snuggling on a bateau mouche, kissing under Le Pont Marie, watching the Packers on Thanksgiving in the Latin Quarter -- OK, maybe that is only a romantic tradition for Wisconsinites ;-)  

Eric engraved a lock previously used on our boat, and attached it to our chosen spot on Le Pont des Arts. We kissed and threw the key into the Seine, forever locking our love in Paris! At the time, it was very romantic! I memorized our spot, hoping of finding the lock the next time I returned to Paris.

In January of 2013, during one of Paris' biggest snowfalls, finding our own seemed impossible amid the plethora of snow-covered locks.

The last time I crossed Le Pont des Arts in April of 2013, I was no longer enamored of these symbols of love. The locks no longer seemed special. The bridge no longer seemed beautiful. Graffiti covered the railings, and the panels heaved under the weight of so many locks.

(Well, this one caught my eye since it was Easter Sunday.)

How much love is too much love?

On Sunday, we found out!  One lock-laden panel of Le Pont des Arts collapsed, threatening the safety of pedestrians as well as cruise boats passing under the bridge. Bloomberg's estimates that each lock weighs about 54 to 90 grams. With close to 700,000 locks, the added weight approaches 10 tons. The grate that collapsed Sunday, one of 110, weighed about 1500 pounds.

Despite Sunday's incident, tourists continue to lock their love throughout Paris. Locks fill the railings of the Pont de l'Archeveché further down the Seine as well as the bridges of the Canal Saint Martin. And bridges aren't the only romantic receptacles in the City of Love. Tourists and Parisians alike have taken to locking their love to the grates on top floor of the Eiffel Tower as well as in Père Lachaise and Montmartre cemeteries.

How do you feel about this symbol of love? At first the locks seemed so lovely and romantic to me, but now they have become an eyesore, spoiling Paris' iconic beauty and endangering the safety of tourists and citizens.