Hear that? That sound? That’s the sound of a million tourists collectively weeping upon learning that their very special padlock — a "love lock" — once chained for eternity to the rails of Pont des Arts in Paris has been removed by a saw-wielding city worker wearing a neon yellow vest.
Apparently, the weight (45 metric tons!) of all that out-of-towner lovey-doveyness was posing a serious threat to local infrastructure.
“It's the end of the padlocks," Bruno Julliard, the amour-squashing deputy mayor of Paris said of the padlock removal effort underway on Pont des Arts. The steel pedestrian bridge spanning the River Seine in Paris’ particularly amorous sixth arrondissement is considered the epicenter of the love lock
scourge phenomenon. "They spoil the aesthetics of the bridge, are structurally bad for it and can cause accidents."
It’s unknown if Julliard is also ordering a team of divers into the Seine to retrieve the million of tiny padlocks keys tossed by visiting lovers into the river like pennies into a wishing well. It’s safe to assume he’s not.
Those unfamiliar with the act of affixing heart-inscribed padlocks to bridges — a romantic gesture of undying love that hit Paris circa 2008 after originating elsewhere in Europe, most likely Rome, where the practice has since been banned —might assume that it would be allowed, even encouraged, in a city that’s up to its ears with canoodling couples.
If not in the City of Love, where else?
It would seem that the public and city officials pretty much everywhere (Melbourne, Dublin, New York City, Venice and the list goes on) aren’t across-the-board keen on the trend. Some bridge-heavy cities tolerate the love lock phenomenon more than others.
Paris, being Paris, has been particularly active over the past several years with padlocks popping up en masse on numerous scenic river crossings in addition to Ponts des Arts including Pont de l'Archeveche and Pont Neuf. Some of these historic bridges are part of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
And Paris, being Paris, has been particularly aggressive in its attempts to put the kibosh on the craze, a fast-moving craze — or more of an epidemic, depending on who you ask — that many officials and residents view as straight-up vandalism.
The Parisian anti-love lock movement emerged in earnest in early 2014, the same year the guard rail of Ponts des Arts collapsed under the weight of hundreds of thousands of padlocks. Leading the public-supported crusade against love-locking was the office of newly minted Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, which promptly launched the Love Without Locks campaign. The campaign implores tourists to politely decline from placing locks on city bridges and instead snap a selfie — presumably sans the assistance of an also-hated-in-Paris selfie stick — instead.
“Our bridges can no longer withstand your gestures of love, set them free by declaring your love with #lovewithoutlocks” reads the Love Without Locks website.
In addition to city-lead efforts to dissuade lock-latching couples, there's also No Love Locks, a grassroots campaign founded in 2014 by two mortified American expatriates living in Paris.
No Love Locks founders Lisa Anselmo and Lisa Taylor Huff write on the campaign website:
Love is a wonderful thing, but it is no excuse for vandalizing a city’s historic structures and public places! Our campaign urges the protection of the patrimoine (the heritage) of Paris as well as the proaction [sic] of the Seine, an already polluted river, and a return to responsible tourism by the 32+ million visitors who visit Paris each year as well as by the tourism industry in general. It’s time to stop encouraging tourists to desecrate bridges in the name of love, and show a little love to Paris itself!
As part of the campaign, Anselmo and Huff also launched a Change.org petition urging Hidalgo to ban love locks. The petition garnered over 10,000 signatures.
"The idea of a love lock is not the issue. But going to another country and putting a lock on their heritage sites is by definition, vandalism," Anselmo recently told NBC News. "We are not anti-love or against tourists, but as a visitor we think it is about being sympathetic and respectful of their cultural heritage."
Here's the thing: the ill-advised lovers who first began leaving the padlocks didn’t do so with nefarious intent. Many lock-leavers were — and continue to be —under the false assumption that they’re participating in a local custom originated by enamored Parisians. And so, the additivity was viewed as an urban variation on the ages-old tradition of carving the heart-encircled initials of two lovebirds into a tree: whimsical, innocuous, fun. After all, how much harm can a few errant padlocks left on a bridge inflict?
But as pointed by No Love Locks, it didn't take long for the once-charming phenomenon to quickly spiral out of control. Within a short time, it has transitioned from a sign of unwavering affection committed spontaneously by a few select lovebirds into a rampant act of disregard committed by large groups of lemming-minded tourists convinced that leaving a padlock on a bridge and thoughtlessly chucking the key into the Seine “is a cool thing to do while in Paris.”
In addition to the cadenas d’amour clearing efforts at Pont des Arts, other padlock-littered bridges across Paris will eventually receive the same treatment. And after the million-or-so padlocks are liberated from Pont des Arts, the city will install Plexiglass panel barriers barriers to prevent any further damage to the bridge’s iron grillwork. Quel dommage.
Despite the crackdown, Julliard is quick to point out that Paris is still very much a place for lovers, tourists and tourists in love: “We want all the people who are in love, we want them to come to Paris but we don't want them to use love locks,” he says.
And a message for the lock-leavers who have taken to social media to express their outrage over the decision to remove the padlocks: don’t sweat it — your love, one would hope, will go on. You just won't always have Paris.
Via [BBC], [NPR], [NBC News]
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