June 14, 2014

Too Much Love on the Pont des Arts

Smack in the middle of Paris there is a footbridge that crosses the River Seine from the Louvre to the Institute de France.  Originally constructed as a nine arch bridge during the reign of Napoleon I and rebuilt in the early 1980s, the Pont des Arts is now a magnet for artists, street performers, picnickers and especially lovers.

In fact, it was here at the Pont des Arts where the tradition of "Love locks" was born - a romantic ritual now practiced almost around the world.  Couples come to the Pont des Arts to seal their love by fastening a padlock onto the bridge and tossing the key into the river.

The idea is very sweet and at first it was quite charming to see a few locks inscribed with the lovers' names and a date attached to the fence - a little like a heart with initials carved into the bark of a tree.  But then the idea took off and very soon the padlocks, or cadenas d'amour, started to cover every surface.

They became like a growth as locks of every shape and size were fastened to each other to form a thick mass of metal.

Of course, a few industrious souls made quite a nice living selling locks and markers to those who arrived with their hearts in the right place but missing the equipment.

In recent years this proliferation of love tokens caught the eye of civil engineers and concerned citizens who realized that with each padlock weighing at least a pound there was considerably more tonnage being supported by the arches than was originally intended.  Beside being, in my opinion, an eyesore, there lurked the possibility that all these locks might one day over-stress the bridge pylons and the whole thing would collapse.

Last Sunday afternoon proved a dress-rehearsal for the kind of incident that had been forewarned when an eight foot section of the fence suddenly collapsed from its own weight.  Fortunately it did not fall into the river onto a passing tour boat, but back onto the deck.  No one was hurt but the bridge was closed for the rest of the evening and only re-opened when a replacement was installed. 

Photo taken from "La Monde" on-line newspaper, June 9, 2014
The collapse of the fence now forces a dialogue about what to do about all those locks.  It is estimated that the bridge is now supporting an additional 8 tons of metal - not to mention the thousands of people who come for a look or to leave their own cadenas d'amour - and it is only a matter of time until something more serious occurs.  For now, the City of Paris has only removed the locks affixed to the bridge's historic lighting fixtures but there is serious discussion about removing the lock encrusted panels and replacing them with sheets of plastic.  I am certainly not anti-romance - my husband proposed to me in Paris - but  I would feel a lot safer with these hazardous and really unsightly lock installations removed.

At this point the future of the love locks is unsure, but there is no question that lovers will continue to come to Paris for affaires d'amour, padlocks or no!

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