I’ve been in Paris for a couple of weeks now, and while I’ve only seen a fraction of what this beautiful city has to offer, I have seen a fair few of its biggest landmarks. One highlight was when I took an afternoon stroll down the Seine one weekend, spending the hours criss-crossing across the river using about half a dozen of Paris’ famous bridges. It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, and the beauty of the city was on full display. That is, until I happened upon the famous Pont des Arts bridge; a pedestrian walkway that connects the Insitut de France and the Louvre Museum. While the bridge is usually a beautiful sight, in recent years the Pont des Arts has fallen victim to Paris’ reputation for romance and the hordes of tourists who descend upon the city every year looking for love. I am of course talking about the dreaded love lock craze.
I use the word dreaded because while the symbolism behind these locks is nice, the reality of them is not. For anyone wondering what I’m talking about, let me explain. In 2008, love locks began appearing on the Pont des Arts; left there by couples caught up in the romance of being in Paris. The idea is to inscribe both of your initials onto a padlock before attaching the padlock to the railings of the bridge and throwing the key into the Seine, thereby sealing your love forever. Initially, only a few locks appeared, with marginal impact, but eventually the idea became all the rage with tourists, and today, every inch of the Pont des Arts is covered in padlocks, sometimes as many as three layers deep. What started out as a whimsical tradition is now a serious problem for French officials.
Earlier this year, a portion of the bridge actually collapsed under the weight of the locks, and the environmental hazards posed by the thousands of keys now sitting on the bottom of the Seine are many. On the day I walked across the Pont des Arts, I overheard a tour guide explaining to his group that city officials have tried simply removing the locks, but the manpower required is enormous, and the empty space only fills up with more locks in a matter of weeks. Even worse, tourists have begun attaching locks to various other bridges and structures around Paris, and while others have attempted dangerous feats of urban climbing in their attempt to attach locks to street lamps and higher up structures. The whole thing has grown to be such a problem that there’s an entire website and a petition underway dedicated to ending the love lock phenomenon, and police regularly patrol the bridge in an effort to get people to stop. Last week, city officials began placing plastic panels over the bridge’s infrastructure, but only time will tell if this succeeds in dissuading determined tourists from leaving behind a token of their love.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as much of a fan of big romantic gestures as the next person, but it seems to me that there are ways of expressing your love without resorting to vandalism and destruction of an UNESCO World Heritage site. Not to mention the inherent danger involved. When parts of the bridge collapsed earlier this year, it was estimated that just one panel was holding up over 700 kg in weight from the locks, meaning that in its current state, a bridge that was only ever meant to hold pedestrians is now holding over 93 metric tonnes. All this, and tourists still attach their love locks, oblivious to the harm they are causing. Sometimes, in spite of it. Unless Parisian officials figure out a way to permanently end the love lock craze, it’s only a matter of time before the bridge comes crashing down into the river below, most certainly injuring and potentially killing dozens of people. I don’t care how much I thought my love was forever. That’s not a legacy I have any interest in being a part of.