Say No to Paris Bridge Love Locks?
Two intrepid expats, concerned at the ‘vandalising’ of the romantic Pont des Arts bridge over the Seine in Paris, risk making themselves a target of explosive social media abuse as they mount a campaign to unlock a heavy load of metallic love. (Story updated scroll down.)
For Lisa Anselmo and Lisa Taylor Huff, two Americans living in Paris, are lobbying to end a six-year frenzy of mainly tourist-driven love-locking and restore the Parisian love lockers paradise — eyesore as they see it — to unchained pristine former glory.
There has been no lack of fierce debate since 2008 when the first locks made a tentative appearance on the bridge that connects the Louvre with St-Germain des Prés and soon spread to other nearby bridges. Paris City Hall several times announced it was considering alternatives sites for the locks which it branded a danger to the bridge’s stability, yet the passerelle remains a prisoner chained to the passion of thousands of lovers who make the Paris Pont des Arts pilgrimage in all seasons to affirm eternal romance.
As French News Online reported at the time, (in what is still today, the most popular story every published by this paper): “Now while it is true Paris City Hall has made clear it is not that charmed by love locks chaining themselves to the capital’s bridges – the earliest date back to 2008, it has shown itself sensitive to the wider public view. It initially announced, possibly without much foresight, that there were 1 600 locks on the Pont des Arts alone and these clearly posed a threat “to the preservation of city heritage”. It noted the invasion was also spreading to nearby Pont de l’Evêché and the Passerelle Léopold-Senghor. City Hall suggested an alternative would be to set up metal trees on the river banks to which lovers could repair with their locks — an echo of earlier practises, to which many existing trees bear witness, of Parisian lovers carving their love deeply into the bark.”
However that was then — May 2010 — and this is now and as the lock load has grown exponentially so the mood has changed.
Today Le Pont des Arts the city’s first iron bridge, also known as the Passerelle des Arts, and built as a toll bridge in 1803, has been besieged by lovers from all over the world. Aware of the bridge’s romancing traditions they have come in their tens of thousands to padlock engraved metal souvenirs of their mutual enchantment, on the Pont des Arts railings and mesh grids before hurling the metal keys into the Seine.
Stop! cry Lisa Anselmo and Lisa Taylor Huff: “Help us to change public opinion: THIS is not ‘love’, it is vandalism that is destroying our historic places”, the two expats write on their newly-established campaigning website — No Love Locks, which is also linked to a Facebook page.
“Spoilsports…”, “Mother Grundies…” one can, without much effort, imagine the Twitter outrage will be far more explicit than this as the campaign spreads.
There is a vibrant exchange of views — now approaching 100 comments — on benefits vs disadvantages of lovelocks in Paris, over on the Bonjour Paris Linked-in Group which can be read here
Well here is Lisa Anselmo in her latest post on the No Love Locks blog looking at the issue from a wider perspective: “One of the most odious side effects of the Love Locks is the graffiti that has begun to appear on the bridges—the surrounding stone walls, the railings, and even on the wall of locks themselves.
“While graffiti artists, like Banksy, arguably have a solid place in the world of art, in the case of the Pont des Arts (and other bridges), this graffiti is less about individual artistic expression and more about a mob out of control. It’s as if the very presence of the locks has breached an invisible boundary of social restraint and respect, of human decency, and has released the feeding frenzy. We are at a critical tipping point between dignity and savagery, like William Golding’s boys in Lord of the Flies who, once they put that pig’s head on a stick, surrendered to their baser selves.
“That the locks seem to have beget the graffiti is proof that the act of putting a lock on a public structure is mentally akin to vandalism. Proof, too, that the locks need to be treated as a nuisance, and regulated. Even those pro-lock can easily see how the graffiti defaces and disfigures the bridges, and in turn the entire center of Paris. What were once elegant and stately structures, now look more like train trestles in an abandoned section of Detroit, Michigan, USA—where these are signs of a city in decline…”
Their campaign is not the first. There has been fierce debate ever since the initial locks appeared on the bridge and Paris City Hall has even made several clandestine night-time raids to remove locks, drawing much public opprobrium in the process.
The raids proved futile however as the vacant spaces were filled faster than the locks could be cut off. Today as the NoLoveLocks website shows, the locks form a solid steel wall on this Napoleonic-era structure blocking romantic vistas of the Seine and raising concerns about bridge safety as it struggles under the additional weight of all this metallic love.
Parisians polled seem far less enamoured of the lovelocks than the millions of tourists and visitors to Paris for whom the love lock bridge is a key attraction even though today it looks like this:
The two campaigners claim their efforts, now some eight weeks old, are beginning to have an impact: “While the simple act of attaching a lock to a bridge may seem like such a small, innocent thing, when thousands of people are doing it, the impact is neither small nor innocent. What we hope to accomplish through our public awareness campaign is to create a shift of perspective… a change of heart, if you will. We hope people will find other, better (and less destructive) ways to express their affection and commemorate special moments in their lives. And it seems to be working! Reactions to NO LOVE LOCKS™ have been overwhelmingly positive!”
Here is one of the comments the blog has received since its launch in January 2014: “I could weep with regret and guilt and despair that I’ve contributed to this hideous sight / problem / destruction of a bridge that is sacred to Paris (and moi). Yes, it did seem romantic in 2009 or so, when my now-hubby and I put up a lock (my blog has a photo or two similar to the one here showing ‘just a few’ back then). Even then I was torn — visual clutter/pollution vs. romance. We meant to opt for romance and even encouraged our friends to put up a lock. Now it seems naive and so misguided to me. Last year one of the wire ‘panels’ was so destroyed there was a piece of wood/plasterboard (?) in its place. Things change … I wish the practice had never started and that I’d never done it.”
Worse, claim the campaigners on their Facebook page, the locks have attracted other more unsavoury activities including pick pocketing, mugging and other scams:
“LOVE LOCKS ATTRACT PICKPOCKETS, SCAM ARTISTS AND ILLEGAL STREET VENDORS. This image, which I took early in February 2014, shows two of the worst side effects of love locks. The guy on the right is one of about 10 illegal street vendors operating on the Pont des Arts that day, selling locks; the woman wearing the beige coat and black pants on the left is trying to fleece unsuspecting tourists out of their money through a well-known “Would you like to buy this gold ring I just found?” scam that is one of several scams common in Paris with certain groups of thieves. I know, because this same woman tried it on ME five minutes earlier, and I waved her off. After I shot this photo, I walked up to the woman and the couple she was trying to bilk, to warn them off, but they didn’t understand me and gave her money anyway. Then, an older man came up to me and smacked me (rather hard) on the shoulder to warn me off of interfering with their “work”. I wasn’t scared off and I let him know it, and they walked away. There were other scam artists there that day as well, including a group of teen girls doing the “Please sign this fake petition” trick (they pickpocket you while you’re signing and not paying attention). These are examples of the criminal element that is now hanging around this bridge. The locks attract more tourists, and where the tourists go in Paris, so go the criminals. (P.S. My apologies for the blurry focus on the image; as you can imagine, I was in a hurry to capture the shot before they saw me photographing their illegal activities.) — Lisa T.H.
The origin of the locks fashion is a mystery. It is thought it may have been started by Italian tourists enacting the plot of a sentimental novel by Federico Moccia, in which the protagonists hung a lock inscribed with their names on a lamppost near Ponte Milvio in Rome, kissed and threw the key into the Tiber.
Others think it all started in Moscow where railings on the Luzhkov Bridge are so crowded with “locks of love” that special metal poles have been added to cope with the collection.
In the event it will be public pressure or lack of it that decides the outcome of this campaign.
Give us your view in the comments below and visit the campaign’s Facebook page.
Story: Ken Pottinger
In this tour de force on the artistic merit of the bridge locks, Howard Dinin, a visiting lecturer at Amherst College Massachusetts (widely regarded as one of the premier liberal arts colleges in the U.S.) urges they be left as they are. The locks, he says, have “assumed a value, as an aggregate communal artifact”.
In his comment on the bridge lock thread posted by French News Online on the Bonjour Paris Linked-in Group and republished here with his kind permission, Mr Dinin (below) wrote:
“The artist Christo petitioned and negotiated with the City of Paris for years before finally being given permission to “wrap” the Pont Neuf, as he has so many other landmarks around the world. Somehow what he did is art. If I had somehow contrived to do it, without asking and without permission, it would, no doubt have been considered vandalism.
“Someone here, I think @Mimi, alluded to how the locks obscured the view from the bridge. I think, rather, if it must be stated in negative terms, conflicts with or distracts from that view. Of course, starting with the Pont Neuf, only one purpose of the bridges in Paris over the Seine was to enhance one’s enjoyment of the River, with new perspectives on the city.
“A bridge, after all, is first and foremost a means of getting from one place to another that would otherwise be an onerous task because of some obstruction (there are bridges over bodies of water, over multi-lane limited access highways, over other forms of infrastructure, especially in cities). Other uses to which people, including the populace (most of which is constituted of taxpayers, or visitors who provide tourist income to taxpayers, all of whom in turn are paying for all this) put structures, both civic and private, have, from time immemorial been the subject of debate as to whether their intrusions on the original vision are enhancements or something else, likely seen as destructive…
“It would take far more space than we have here even to begin to explain how it is graffiti (which have a history far outdating the history of most modern western cities, including Paris—they’ve unearthed graffiti in any number of places) starts out as something inimical to the public interest or welfare (just how is beyond me, but that’s me) and ends up, as it is beginning to, being perceived as yet another outlet for human expression worth pondering for its edifying and enlightening aspects (the original article cited here posits that Banksy, who is simply another anonymous graffiti maker represents one pole—with a stupefying legitimacy as an artist, and I say stupefying, because he has gained it from the establishment that withholds such institutional designations by self-imposed authority).
“The embellishments represented in this case by the presence of physical hardware may, in time, be considered art of some sort—to me it is already, but that’s me—of just the sort that wouldn’t be questioned in the least if it had been proposed and executed by an artist of appropriate stature, and with the “official” imprimatur of the art establishment: let’s say a latter-day Robert Rauschenberg, or a Duchamp (with his ready-mades).
The sense I get is that these locks are an affront to bourgeois sensibilities (“this isn’t what I wanted my tax money to pay for!”) and, if they can be called that without committing an oxymoron, esthetics… They have assumed at this point a value, as an aggregate communal artifact, that works not only symbolically against the silly, if not insipid and banal objective of “declaring” one’s eternal love, but as an unintentional sculptural declaration that now subsumes (and either irritates or enthralls the esthetic sensibilities of people with much higher claims to judging such things) matters that are worthy of not only public, but critical and political debate.
“I say leave them. Whoever the architect was who chose the decorative treatment, which also served the purpose of providing some security against injury while briefly traversing this particular bridge, presumably he or she did not foresee that the materials chosen would also support the ancillary function of being a repository for a superfluity (in architecture they call it a “shit-load”) of small padlocks. If instead the architect had chosen chain-link fence modules with micro-apertures, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
“The argument that these locks are endangering the bridge structurally is preposterous. If that were so, there should be called immediately a commission for investigating the inadequacy of the engineering specifications for this bridge.
“Some people are offended by these locks, for reasons that, I’m afraid, transcend the larger esthetic, social and political issues that have been raised. Their offense is personal, and I say, it should be kept at about that level.
“As for the locks, you couldn’t have commissioned an artist for enough money to have configured a piece that would have taken on the form it has, purely by the accident, whimsey, and fleeting inspiration of people who mainly, we must suppose, were inspired by the purest and most desired of emotions: love for another person who reciprocates. And it’s a piece that is organic, dynamic, and unique. What more could we expect of art in the post-modern age?
Incidentally, there is no better source than the book recommended elsewhere here, that is, How Paris Became Paris for perspective on how the activity on the Pont des Artes (the pickpockets, the mountebanks, charlatans, merchants of cheap goods…) ’twas ever thus.
“When the Pont Neuf (and this section of the book was my source for the comment above about Christo wrapping that now venerable bridge) was new, back in the late 16th/early 17th century, it was THE wonder of the city: a meeting place, an entertainment, an unobstructed view—the first in the history of Paris and its bridges—of the Seine… in short, a place where crowds and crowds of people congregated day and night, both natives and tourists, and other foreign visitors to the city. And crowds of people attract: pickpockets, thieves, mountebanks, merchants of cheap goods…
“So please folks, let’s not pretend that either visitors to the City (who are actually a financial lifeline to making and maintaining the reputation of Paris as the foremost tourist destination in the world, unless it is now London…) or anyone else who takes it into his or her head to clamp a cheap lock on the metal bulwarks of the Pont des Artes is a new phenomenon, in Paris, or anywhere else.
“I also meant to say, though obviously it’s possible I said way more than enough, that these two expats who have started the present campaign to bar these locks, in addition to removing the ones already in place, I think it’s high time non-citizens keep out of the business of what they can’t vote on themselves. This is beyond presumption. Surely they’re free to comment in the appropriate places, or even to observe the behavior of the citizenry from close quarters. They can attend political meetings, and oversee the activities of the legislative assemblies of the City and the State. But don’t presume even to instigate, never mind activate, a campaign that requires the consent of the governed. We expats are visitors, with permission granted to be here by the government representing the French people. You’ve consented to pay taxes, if you’re subject to them. That does not grant you leave to vote. I also don’t think it gives you permission or license to foment political discord.”
Responding to the update above Lisa Taylor Huff of the No Love Locks campaign argues that as a Parisian taxpayer and dual national she and her colleague in campaigning, Lisa Anselmo, have every right to get involved:
“With regard to Mr. Dinin’s extensive commentary and final comment at the end (“these two expats who have started the present campaign to bar these locks, in addition to removing the ones already in place, I think it’s high time non-citizens keep out of the business of what they can’t vote on themselves”), as one of the two “expats” in question who have started No Love Locks, I’d like him to know that we ARE citizens of Paris.
“I (Lisa Taylor Huff) live in Paris year-round and have dual nationality, pay taxes AND have voting rights, while co-founder Lisa Anselmo is a property owner in Paris (therefore also pays taxes) and spends a great deal of time at her second home here.
“As citizens, I think we’re actually quite entitled to get directly involved in this local issue. Vandalism and the related destruction and deterioration of monuments, bridges and public spaces affects OUR quality of life here in Paris, the same as it affects that of all other Parisians. The French have always coveted and prized their right to protest that which they feel is wrong; should we not exercise that same right?
“We truly appreciate French News Online providing this forum and bringing attention to our efforts. We realize not everyone will agree with us.
“However, for those that DO agree, we’d like you to know that we have just launched an online petition, thanks to Change.org, where we are requesting a ban on the locks being attached to the bridges of Paris. It’s obvious to anyone who has seen the degraded condition of the bridges in question — with thick layers of locks, graffiti, even locks covering the lamp posts, which is very dangerous — that the people leaving these locks care nothing for the city of Paris and her monuments and architecture; they care only about themselves. We love love, and have no problem with tourists coming and enjoying the city (hey, we started out as tourists here ourselves!) but the situation is now so out of control that it can only be called ‘vandalism’. “
Lisa Taylor Huff told French News Online: “In a few months, we will be making arrangements to deliver the petition and signatures to the Mairie; we are also in the process of contacting the electoral candidates to let them know of our initiative and to ask for them to share their official position on the issue with us. If you agree, you can find our petition here and join us. There are English and French versions available, with other languages to follow shortly.
The petition in English is here
En français ici
We’re at NoLoveLocks.com for more information, and also at Facebook.com/NoLoveLocks and Twitter.com/NoLoveLocks.”
The Power of the (FrenchNewsOnline) Press
“It began on March 3rd with an article on French-News-Online (a site delivering French news in English). Next, we got a request to write a short opinion piece for TheLocal.fr, another site that delivers French news in English. And finally, a French news site, ArretSurImages.net, was working on a story about the love locks in Paris, and contacted us for a quote. All three provided links to our site and to the petition, and the next thing you know, all hell broke loose, in the best possible sense.” writes Lisa Taylor Huff in an update on her blog.
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- Love Locks Back on Paris Bridges
- Love Locked on a Paris Bridge
- A Paris Bridge That Might Have Been X-Rated