Paris Romantic Sets out to Return 45t of Unloved Bridge Locks to Original Lovers
Following months of pressure Paris City Hall had just begun removing 45 tonnes of rusty love(less)-locks from Pont des Arts — its most iconic bridge — when a smiling jeweller bearing a large bag of ancient hand-made keys, turned up to help.
Philéas Fiquemont, who styles himself Philéas le Cléateur (a portmanteau derived from Clé and Créateur or the key creator) has travelled France collecting a vast horde of hand-made and other ancient keys from brocantes and vide greniers, a passion he has now turned into a business of creating jewellery from keys.
But on this sunny Monday in June, as City Hall moved to begin unlocking the love tokens of millions, M Fiquemont had high hopes of salvaging as many of the rusting tokens as he could and restoring them to their original owners.
— Sedulia Scott (@Sedulia) May 30, 2015
In fact he has been on a personal one-man campaign for several months now to save thousands of love locks from their impending unromantic end at the hands of burly bolt-cutters. He started after it became clear that the mood music in Paris had changed and that the formerly tolerated love locks were no longer viewed as a romantic and welcome gesture left by millions of visiting Paris-passionnés.
As the bolt cutters prepared to begin their work he spoke of his mission to Sibylle Laurent, a reporter with Metronews: “I always carry a bag of old keys with me when I cross this bridge, and I try to find one that will open the locks. Recently I found a padlock with a name, a date of birth and date of death. It seems it had been locked there by the children and grandchildren of an English speaker…. Maybe that dead person had once lived in Paris, or perhaps had always wanted to visit…? There must be thousands of tales unknown to us, behind these locks and the people who left them on the bridge.”
Strange passion? Perhaps, but it all began, he says, with a letter he received from China last summer. “It was from a couple of lovers who had left a padlock on the bridge in 2012. They had heard that City Hall was planning to remove them, and they asked me to try and find their lock and return it to them.”
This heart-warming plea set Philéas Fiquemont off on his mission to save as many locks as he could and return them to their owners. “There are beautiful, ancient, heart-shaped locks and others that have been carefully engraved, and all are now endangered. It’s a shame, its anti-romantic”, he said.
While M Fiquemont agrees the situation on the bridge – where the estimated million locks are said to weigh some 45 tonnes and have made the iron safety grids unsafe and unsightly – had become untenable, he nevertheless defends the original idea as highly fitting for the “most romantic city in the world”.
Obviously, he adds, “many tourists just tagged along here as a fad, encouraged by their tour operators to buy a cheap padlock from a street vendor and stick it somewhere. But others came from all the ends of the world with the intention of attaching a metal love band to a bridge in this romantic city. And they are the ones that interest me. Dismissing all of this is just anti-Romantic. Potentially the stories behind many of these locks are beautiful and have added to the reputation of Paris around the world…”, he said.
Philéas Fiquemont acknowledges his is an uphill task. For as Bruno Julliard, a Paris City hall official noted: “we are now going to remove nearly one million padlocks from this and other bridges across the Seine,” together with some that have even been found on the Eiffel Tower!
But he remains undaunted. Inspired by the support he has received from passers-by who watch him trying out his keys on some of the hundreds of different locks on the bridge he said: “Lovers have come from around the world, some even carrying their own locks thousands of kilometres, just to leave a mark of their love on this bridge in the most romantic city in the world, it is sad to see all of this go in this way, all this testimony to love just disappearing”.
Watch him at work in the video clip below:
Curiously after months of lock-bashing by local and foreign media — largely prompted by the efforts of two American residents of Paris whose anti-lock campaign is credited with ending the metallic invasion, his views suddenly found an echo in some French media with reports appearing in Metronews, Figaro and on the French TV station BFMTV among others.
As he recounted to BFMTV hours before the removals began: “The goal is to save some examples of these messages of love.”
— aurore cloé dupuis (@aurorecloe) June 1, 2015
Earlier M Fiquemont, sent a letter to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, asking to be allowed to recover as many locks as he could as they are removed . “I would like to have access to the warehouses in order to return the locks to couples who would like to have them back”, he wrote in a letter that has not yet had a reply.
Using social networks, M Fiquemont, hopes to match up the love-struck owners of the locks saying that so far using his key collection he has unlocked and removed about 400 locks which he is happy to return if the owners contact him.
One nagging doubt remains however, at least for hard-bitten cynics like this writer!
Charming and heart-warming as his clearly sincere efforts are, is this really just the work of a passionate jeweller with a fortuitously large and eclectic key collection, as he claims in the (professionally) filmed video clip above, or is it a more a rather clever piece of marketing?
As his Facebook page — now resplendent with media coverage and photos of his one man lock-saving crusade notes, the key lies in the key: “Le cléateur designs the key to happiness, the key to love, etc. in the form of unique and original key jewellery”
Story: Ken Pottinger
— Guillaume Turbiak (@g_turbiak) June 3, 2015
French News Online was first among English-language media to draw attention to the love locks phenomenon in a report published here in May 2010. Subscribe free and stay really up to date with French news.
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 on her blog.
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