The story of how lovers came to place a padlock on bridges before throwing away the key, often into rivers below, is an awfully sad one.
It is said that a young woman and a solider fell in love. They promised themselves to each other and he went off to war. Instead of coming back, he fell in love with another woman and married her. His former lover died of a broken heart. Other lovers from their town started padlocking their and their lover’s name on the bridge our ill-fated lovers used to meet in an attempt to ward off having the same thing happen to them.
The practice is now a wide spread one. Lovers have been known to place padlocks on bridges in Italy, Germany, France and probably a bunch of other places I could find if I were not too lazy to research. In fact, it has become so popular that a section of another bridge in Paris, (Pont des Arts) collapsed under the weight of the locks recently (and by recently I mean, less than two weeks ago). I’m sure this calls for a practical discussion as to whether this practice should be allowed to continue but this particular blog post isn’t meant to be a practical one.
Paris is known for its romance and padlocking your love seems to be another one of those boxes to check off. Romantic lunch or dinner cruise along the Seine (check), kissing atop, or under, or beside, or in the general vicinity of the Eiffel Tower (check), padlock one’s love to the Archbishop’s Bridge and throw the key into the Seine never to be recovered (double check).
I happened upon the bridge (after seeing if from my Seine cruise) quite accidentally when I was finished viewing Notre Dame. I couldn’t resist the urge to spend some time (turned out to be an hour) looking at the locks up close. Let’s face it, this is a potential goldmine for a romance writer… or really, any romantic at heart. There is something immensely touching (in my view anyway) about the symbolism (depressing history and all) and I found it hard not to root for the couples. I also couldn’t help but wonder about the couples whose padlocks seemed to be there for a while – rusted and faded. Were they still going strong like the padlocks? Or, did they find that no matter how far to the bottom of the Seine their key sunk – symbolism isn’t enough to keep love going. Looking at the rusty and faded padlocks, I saw another strand of symbolism or maybe, rather, a teachable moment. These padlocks are out in the open, exposed to the elements: rain, snow, wind, dust and sunshine. They are also exposed to the hands of thousands of people who, as did, held them, twisted and pulled at them in order to get a better view (I saw one man trying to OPEN one). These locks have withstood other couples placing their locks beside them, above them and sometimes on them so as to make space for their own. But they survived. They were scratched up, rusty and faded but still there … still holding on. Love too is meant to battle through meddling people and weather the tough times. At the end of it, it might not be sparkly or as smooth as it was during the first months but it will survive, still be kicking and that’s what really matters.
Granted, with the rate of divorces and breakups, it is entirely plausible (and that is my way of saying it is a fact without coming across like an asshole) that many of the thousands of couples that have placed locks on the bridge have gone their separate ways. I am also willing to bet that there are some people with several padlocks on the bridge. However, that doesn’t take away from the poignancy of the symbolism.
I spent a good chunk of time looking through the locks. It is these sort of simple activities that can hold my interests for hours on end. I maintain it is the writer in me – for as I went through each lock I tried to think up faces to put to the names – stories to put to their love.
There were three locks that made almost cry although I must admit that almost making me cry isn’t exactly the hardest feat in the world.
The first had nothing to do with romance but seemed to be a tribute to a person who had died four years ago from her family members. It was such a sweet, enduring gesture of love that simultaneously proved that romantic love does not sit atop the love totem but all types of love are precious.
The second, almost tear jerker, was witnessing a newlywed couple locking their own padlock. It was hard not getting swept up in the love, happiness and laughter between them or the tears that the new wife couldn’t hold back when the deed was done. I’m sure quite a few people place these padlocks blithely as it is the en vogue thing to do when in Paris. However, this couple didn’t do it blithely and it made me smile and tear up at the same time.
Finally, the lock that packed the biggest punch: a simple lock with no initials attached but engraved with the words, ‘One Day’. And, somehow that was the most poignant and touching of them all. I stood there and tried to imagine the feelings coursing through the person who placed that padlock. Was (s)he optimistic or was this a last ditch effort with defeat weighing heavily on their shoulders? There is a story somewhere in that one lock and I’m going to spend a couple weeks finding it.
People didn’t confine themselves to locks either. There were various carvings into the bridge itself and writings on the pavement.
Instead of attempting to find any more monuments, being dead tired at that time, I wandered across to a small park near Notre Dame and the bridge where I watched yet another couple take wedding photos. I think I might have photo-bombed about four bridal parties in my three days in Paris. No wonder when you search for ‘city of love’ in Google, it’s Paris that pops up.
I ended my last day in Paris with a quick bite at Subway. I know, not very creative but I’ve not had Subway for about two years (honestly, not sure how I pulled that off).
This is a good point to ask if it is a thing in France to have to pay to use the restroom in a restaurant where you have bought something. I mean, I understand that this Subway was primely located for tourists to wander in and use the restroom and back out. The Costa coffee shop near my flat in London has a similar problem so it basically requires a code to enter the restroom which can only be found on a receipt – fancy huh? But, this Parisian subway restaurant required a small donation of .50 Euros. I sat with a retired couple from Texas (I think) who were just as shocked as I was. Several things like… health and safety kept running through my mind (and, yes I guess I have been in the UK too long). To make what could be a very long story short, I eventually found an English speaking worker and casually threw around the words legally, law, health and safety, paying customers. She rewarded me with a coin which allowed me to access the restroom without paying the money. I didn’t actually need to restroom so I handed it over to the woman I sat with. I promptly had to leave the restaurant as she, thereafter, kept telling people who were about to pay to get into the bathroom that all they had to do was ask the cashier and they’d get a token. I did not want to be held accountable for any anarchy that might have resulted.
Five hours after the subway incident, I found myself flagging down a 214 outside St Pancras International still on that high you only get after a good break but at the same time happy to be back at my [temporary] home.
But before I go… let me leave you with my favourite lock of them all.
It says, “Neil + Jenny 2014. 10 years together and we are falling in love again.” Because, at the end of the day… that’s what love is all about.