Love Lockdown

Cadenas d'amour, Pont de l'archevêché, Paris by Alain Chermat, Mar. 6, 2011

Want to declare your undying love to the world, but don’t have the royal star power of William and Kate? How about locking up a bit of historic real estate with a $3 dollar investment? That seems to be thinking behind the profusion of padlocks spreading like steel kudzu on bridges in Paris and a dozen other cities.

Over the past several years love locks have proliferated on pedestrian-friendly bridges from Stockholm to Seoul, as couples mark their commitment by shackling a bit of public property. With hordes of tourists looking on, the lovers inscribe a padlock, attach it to a bridge railing, and toss the key into the river. Chances are, the ritual concludes with the couple snapping a photo to share online. The majority of love-lockers are likely tourists, and many may never return to visit their locks. And if they do, odds are it will be with a new partner, and a new lock, in hand.

I suppose we should be grateful they aren’t carving their initials on tree trunks in the Tuileries or on the sides of Eiffel Tower. The locks’ damage is esthetic rather than physical, but with the French it’s hard to say which is the greater affront. To the unsentimental observer, the locks are an eyesore, foisting cacophonous clutter on a city where every last corner is curated to exude elegance and charm. The French authorities are concerned that if the padlock fad continues unchecked, the bridge railings may eventually give way. Last year all of the locks were removed in an overnight sweep, but within a few months they were back. Quoi faire?

I’d like to propose a more sustainable, virtual alternative: an iPhone app that enables couples to geo-tag locations with lock icons representing relationship landmarks – first meeting, fist kiss, first coupling, and so on. Imagine an interactive map that displays the romantic history of every address? In this era of over-sharing, this could be a killer app!

Any web developers out there who want to join forces to work on this?

Literary sidenote:

Padlocks on le Pont de l'archevêché, Paris

I recently read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, a highly original novel in which locks figure prominently in the plot and the symbolism. The story’s hero, Oskar, is a precocious nine-year-old New Yorker who treks all over town, searching for the lock that fits a key his late father left behind. Burdened with an overactive imagination and a secret he’s afraid to share, Oskar keeps his emotions locked down tight, but his quixotic quest ultimately helps him come to terms with his loss.

One of the most intriguing characters in Extremely Loud is an obsessive recluse named Louis Black, who reluctantly serves as Oskar’s wingman on the lock quest. Louis, who maintains an encyclopedic card catalogue with one-word biographies of every individual he has ever encountered, from people he has met to historical and public figures, voices the novel’s central truth: “So many people enter and leave your life! Hundreds of thousands of people! You have to keep the door open so they can come in! But it also means you have to let them go!”

I read the novel just before visiting Paris this spring, and when I saw all the padlocks lining the bridges, I thought of Oskar, and of how frustrated he would be to see hundreds of locks and keys that will never be reunited. Maybe instead of throwing the keys into the river, the couples should leave just them in the locks, in tacit acceptance of Oskar’s truth: “In the end, everyone loses everyone.”

Photo credit (1st photo): Alain Chermat, Sevres, France
Photo credit (2nd photo): Jan Devereux, April 2011


2 Responses to “Love Lockdown”

  1. 1 landscapelover May 2, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Jan, hi

    I’ve read several post about these locks, but this is easily my favourite – thoughtful and thought-provoking, with a lovely reference to a book and a great idea for an app!
    Hope you enjoyed the rest of your time in Paris. It was good to meet you at the jardin de la paix.

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