When I first saw “love locks” on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, they seemed like a charming folk expression. The metaphor of a lock on a bridge! Symbolizing lovers’ devotion! It spoke to the heart and the mind: transition, a liminal state, a gap between two certainties; a thing as ephemeral as love held firm in the cold steel of a lock. And an ordinary lock like from the hardware store. Lovers write their message of mutual devotion on the lock (initials, names, a pledge forever), attach the lock to the bridge, and throw the key in the water. Is that not beautiful?
And what of bridges? Bridges span two states — as love does. Bridges enable transition. They allow one to exist for a time apart, in that liminal zone, belonging to neither side. For certain types of people, or people in certain situations feeling hemmed in by society or by geography, being on a bridge can bring peace. It can be the only place one feels at home. Artists know this well. We gravitate toward the in-between. Lovers too.
A bridge isn’t a place but a movement between spaces, an occasion of strange freedom.
So I was moved by the sight of these emblems of devotion placed in such a charged space.
But then the practice of placing love locks on bridges went viral; vendors on Paris bridges began selling the locks; they proliferated like cancer cells; their sheer weight collapsed a railing on the Pont des Arts. The lovely virus, when it took physical form, became a cancer that destroys its host.
So let’s say goodbye to this charming practice for now.
We all want to visit beautiful places, and Paris is certainly beautiful, and we all want to leave something of ourselves behind, and we all want to inscribe on the world our fleeting love.
But let’s not destroy stuff in the process.
Much might be said about the tourist culture, another kind of metastisis that thinks everything in sight is something to be consumed or interacted with, that assumes everywhere is Disneyland, and all culture is for sale, and the culture of imitation and “trends” …
But let’s not start any fights.
I am in favor of a ban on placing love locks on urban bridges. Vendors can switch to sunglasses or T-shirts.
p.s. Join us at le Château du Pin in the Loire Valley in September for our week-long writing retreat.