There is something both mildly unsettling and amusingly defiant about being single in Paris. True to its reputation, Paris is an incredibly romantic city. Cupids, intimate low lit bistros, cute waiters in floor-length white aprons, all conspire to create a kind of swoony milieu. Plus, people are getting it on all over the place, which I found intermittently endearing and irritating. I’ve never seen so much public snogging, and it wasn’t even Spring. It was the end of January, and the sky was a kind of bleary hangover grey. I was winging my way to the Louvre, which was to be my very first visit, turning up my far too thin raincoat against the chill.
As I crossed a footbridge over the Seine, my eyes were drawn to the railings that were jam packed with locks of all sizes, shapes and descriptions. I had stumbled upon Lovers Bridge, where a 21st century ritual had taken hold, of couples attaching locks with their names written on them to the wire mesh. I watched as a young well-dressed couple (well, in Paris there is no other kind) struggled to find a space for their lock, after which they kissed for such a long time that the girl had to put down her shopping bag. Many couples had obviously brought their own locks to the bridge, but in the spirit of capitalism abhorring a vacuum, a few hundred yards down the Right Bank, a number of stalls were selling your average hardware Made in China love locks for two euros a pop.
Skip to two weeks later. Valentine’s Day, in fact, which I was celebrating in a style that couldn’t have contrasted more with the French candle-lit city for two. I was in Boulogne for starters, and I don’t mean the nice part. I was spending the night in a budget hotel on my way to the UK. No sparten-ness had been spared; like a prison cell decorated with the stuff IKEA couldn’t shift in its half price sale. I was eating a limp supermarket salad, one eye on the dodgy heater, and trying to look on the bright side, when a news story on BBC One caught my attention. ‘Authorities in Paris have chosen Valentine’s Day to remove all the locks on Lovers Bridge.’ Apparently, they were ‘causing the bridge to become unstable’. The footage showed workmen grappling furiously against the locks with giant bolt-cutters. My heart turned yet another shade of jade. “Bastards,” I said out loud. “City of Love, my foot.”
On further investigation, I discovered that civil authorities in Rome had done the same thing a year before on the Ponte Milvio bridge, (Padlocks of love removed) and set up a 24 hour guard against deviant romantics “to restore decorum to the bridge.” Some Roman citizens were upset by the ban, mostly concerned that the trend would move to Paris, which it had, in fact, already done. In fact, much as the Romans would like to claim the ritual for themselves, love locks have been turning up on bridges all over Europe since the early 2000’s. But on Valentine’s Day, 2013, they were banned in the City of Love.
Yet if history is anything to go by, they may not be gone for good. In May, 2010, the Paris Town Hall expressed concern about the weight of the locks and “the preservation of our architectural heritage.” The locks mysteriously disappeared shortly afterwards. But in 2011, they began making a comeback. One lock at a time.
Personally, I think the City of Love moniker should be transferred from Paris to Moscow. There, instead of banning the locks, local authorities erected metal trees on Luzhkov Bridge, so that both the bridge and romance could thrive side by side. Bless their burly Russian hearts.