What do the Arno, the Thames and the Los Angeles River have in common? They all flow under bridges embellished with love locks.
For 10 or more years, lovers worldwide have been writing their names on simple padlocks, affixing the locks to fences or rails, typically over rivers, then throwing the keys into the abyss, thereby cementing their commitment to one another. The custom is well-known to sweethearts in France, China, Serbia and elsewhere but it's fairly new here in Los Angeles.
Websites have sprung up catering to couples wanting specially engraved locks. Internet maps show the location of lock spots around the world. Curiously none are demarcated in Los Angeles. I only stumbled upon our local site on a recent walk along the Los Angeles River.
The locks are placed in the best possible location as they overlook the less trash-strewn eastern shore of the river, south of Los Feliz Boulevard. Because of the stewardship of FoLAR (Friends of the Los Angeles River), the area is a magnet for water life including great blue herons, snowy egrets, American coots and a variety of ducks and geese. Cattails, mugwort and willow grow large, blocking the sights and sounds of the nearby Golden State Freeway. Under the water swim carp, catfish and tilapia. It's no Pont des Arts over the Seine but it's classic Los Angeles, especially with the Glendale-Hyperion Viaduct looming up behind, a location used in so many old Hollywood movies.
Search for the term love locks on Google, and you'll see fences around the world encrusted in padlocks like barnacles on piers. L.A.'s fledgling display is humble but well-meaning. The array of 30 or so locks placed in a random pattern on the pedestrian bridge has yet to reach artistic status but it is undeniably romantic and a tangible confirmation of commitment. Eyeing one of the locks I find myself asking just who are Hunny and Bunny? Did they take a vow of "unbreakable love" as tradition dictates? Will they still be madly in love this Valentine's Day?
Some cities complain that love padlocks are a public nuisance jeopardizing the stability of civic structures. Many have banned the practice, often to no effect. Others embrace them as urban art pieces and tourist attractions.
There is no clear point in history when the practice began. According to an article in The Independent, love locks appeared on the Pont des Arts in Paris in the early 2000s. Many point to the 2007 teen romance book "Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo" ("Three Meters Above the Sky") and its subsequent film by author/director Federico Moccia as the source of the ritual. The Most Ljubavi (literally, Bridge of Love), a pedestrian bridge in Serbia, has reportedly sported love locks since before World War II. It has also been said that the tradition originated in China where love locks can be found alongside the Great Wall.
As local lovers click their padlocks to the bridge over the Los Angeles River this Valentine's Day, I doubt the origin of the custom will be foremost in their minds.
LISA DUPUY is a weekly contributor to Marquee.