Destructive 'love locks' on Paris bridge break two Americans' hearts

Two Americans in Paris appear to worry more about 'love locks' damaging a famous bridge than the French do

In recent years, the lattice railings of the picturesque Pont des Arts, like those of other iconic bridges from Moscow to Manhattan, have become a magnet for a mass of dangling metal.

"Dave loves Christina," "Fred loves Brigitte," "MP loves P" — such declarations are written on so-called love locks, which, to prove they express emotions that are enduring, have been attached by the Daves, Freds and MPs of the world to the railings of the footbridge, with the keys then hurled into the Seine River below.

Love locks have taken such a hold on the 492-foot-long structure that last year several railings collapsed under the weight. As a result, the sides of the bridge have been boarded up for safety. At one point last year, police were forced to evacuate the bridge, which was opened in 1804 and entirely rebuilt in 1984 after a barge crashed into it.

Perhaps most surprising is that efforts to preserve the bridge are being headed not by proud Gauls but by two women from New York and New Jersey who rail at the laissez-faire attitude taken by the authorities and say the locks represent the ultimate in egoism.

"It's absolutely ridiculous and in any case shouldn't love be free and not locked?" New Jersey native and dual citizen Lisa Taylor Huff says with a mix of barely contained anger and despair.

Since early last year, she and Lisa Anselmo of New York have run No Love Locks, a campaign aimed at persuading city officials to ban the blight. Among their activities: an online petition that thus far boasts more than 10,300 signatures. Their call for the outlawing of padlocks has resulted not in their being presented the keys to the city, but rather hate mail and accusations that they are "bitter old ladies" and killjoys, Taylor Huff says.

When portions of the railings collapsed, City Hall urged lovers to make use of a virtual bridge, inviting them to attach an online lock "to seal your love." But the response proved underwhelming. Just over 8,400 people have taken up the offer, but every day, dozens more locks appear on Paris monuments, including — quelle horreur — the Eiffel Tower.

"City Hall is unwilling to enforce a ban or even issue fines even though the problem is spreading," Taylor Huff says. "There's not even a sign on the bridge telling people not to do it."

She calls tourists who partake in the trend selfish but reserves her greatest scorn and opprobrium for American celebrities photographed attaching locks to the bridge.

"It's just infuriating. They're supposed to be role models. We can assume if they do it everyone will think it's cool and copy them," she says. "The people who attach padlocks are only thinking of themselves. They want to preserve their own brief memory and they don't care about the memories and quality of life of people living in the city.

"Parisians now tend to avoid the bridge because it's so horrible."

The two Lisas get a lot of flak for being "foreigners" taking on an essentially French problem. "If you don't like it, go back home" is a suggestion frequently thrown at them.

Paris, however, is home. Taylor Huff is married to a Frenchman with whom she spent her first Valentine's Day in Paris picnicking on the Pont des Arts in 2008.

"My connection to the Pont des Arts runs very deep," she says. "It was once my favorite view of Paris, but the vandalism caused by too many locks and disrespectful tourists have destroyed both the view and my memories."

This being Paris, though, not all the love-struck are listening.

As couples strolled arm in arm across the bridge recently, one young romantic was leaning perilously over the boarded-up balustrade to attach his padlock on the other side. His love is not just blind but downright foolhardy; the Seine below is fast-flowing and dangerous.

Dutch antique dealer Raymond van Bijsterveld and his girlfriend, Marlon, both 25, attached a ruby-red lock decorated with black hearts and their initials to a railing alongside the bridge.

"We've been together 11 years, and it's our first time together in Paris, so it seemed a romantic thing to do. It's a shame the locks on the bridge are covered with wood," Van Bijsterveld said.

Asked whether he was aware that many thought the locks were ugly and wished tourists would keep their love to themselves, the couple, on a four-day city visit, looked surprised.

"Ugly? I don't think so," Van Bijsterveld said. "It's just one bridge after all. I don't think it's ugly; I think it's cool."

As I walked away, they kissed and lobbed the key to the padlock into the river.

And why not, when even the bouquinistes, the used-book sellers of the Seine with their famous green metal and wood stands, are capitalizing on the trend by selling $7.50 padlocks engraved with the Eiffel Tower? On the bridge itself, illegal street hawkers undercut them with even cheaper locks.

"The tourists ask for them. We sell them," explained one bookseller, giving a not-my-problem shrug. End of conversation.

Willsher is a special correspondent.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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