Vue du Pont des Arts, Paris, 1905, painted by Charles Victor Guilloux, French 1866-1946
The Pont des Arts was a calm and charming bridge then.
Every time I flew back to Paris to visit my family - at least twice a year for decades - I would try to walk one afternoon by the bouquinistes to buy some second-hand French books, because books in French are not so easy to find in the Atlanta area.
Some bouquinistes sell also vintage postcards. After buying books and postcards I would sometime go and sit on the Pont des Arts to look at my purchases. Below are some of the books I bought during my last trip to Paris in 2013. The books are covered in see-through plastic paper with the price written on them, as you can see from the top books in the picture below. The top Marcel Proust book was 6 Euros and I turned the other Proust book next to it to show its price - 4.5 Euros - which is not inexpensive for second or rather third-hand used paperbacks. (Click on photo to enlarge and read book titles.)
During our visit to Paris in May 2011, my husband and I walked on the Pont des Arts. That was the first time I noticed locks on the bridge as we had not walked on it in our previous visits. There were not too many locks as you can see below. There were even less on the Pont de l'Archeveche near Notre Dame.
It appears that this trend started from a few lines in an Italian novel by Federico Moccia. The novel was turned into the 2007 movie entitled "Ho Voglia di Te" (I want you.) Locals began copying the characters in the film and placed locks on "Ponte Milvio" a bridge over Rome's Tiber River that was built in 206 BC. This lovelock bridge mania then spread to Paris and other cities thus it is not a Paris tradition as some tourists have declared. Some say that love padlocks were also used 100 years ago on a Serbian bridge, but the Paris bridges did not fall prey to this craze until after the Italian film came out. At first people thought it was cute. But then crowds of copy-cat couples started to fix their locks on Paris bridges, especially the Pont des Arts. It seems in our times that people love to copy each other, then talk about it and place photos of themselves on the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the rest of social media. This is truly the culture of the "Look at me!" fad. (Below are locks on Rome bridges.)
When we were in Paris in May 2013 we went down Avenue Winston Churchill to the Alexander III Bridge, one of the most beautiful and elaborate bridges in Paris. It was named after Czar Alexander III to commemorate the alliance between France and Russia in 1892. As we approached the bridge the art nouveau lampposts and sculptures of cherubs and nymphs looked fine.
We stopped on the bridge and looked at the view toward the Eiffel Tower. I took some photos and noticed locks on some of the lovely bronze sculptures of the bridge. I was stunned and horrified, truly. This is disrespectful of the city and its historical monuments. Parisians are very upset that egotistical visitors come to their city and attach their locks on their bridges, above all on the Baroque sculptures of the majestic Alexander III Bridge.
We did not walk to the Pont des Arts because I had seen pictures of this unique bridge now looking like a dump site with all the rusting padlocks, and I knew this would be painful. It's hard for me to understand that people think it is OK to visit another country and vandalize its historical monuments. The tourists come to the Paris bridges, place their locks, bicycle locks and even plastic garbage bags, or write and paint graffiti, then leave and it is up to the citizens of Paris to pay for the cleanup and damages. This is shocking vandalism. Why don't they paint a heart and their initials on their own cars?
Now three-quarters of a million locks have infested several Paris bridges like a plague of locust. Last summer a section of the fencing on the Pont des Arts collapsed because of the weight of the locks. The City of Paris placed some plywood panels on the bridge in front of the railings and these were immediately spray-painted with graffiti. This proves that when people see love locks they don't hesitate to scrawl their graffiti on public structures as well. Fifteen more grill work panels had to be removed from the Pont des Arts for safety reason as each panel contained nearly 500 kg (1102 pounds) of locks or four time the allowable load limit for this lightweight pedestrian bridge. Three glass test panels were installed on the bridge, each with different anti-graffiti properties, antiglare, shatter resistance, etc. All the bridge panels, 110 of them, will have to be slowly replaced with the shatter-proof glass, which is extremely expensive and will have to be paid by local taxpayers. So it is easy to understand why Parisians are quite upset (furious) about these horrid locks.
Last year two ladies, Lisa Anselmo, a New Yorker who also lives in Paris, and Lisa Taylor Huff, an American writer who moved to Paris and has dual French-American nationality founded
No Love Locks™. They are trying to stop this trend. They say on their website "Unfortunately, the historic bridges of Europe and around the world aren't feeling the "love" at all, nor are the citizens of the cities who are burdened with maintenance costs from a trend that has escalated out of control." They started a petition, which I signed back in 2014, for the Mayor of Paris to ban these love locks - you can click on their website here (nolovelocks.com.) and sign the petition. I think more than 10,000 people have already signed. These ladies have energized concerned and angry Parisians and others who love Paris to fight for the city. For Valentine Day 2015 they had a No Love Lock Campaign asking visitors to refrain from placing locks on Paris bridges or even on the railings of the Eiffel Tower. (Pictures courtesy No Love Locks.)
NBC evening news, on February 15, 2015, the Sunday after Valentine Day, had a segment on how mass tourism is damaging the Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris. The reporter was on the bridge as a man was scrawling graffiti on a board (and was later arrested, thankfully.) At the end of the story the reporter interviewed a couple on the bridge who came to install a lock, and asked them something like what did they think about French people who do not wish tourists to place locks on the bridge and have banned them? I was appalled to hear their reply: "They are French, we are Americans!" meaning that it's OK for us Americans to come to Paris and destroy their UNESCO World Heritage Site, since we are Americans we can destroy anything we like .... This is the type of people who give American tourists a bad reputation "the ugly Americans" when most American tourists are respectful of other people's property. It's hard for me to understand this infantile narcissism and to willfully damage the legacy of a foreign city's architectural history. Not to mention the pollution from all the hard metal keys thrown into the river (over 70,000 or more.) Here is this snickering couple that I photographed from the TV show.
When it is in the USA, vandalism is quickly stopped. In Washington, DC, a foreign tourist placed green paint on the Lincoln Monument. She was arrested. It took hours to remove the paint from the Georgia marble and a US Park policeman was guarding the statue. So why is it OK for Americans to come to Paris to vandalize our monuments like the couple above?
National Geographic had an article on the padlocks last year: "Has a craze on the world's bridges gone too far?" where the two Lisa had written a comment - you can read it on the article. Here is an excerpt from it: "One thing we hope people think twice about, before they put a lock on a bridge or monument in Paris, or any other city, is this: Whatever happened to "responsible tourism"? The love locks seem to be part of a rather egocentric shift in thinking among some (though fortunately not all) travelers, to what I call "Entitlement Tourism." Instead of following the adage of "Tread lightly. Take only photographs. Leave only footprints" when traveling, instead of taking a voyage with the idea of accumulating new experiences and special memories, an increasing number of tourists NOW actively seek ways to "leave their mark" on the place they are visiting." This is so true, it reminds me of animals placing their marks, or scent, on the territory they believe is theirs, or dogs claiming their lampposts. Has our species gone down that low? Below are locks on Pont de l'Archeveche going to Notre Dame de Paris cathedral.
Their comment goes on "... the "entitled tourists" really represent a problem the world over. They're the ones who will attach a padlock where it isn't wanted, needed or invited - because they believe they have the right, having spent thousands to travel there. They will scrawl their names and graffiti tags over any surface, or carve messages into the bark of trees or into the stone of the pyramids - because they are so puffed up with their own self-importance that nothing else matters. They will leave a trail of trash in their wake wherever they go because they can't be bothered to clean up after themselves - they're on vacation, let someone else do the dirty work! They will break off pieces of a coral reef or chip off a piece of landmark stone church - because "What's one little piece of coral or stone, and I really WANT one to remember my trip!" (Photos courtesy No Love Locks.)
Some cities have had enough though. Venice had workmen remove more than 20,000 padlocks from the wooden bridge "Ponte dell'Accademia" over the Grand Canal, twice. Citizens of Venice were so furious with tourists placing their padlocks on their bridges that they were calling for fines up to 3,000 Euros and up to a year in jail - but I don't think this law passed, although I think that fines are being served.
In 2012 Rome started removing locks from their bridges and giving a fine of 50 Euros to anyone attaching a padlock or writing on the Milvio Bridge. Not long ago, an Australian father and his son were charged with vandalism by the Rome Court - the 12-years old son had to report to the public prosecutor of a juvenile court in Rome. In addition the Mayor of Rome made it illegal to consume snacks or junk food on or around the city's monuments or having to face a fine of between 25 to 500 Euros. I think Italy is fed up with misbehaving tourists. The fine for padlocks on Florence's bridges is now 160 Euros and they have fined several tourists. They were also ordered to clean the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. I wish Paris would do the same as money talks. The French Government did ban the padlocks in September 2014 but they still need to fine tourists who keep attaching their locks, and also padlock sellers who are usually aggressive and illegal street vendors.
In New York thousands of love padlocks are periodically removed from the Brooklyn Bridge. I read one of the comments at the end of a New York article that someone had said "Please this is NYC and not Paris where there is a bridge just for that purpose placed on top of a river so it's easier to get rid of the keys. If you want to place a love lock go to Paris." I was aghast. Below are pictures of padlocks on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York and their removal.
A lock is not an appropriate symbol of love in France. French people find it mind boggling - love is free. A lock is cold and makes me think of a jail, of the Bastille, of a chastity belt. How can copying a gesture done by millions of people be a show of love? It is incredibly unoriginal. It is also tacky and mostly irresponsible when it pollutes public spaces and property. It is not romantic to do something because everyone else is doing it - where is the romance in following the unthinking herd? Why not buy a pretty illustration of lovers in France, and take it back home to enjoy? Peynet is a well-known Paris born painter who specialized in painting lovers (1908-1999.) Here are some of his distinctive paintings below.(Copyright Peyney.)
Another idea - buy a reproduction or lithograph (or even a postcard!) of a painting by Marc Chagall, the Russian-French painter born in Belarus in 1887 who spent most of his life in France and became naturalized French in 1938. He re-painted the Paris Opera ceiling in 1963 and made it a fabulous work of art. Here are two of his paintings "The Blue Lovers" and "The Lovers in Green."
It hurts me to see what tourists are doing to my beautiful city, turning my City of Light into a City of Blight because of their egocentric thinking. I am distressed because it is my city, but I believe that it is everyone's responsibility to stop self-centered people violating any city, site or the environment - it is our global conscience to defeat this destruction and vandalism.
As I was writing this, we had our first snow. The view from my backyard may not be beautiful, but it is pure and intact.
I do not think that in Paris, under the snow, the Pont des Arts looks as romantic, peaceful and lovely as when mother and I used to stroll across it. Its beauty has now been obliterated by a mass of clunky padlocks into an eyesore - what a terrible shame! In my mind's eye I want to remember it as when I was a child in Paris.
UPDATE: This past June 2015 the City of Paris finally removed 45 tons of love locks from the Pont des Arts. For now the more than 700,000 love locks keys will remain at the bottom of the River Seine to decay. I hope tourists will be respectful of other bridges and statues of Paris. But if not, I trust the City of Paris will removed all these locks as well.