Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

An Affront to Love?

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

An Affront to Love?

Article excerpt

The tourists who think that leaving padlocks on a bridge in Paris symbolizes eternal love may not realize that freedom lies at the heart of love a la francaise.

Parisians can't remember when it all began. At first, the appearance of the locks was nearly imperceptible. Soon, though, they felt like a statement. On some of the city's most iconic bridges, thousands of visitors left small padlocks, neatly attached to the metal railings.

Once discreet, doing their deed at night, visitors soon acted in broad daylight, in pairs, photographing each other in front of their locks, and videotaping the throwing of the keys into the Seine. The Paris town hall expressed concern: what about the architectural integrity of the Parisian landscape? One night about two years ago, someone cut through the wires and removed all the locks on one of the bridges. But in just a few months, locks of all sizes and colors reappeared, more conspicuous than ever.

For couples visiting from all over the world, these locks were symbols of their everlasting love. Indeed, in other cities the locks have also caught on as an expression of passion -- in Seoul, Budapest, Rome and Tokyo.

Living in one of the world's most visited cities, with 27 million visitors a year, and supposedly the world's capital of romance, Parisians should have guessed from the beginning that this strange ritual had to do with the fantasy of everlasting love. Yet, instead of sharing the naive joy of the world's Romeos and Juliets, some Parisians have felt increasingly irritated. Walking on those bridges has become almost insufferable for them. The pain doesn't come only from the fact that some bridges, like Pont de l'Archeveche and Pont des Arts, now feel as if they could collapse under the weight of tourists' undying love but also from the idea that a lock could represent love. Such an idea is abhorrent to many French people.

"The fools! They haven't understood a thing about love, have they?" was the conclusion recently of a 23-year-old waiter at Panis, a cafe on the Left Bank with a view over Notre-Dame. …

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