Many have called Paris the “City of Lovers”.
The Seine River is like the Aorta of Paris. It carries the life-blood of the city past and under some of the most important buildings and architecture this sublimely beautiful city possesses. It’s color is that of some shade of green, not unpleasant, that defies description. By night, the river is choked with long dinner cruise boats. There is the occasional working barge filled with sand or gravel.
The flowing water bonds the city in many ways. I have found that the bridges or ponts are especially fascinating. In the evenings, couples will pause while crossing the water to hold and kiss beneath a classical sculpture. The car traffic can be heavy on many of the ponts because they connect the Right Bank with the Left Bank. The bridges are vital. The bridges are alive with life. The bridges are the protectors of the romance that fills the hearts of Parisians and visitors alike. If you are with someone close to your heart, the green waters of the Seine and the exquisite bridges will help in spinning a web around your two hearts that is both pure and sensual at the same time.
According to Wikipedia, there are thirty-seven bridges that cross the Seine in the city center. Several of these bridges have become symbolic of love and commitment. These are the lock bridges. I’ve been able to discover three such ponts. They are the Pont de l’Archeveche, the Pont Neuf and the Pont des Arts.
I chose to declare my affection on a section of the Pont Neuf. This is how it works:
A couple purchases a lock and keys. They write their names, the date and perhaps a message with an indelible marker. Then they snap the lock onto a piece of the iron grating. The final step to seal their commitment is to throw the keys into the Seine.
This practice to place a lock on a bridge is done in a fair number of cities around the world. The origins are believed to date from the First World War. The government has tried to stop the practice, but the locks keep getting snapped into place. The few sections I saw contained thousands of locks…each with something written on the brass or stainless steel casing.
I walked slowly past the tokens of love and began to read the names and dates. Some were simple: Andre and Marion, Aug. 22, 1990. Love Always.
I read. I wondered. I imagined the hearts and souls that were on display in front of me. I closed my eyes and tried to connect with these people who felt that love had to be locked to a bridge and the key tossed away. There’s no getting the key back and no way to unlock the declaration that was made.
Some names were both male or both female. Two gay fellows celebrating their affection. Two women locking their hearts together. Ordinary couples were represented all along the railing. But, what did I not know about the names? What was I not aware of about these hundreds of bonded hearts? Were a few placed after the death of a partner? Were they prayers written, like you often see in churches, that asked God to heal and cure a soul-mate? Were any locks put there by one person, who tossed the keys into the water, hoping against hope for an end to the unrequited nature of their love? Were some from children for their parents? Or, parents for their children. What did the writing not say? I will wait for you until you are free! Until the divorce or the parole or the execution? Were any placed there after a particularly steamy night of passion…on a one-night stand? Were any put there by someone being unfaithful to another?
Or, were some just hopeful wishes…placed by a lonely, broken and unhealed heart…who went home to an empty apartment and an empty life?
For me, it was an intensely emotional feeling being near the locks. I imagine it is something like running your fingers over a name carved into the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington. Just to feel the letters of the name is to feel the person.
Merely to touch the locks or even read them is like a prayer for those who had enough faith to place them and enough strength to toss the keys into the green waters of the Seine.
Love by proxy.