Lovelocks on the Seine
Updated: Jul 8
Pont Neuf (New Bridge) is Paris’ oldest bridge, completed in 1607 after some thirty years of construction. Over thirty bridges in Paris have since been built. Centuries passing, the Seine has flowed beneath them, carrying with it rumours of love lost and found, locked and unlocked, carried away and reborn.
In French, la Seine rhymes with aime (meaning he/she loves). English speakers still insist on making it rhyme with sane. Regardless of insane pronunciation, the Seine and its bridges are powerful evocations of romance in the minds of millions.
A popularized notion of romance took on the form of the "love lock". Couples flocked by the thousands to symbolically seal their love on a Paris bridge, using an initialled lock. Soon, there were so many locks that no space remained. The locks were latched onto existing ones, creating massive, unsightly metalic lumps.
Few seemed to question the metaphor. Was love best represented by a lock? The function of a lock is either to protect or preclude. How does it feel to be either locked in or locked out?
The first bridge to suffer 'love's burden" was the Pont des Arts. Too much romance was threatening the bridge's structural integrity, and sooner or later an unsuspecting couple might become the victims of its collapse. In 2015, the City of Paris dismantled the iron love to save its bridges from well-intentioned lovers. As the French say : "La route de l'enfer est pavée de bonnes intentions" (the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions).
Beneath bridges of immobile beliefs, the free-flowing Seine suggests a more subtle, liquid idea of love. Always there but ever changing, it is the romantic river's greatest riddle.
The fate of love locks is a telling analogy about our experience with love. We inherit a heavy set of representations about what love is supposed to be. It can take many seasons before it is at last unlocked.