It's Not About the Love Locks

The Pont des Arts bridge, as it was meant to look, returns!

All of this buzz about these love locks. It’s a whole lot of baloney, honestly.

On Monday, the deputy mayor of Paris announced the beginning of the end of the love locks in Paris. The idea is that lovers come to Paris and put a padlock onto one of the bridges – notably the Pont des Arts – and throw their key in the river. Cute symbol, unless you live here and have to see the result after years of the practice. I was there to watch the gates, sagging under the weight of an estimated 45 metric tons, being hauled off to some warehouse. It was strangely satisfying.

The short of it is this: the bridge was crumbling. Locals avoided it, pickpockets thrived, and it became a spot that tourists would come to, leave their mark, and rarely look back. Out of sight, out of mind, right? But for those of us living here, we saw the effects. As recently as 2008, we’d picnic here, along with Parisian students and local buskers. Today, we avoid it like the plague. Jagged metal, gypsies, falling fences, and illegal lock vendors don’t make for a very festive atmosphere.

As seen along the Pont des Arts. Welcoming, right?

As Deputy Mayor Julliard insisted, Paris will still be a city of romance. Cutting the locks, however, is not really about love. It’s about responsible tourism, and this is the message that most travelers miss. That’s what the whole No Love Locks campaign has been about, according to Lisa Anselmo and Lisa Taylor Huff, who spearheaded the movement. Love locks are just one symptom of a bigger issue.

When tourists go to Rome and carve their initials into the Coliseum, we’re outraged. When another break a statue in Milan museum, we lambaste the poor selfie-taker. When ISIS nears a UNESCO heritage site in Syria, we get nervous. But when we disfigure a monument in the name of love, it’s suddenly OK. What’s worse, speaking out against this graffiti makes you some sort of loveless monster.If they were any other sort of lock (“hate locks,” “friend locks,” “freedom locks”) it might be a different story.

But look, I love love, The Lisas love love, we all love love! But we also love our city, and locking cheap metal to it is not a very good way to show it.

These “love locks” remain a tradition seeped in no history, with little justification, and, arguably, with a ridiculous premise. Sheryl Crow didn’t sing that “love is locked,” and I believe the movement was “free love” and not “locked love.” Just sayin'.

Ciao, locks!
It was a cute, new tradition – I totally get it. But that doesn’t mean it was a sustainable one. The bridge literally reached a breaking point.

If tourists need to come to Paris and express their love, there are plenty of other ways to do it. Have a really nice dinner in a great restaurant. Go for a midnight walk along the Canal and pop a bottle of Champagne. Surprise your partner with a picnic under the Eiffel Tower. When did cheap metal become more valuable and memorable than a unique experience in one of the world's most beautiful cities? 

Paris has been a romantic capital long before love locks, and will be long after.

Away with you!

In the meantime, the bridge will get new lock-proof glass panels, and Paris will be discouraging the practice around town, like other cities from New York to Melbourne. Whether it’s in the name of love, hate, war, peace, or selfies, marring heritage sites is not something we should embrace as travelers. If you disagree, that’s your right, but, well, you’re wrong. The Earth isn’t flat, evolution isn’t a myth, and love locks, in addition to all types of vandalism, aren’t acceptable, no matter what your justification.

One day we’ll all be on the same page, but education is a process, and we’ve only just opened the text book.