Padlocks on the Bridge

I’m on a bench in the middle of a footbridge on the Seine. After four hours at the Louvre, I’m exhausted, but it’s the last ten minutes in the Sun that are more telling. There’s no shade here, and the bench has no back rest, but it’ll do for now. I plonk down, abandoning any pretense of (Parisian) elegance; I feel the heat soak into my feet and tumble around.

I share the bench with an artist; he is trying to replicate the view from the Pont des Arts – the river, the Louvre, the trees, the lampposts, in water colours. When I pull out my journal and pen, he gives me a slight, sideway glance. I’m tempted to say, “No, I’m not copying.”

A few feet away from the bench, another artist has abandoned his work for a smoke and a chat. His project is more ambitious, and in oil. He has bits of paint in his short beard. From a distance, it gives him a distinguished look, but the paint trail across his pale blue shirt, eats all away any advantage. His laugh rings out, as do a few ring tones, but in this still heat, it’s the murmurs that sit in the air, like a thin wafer, crisp and threatening to crack.

Couples, young and old, sit along the chain-link railing; their fingers are entwined, their voices soft. Some kiss, other nuzzle, there is an air of forced romance, triggered by the clusters of padlocks, love-locks, along the bridge.

Not too long ago, a number of locks were broken free and removed by local authorities – eyesore was one of the words they used. It’s obviously not taken long for reinforcements to arrive; I don’t think Paris can ever be rid of these padlocks, metallic water hyacinths invading the urban landscape.

There are a few ‘old-looking’ ones still around, weather-beaten, using time as a medium for romance. They are almost lost between the shiny new lot -the brass and silver shine offends, especially when it catches and releases a glint of sun. The new ones carry the same patterns of branding as the older ones – some wear initials, others have hearts, pink lips and even bits from love songs. The locks are latched along the fence and the keys are (usually) flung away into the river – a chance at eternal love. There’s poetry to it, but for me, this locking-and-throwing just conjures up feelings of claustrophobia. I turn away from the locks and look, past the water, at Paris.