From lazy fall mornings spent under a cozy comforter with a steaming café crème and a rich, buttery croissant within arm’s reach, to the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower at midnight — any moment of the day in Paris has the potential for extreme romance.
Around sunset, dramatic cotton candy clouds breeze through crystalline blue skies, the Seine tinted a warm amber as it ambles by, the gold statues of the Pont Alexandre III aglow. The beauty is so overwhelming it has inspired some of art’s greatest masterpieces and countless romantic proposals.
A lot of these proposals have been happening on the Pont des Arts, a pedestrian span that joins the Institut de France, where Cardinal Mazarine’s library has been serving the reading public since 1643, to Europe’s largest palace, the Louvre. Standing on the bridge gives lovers an ideal view of Paris, the islands dramatically dividing the river, crowned by the majestic Notre Dame to the east, that breathtaking sunset to the west. It is no wonder the incredible scenery has everyone looking for symbols to mark the moment.
Built in 1804, it took someone just over 200 years to come up with the ultimate romantic gesture, eloquently poetic in its symbolism: taking a padlock and locking the symbol of one’s love to the bridge, before throwing the key into the depths of the Seine. Some have gotten even more creative, taking valuable, custom-made locks and engraving their names on them before connecting them to Paris for posterity. Others have gone a more exuberant direction with oversized, brightly colored locks, hoping they’ll stand out in the crowd.
And that is what it is. A crowd. Paris receives 27 million tourists every year. Even if only 1 percent of visitors leave a lock, that’s 270,000 locks per year, creating a love-locked mass that is greater than any one, or even three, bridges can possibly handle. Which means, the city of Paris has had to start removing all those (un)enduring symbols of love.
Cynics will find it appropriate that they end up in a garbage dump, or at the bottom of the Seine as the weight of all the locks tears off portions of the bridge and they tumble down. And then there are the locks that get covered in spray paint, tagged by graffiti artists who know tacky when they see it. So before ordering your lock, think about it. Do you really want a lasting symbol of your love for one another ending up as trash?
There are some spots on the bridge that are 6 inches deep in locks. People have started using bike chains and even plastic garbage bags, so the bridge is starting to look more like a dump than the architectural marvel it was before pop-symbolism took hold. Some locks are becoming an even greater problem, as egotistical visitors attach them to the original19th century lamp posts on the Pont des Arts, or even worse, the gold-leafed, Baroque sculptures on the Pont Alexandre III, turning a symbol of love in to an act of vandalism. The city itself is ambiguous on the subject, having published articles begging people to stop, while also suggesting it as a romantic activity on their tourism website.
I’m not so ambiguous. The taggers are right, this is a tacky business and there is no way I’d have Mr French hanging up our love among the masses like a bit of garbage. I prefer a more elegant gesture, something as precious as our feelings for one another, and just as unique as we are.
It’s sad that so many people fall into this tourist trap — because it is indeed a trap for tourists. The French find it mind boggling, as noted in an New York Times article from last August.
Two insightful American women, Lisa and Lisa have taken their distaste several steps further, creating a No Love Locks logo, a website with Facebook and Twitter to promote their petition to the mayor to act against the locks.
Parisian jeweler Tournaire, on the incredibly chic Place Vendôme, came up with a truly enduring alternative to the locks with an entire collection dedicated to the theme (starting at 290€). The lock idea is nothing new to the iconic house of Hermès which created the ultimate Parisian lock for their Kelly bag, a symbol that inspired jewelry (as low as 425€) and keepsakes to wear as a daily reminder of one’s true heart.
While these are fantastic options, they’re considerably more expensive than a hardware store lock. Some astute lovers have been leaving the Seine for Ali Baba’s magical cavern in the hardware store at the BHV Department store and purchasing a Parisian lock (5,26€) they can engrave with the date of their romantic holiday and lock up, safely at home.
For something to share with the world, I opted for a collaboration with the street artist Gregos, infamous for the plaster of Paris (love the irony!) faces that seem to be walking through walls across the city. He’ll send you the mask of your choice (50€) to be personalized, then installed it in your hometown: a symbol of your love and Paris that you’ll pass as you go about your day and you can share with your community.
Or take a series of photos and put them through the Waterlogue app (2.99$) to turn them into stunning watercolors that you’ll want to frame for your home, a constant reminder of a loving moment for the two of you.
As you choose a symbol of your love in Paris, try to steer away from the trash, and keep in mind that what really matters is that you do it together. In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “Loving isn’t the way you look at one another, but looking together in the same direction.”
Written by Sylvia Sabes for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.