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Locking for Love in All the Wrong Places

Occasionally we'll notice a Paris phenomenon, like rubbing a statue for good luck, or for fertility, that has blossomed into a full-blown urban legend.

Just a few blocks from us, behind Notre Dame at Pont de L'Archevêché (The Archbishop's Bridge, one of the thirty-seven Paris bridges that span the Seine), another urban legend blooms, to the annoyance of city officials. Lovers who wish to lock in their commitment to undying love (that happens a lot in Paris) snap their initialed and ribbon-festooned bike or travel lock shut onto the bridge's wire mesh fence, and throw the key into the Seine.

, love forever, or at least until city employees arrive with lock snips, as they did last year at the footbridge near the Louvre called Pont des Arts, a few bridges west of Notre Dame. The Paris lock phenomenon started there early in this millenium, and Pont des Arts' reputation as a locus for lovers was apparently enhanced (for some Americans, anyway) in the final episode of the TV series Sex and the City, in February 2004. (Your Paris Play editors somehow missed all episodes of Sex and the City.)

(Incidentally, the love lock phenomenon is not confined to Paris; according to Wikipedia it is worldwide, with reports from cities like Rome, Florence, Cologne, Seoul, Vancouver, Montevideo, Moscow, and from the countries of Serbia--love lock Ground Zero--and Taiwan.)

What annoys city officials is that the lock fetish can get out of hand; witness the angle above, which shows only about half the length (say 34 meters) of the Archbishop's west side. A Paris city hall spokesperson told the British newspaper, The Independent, that the locks "raise problems for the preservation of our architectural heritage."

While it looks to us Aphrodite worshippers like a harmless and even charming tradition, Parisians take their architectural heritage seriously.

So what if the lovers were left alone, and simply ran out of lock room?

Funny you should ask. Here's the east side of Pont de L'Archevêché, where, as in a Hollywood horror movie, the sequel is taking shape, ever so slowly, lock by lock, by lock, by lock, by....

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Reader Comments (26)

Reminds me of the 9/11 fence in NYC: http://www.thescreamonline.com/911fence.html

Saturday, October 1, 2011 at 22:41 | Unregistered CommenterStuart Balcomb

I love this!

Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 5:03 | Unregistered CommenterSister Ann

What a cool phenom!! Never heard of it before (though i have only ever watched half an episode of Sex in the City)

Don't think it despoils the architecture of bridges. Since it seems to be only on chain-link fences. And when it gets chock-a-block... it become a colorful feathered texture.

Certainly beats ex-lovers leaping to their deaths from bridges.

Is anyone famous for being the first to do it ?

does it have any resonance with Occupy Wall Street? I am trying to fathom one, but it still escapes me.

I think you should dive and get a photo of all the keys on the bottom. Yale--- Schlage---Assa Abloy

nice piece - Steve

Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 7:06 | Unregistered CommenterSteve De Jarnatt

ummm...Locked for eternity, or even until the metal cutters arrive, seems a cruel metaphor for the bounties of love. imho.

And although I've lived in for Paris long enough to accept the poetics of graffiti as "interesting," and even the pyramid in the court of the Louvre as a signal of the ancient lay-lines to be revered-- beneath this point on the globe -- despoiling the old architectures, and/or the view with modern trophey-ism is ummm, an imposition on the aesthetics which I could gladly live without. Not much chance of living without it though, so live n let live,
xx, margo

Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 11:16 | Unregistered Commentermargo berdeshevsky

Hi Stuart,

Love your photo of 9/11 messages on tiles. It IS a similar phenomenon.

We will investigate installing a Blog Roll on our site. We want to let Paris Play readers know how they can access your journal: the scream online. (No, folks, it's not a horror show, it refers to the Munch painting.)

Thank you for the NYC parallel.


Kaaren & Richard

Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 15:48 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard


We're so glad!

Love and hugs,

Kaaren & Richard

Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 15:49 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Hi, Steve,

Funny you should ask about resonance with a NYC phenomenon. Check out the link to Stuart's post, his photo of a chain link fence with 9/11 messages.

We don't see it as hindering the beauty of Paris either. It's a form of street art, mingling present stories with ancient structures, which, you're right!--creates "a colorful feathered texture." And suggests so many love stories (culminating perhaps with proposals on that very bridge?). Maybe we should all write one of those stories. The next "Surrealist Cafe?"

Your suggestion of diving to photograph the keys is quite imaginative. However, if you'd read about what's in the Seine, you really wouldn't want Richard to do that.

Thanks, Steve. We appreciate your comments.


Kaaren & Richard

Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 16:08 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Hi Margo,

The metaphor seems to us more like a passionate Dionysian prayer that love might endure. Locks have been a symbol for ages for lasting love, and marriage.

Richard and I have been to many galleries in Paris, and it seems to us that the street art being done right now (and of which Richard is making a record) is the best present day visual art being done in the city. We still enjoy the Vermeers and Van Goghs, the Matisses and Miros, but the street art is knocking us out.

Trophyisms? We're not sure what you mean. I. M. Pei's pyramid enhances the beauty of the Louvre a hundred fold. Maybe it's just a matter of different taste. But we love your mentioning the lay-lines of Paris. That's worth further study.

Thanks for the dialogue.


Kaaren & Richard

Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 16:23 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

I too have never watched Sex and the City. I too find the locks charming and -- when they're all together -- beautiful.

There's a symbolism here that escapes me, on a Sunday morning at 8:33, completely.

Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 17:34 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

Hi, Anna,

The symbolism? Sometimes it's hard to see what's closest to you. Isn't it commitment? The kind of love and marriage you and Eric have?

Much love,

Kaaren & Richard

Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 18:18 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

So lovely. Like Steve, I too could not help but picture the keys in the water. The key's last turn cannot be undone -- even if the bolt cutters come along. My imagination started up when I studied the fence full of locks -- the plastic travel lock, the big brass locks, the ones that are painted. All those stories, captured on a fence (and in an amazing photo).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 at 5:52 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Genest

This symbolic gesture of locking in love, with hopes of making it lasting, enduring forever, eternally, got me thinking about all the ways I make statements with actions and objects, intending to fulfill my dreams and desires. I do this, believing that as life witnesses my actions IT will think, "Oh, she means it now. She's taken an action step. Let's conspire to give her what she wants. She deserves it."

Whether or not the situation, person, or thing manifests, or how long it takes to show up almost doesn't matter, because I enjoy being creative with ways to make these symbolic statements. I enjoy letting go of objects that hold unfond memories and gathering affirmative objects. So, meanwhile, as circumstances are still in the unmanifest I am enjoying myself and having fun.

Perhaps this is why Feng Shui is so popular.

The city workers who remove the locks are, in a sense, fruitfully employed by the incessant stream of wishful lovers. Now there's a secure job.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 at 18:57 | Unregistered CommenterMarguerite Baca

Can't help but connect the last two posts, which I read back to back--lost shoes, locked love. How about picking another bridge and tying those abandoned shoes by their laces to the railing with vows to end the use of land mines forever--or at least "until death do us part." And the city of Paris wouldn't need metal cutters to clear the bridge. Just scissors.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 at 23:58 | Unregistered CommenterL. John Harris

Well now, Jennifer, we're picturing you and Steve getting a grant to do some deep-river scavenging at the bottom of the Seine along with archaeological storytelling. Would that work for you? Research on diving equipment & underwater cameras & pens should be included.


Kaaren & Richard

Wednesday, October 5, 2011 at 19:54 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard


A lot of good stuff must happen to you with that approach. If things don't manifest the way you envision them, you're in good spirits, and then your good spirits attract the help of good spirits. So how can you lose?

That's a good angle on the city workers who cut the locks. You're right, they'll never be out of work.

It seems that Chinese and other Asian cultures have a particularly acute sense of the spatial, the physical, the sensory, and its relationship to energy., Feng Shui is like acupuncture in that both seem magical, irrational, yet both are the result of centuries of the sage study of energy and the body. So it makes us wonder if some parallel study of locks in relationship to bridges, water and love might be evolving right now. Who knows?

Thank you for your insight.


Kaaren & Richard

Wednesday, October 5, 2011 at 20:16 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard


That is a great juxtaposition, and a brilliant suggestion. How about seeing if we can all gather lost shoes all year, and tie them to "our" bridge, Pont de la Tournelle, next summer, I think it would be the right location, since Paul Landowski's statue of Sainte-Genevieve is there. The patron saint of Paris is pictured protecting a child in the folds of her cape. He holds the boat of the Seine in his arms.

Thanks and love,

Kaaren & Richard

Wednesday, October 5, 2011 at 20:55 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

How fun! I too missed every single episode of Sex And The City, and would've never known about this custom if you hadn't told this story. I love the photo of all the locks. I definitely think it's art, just as valid as the architecture and much more colorful! Shoes and locks. Tragedy and Joy. The lost and the found.

Saturday, October 8, 2011 at 19:49 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Sherry

Delightful ritual! So French. I love the contrast between the ancient traditional and the funky fun present.

Monday, October 10, 2011 at 0:42 | Unregistered CommenterJane Kitchell

Hi Diane,

Thank you! Isn't it strange how new art forms aren't seen as valid art at first? Take photography, even film. This lock phenomenon, like graffiti, is street art, and we celebrate it, as you do. Every lock tells a story, doesn't it? Locked and drowned, lost and found, many tales here.

Much love,

Kaaren & Richard

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 17:33 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Hi Jane,

Isn't it delightful? But apparently, it's not just French. Check out this article about love locks on a Cologne, Germany bridge"


We love the tale of Steffi and Andreas. And the fact that a local folklorist is documenting the phenomenon, saying that "the start of a new tradition is very interesting for us."

We agree with you: a combination of "the ancient traditional and the funky fun present" is more compelling together than either of those alone.

Mucho besos para ti,

Kaaren & Richard

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 17:47 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

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