During dinner with some friends in Paris last December, the conversation turned to the hordes of tourists who were streaming past the restaurant. “Tourism is distorting Paris,” said Chris, who is both a Parisian and a respected travel writer.
“Sure, there are crowds and souvenirs, and the real estate is inflated,” I agreed, “but I don’t think tourism is inherently harmful.”
I’d like to publicly admit today that I was wrong.
On Sunday, my friend Marc shared this photo …
Image via Photo journal Le Parisien
… with a brief commentary (translated from French):
… [today] around 5:50 p.m., a piece of netting 2.40 meters long, has literally collapsed … The famous [Pont des Arts] bridge was immediately evacuated by police and closed to the public. The architect of the police headquarters … [was] dispatched to the scene to determine the cause of the failure of the fence.
I don’t think you need to be an architect to deduce why the railing collapsed. Even I, an occasional visitor, had noticed the proliferation of locks over the past few years.
I first noticed the phenomenon in 2010:
In 2011, the locks had multiplied slightly.
By 2012 the fad was catching on …
… and by January of 2013 the railings were pretty well covered.
Incredibly, when I returned just a few months later — in December of last year — the locks had reached critical mass.
Every surface of the bridge was covered in locks — even the outside of the railings and the lampposts.
And here’s my sordid confession: I contributed to this problem.
In my defense, it seemed harmless and quite romantic at the time. I’m sure that was also true for the thousands of couples who came after me. But in spite of our collective best intentions, in aggregate we really did deface and distort the city.
It’s a human impulse to both join in rituals and to leave our mark. But, from now on, I’ll apply the maxim that has guided every trip into the woods to my urban treks, as well:
Take only photographs, leave only footprints.
I encourage other visitors to Paris to do the same.
I read an article and saw a picture of these locks not long before the bridge panel collapsed,and I thought it looked almost grotesque. There were just too many! It was like a skin disease had taken over the bridge, which, as I recall, was very plain and elegant. Could they take all that fencing down and put it up as a sculpture somewhere in a park? and continue to do that as it gets filled up again (as it undoubtedly will)?
As usual, you’re way ahead of the game, Sherri! I got a follow-up note from my friend Marc last night stating that all of the fencing had been removed both from the Pont des Arts and the Pont de l’Archevêché near Notre Dame — and I added my voice to a petition to create a park where people can go leave their tokens of love. Hopefully the results of such an effort will be a little less grotesque. Cheers to you!
Awesome awesome post. Loved watching the progression of the locks through your photos. Still hard to believe how recent this whole trend is! Regardless of whether it’s right or wrong I find it interesting that we’re watching something like this unfold right in front of us. It’s kinda similar to if you’d been there to watch the first woman kiss Oscar Wilde’s tomb…
It’s a tough call, the Love Locks. I wouldn’t mind it if it was confined to the Pont des Arts and didn’t spread virally to so many other areas. And I’d want the railings to be reinforced and safe of course. Despite what anyone thinks about them, the truth is both the French government and the police officers on the ground are way too laissez-faire (i.e. lazy) to really do anything about this. I see cops walking every day on that bridge, right by the guys who are selling these locks, and they do nothing. Same for the Eiffel Tower trinket vendors, same for the turnstile hoppers in the metro.
Unfortunately Paris won’t get serious about this issue until a chunk of metal falls down and kills some poor tourist on a cruise boat. I guess it sounds like I’m against the locks but I’m actually not. Like all cool things it should be done in moderation; unfortunately there’s nothing moderate about millions of people performing the same action at the same time!
I must admit I enjoyed watching the progression of the locks in my images too, Mr. Frye. It’s the best argument I’ve seen yet for visiting the same place over and over. Paris (and every other city) continues to evolve right before our eyes, but it’s tough to see that when the changes are incremental. As for the laissez-faire cops, well … I guess I’m glad they don’t hassle the lock vendors unnecessarily: They’re merely meeting a demand, after all. If it became “gauche” for tourists to affix their locks, the vendors would move elsewhere. But maybe this is all a moot discussion, anyway: My friend Marc said last night that the city has decided to remove all of the panels on the Pont des Arts and the Pont de l’Archevêché. Maybe you’ll find only plywood when you next wander past these spots? Regardless, lovely to hear from you. Bonne soirée !