PARIS — Without love, what is Paris? Yet what is a trip to Paris without unfettered vistas of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre or Notre Dame from bridges over the River Seine?
Concerns about scenery are clashing with sentimentality in this reputed City of Love over a profusion of padlocks hitched by lovers on bridges as symbols of everlasting “amour” – locks that some decry as an eyesore.
Part of a global phenomenon, the craze has grown in Paris recently, and now two American women who call Paris home have had enough. They’ve launched a petition to try to get the city’s mostly laissez-faire officials to do something. City leaders say they’re exploring alternatives.
In urban myth, it goes like this: Latch a padlock to a bridge railing and chuck the key into the water as you make a wish. Some say the tradition has its roots in 19th century Hungary. Others cite a recent Italian novel as the inspiration.
Campaigners Lisa Taylor Huff and Lisa Anselmo are denouncing what they call a padlock plague, warning of it as a safety risk and arguing the craze is now a cliché. Their petition, at www.change.org , says “the heart of Paris has been made ugly” by the locks and the Seine has been polluted by thousands of keys.
Moreover, they say, tourists shouldn’t be fooled: The locks aren’t forever. City crews regularly remove them as they replace damaged structures. One strained rail weighing 1,100 pounds recently was taken down, a Paris official said.
Their campaign is a hard sell in a metropolis facing myriad problems from air pollution to a housing crunch, and where a polemic over padlocks in mostly tourist areas is a distant worry for many Parisians. French media have given the issue scant attention.
City authorities know well that tourism is a major money maker and have no desire to dampen Paris’ reputation as one of the world’s most romantic retreats.
The government of Anne Hidalgo, Paris’ new mayor, is contemplating how to respond. Her predecessor generally sided with freedom-of-expression advocates. Options range from fines to signs urging tourists to be responsible. Enforcement in a city where bikers regularly run red lights could be tricky.
For now, it’s the status quo – no restrictions.
“It’s spontaneous. And it shows tourists and Parisians are attached to the symbol of Paris as the City of Love,” said a City Hall spokeswoman who declined to be identified.
Anselmo’s and Huff’s top complaint is the Pont des Arts, a historic pedestrian bridge near the Louvre with incomparable views of the Seine’s Ile de la Cite island. Locks also cling en masse on a bridge near Notre Dame Cathedral, and some have cropped up on the Eiffel Tower.
“We were tourists ourselves once. We’re not heartless, celibate people with no love in our lives. It’s because we love the city,” Huff said. “Do we want this to be the city of locks?”
What qualifies as an eyesore depends on the beholder. Some historians once felt the Pont des Arts itself impeded views of the Louvre.