Saturday, April 5, 2014

Lock up your love in Paris

            The slogans keep pouring out. Lock and love in Paris. The bridge of locks over the Seine. Paris is locked down for love.
We cross a bridge from the left bank district of Saint Germaine over the Seine on a warm, springlike, cloudy Sunday, our first day ever in the City of Love. The city lives up to its reputation, great views of splendid public architecture, spring in the air, flowers in the gardens, intriguing people-watching everywhere. And at the foot of the bridge: book stalls, old black and white photos of once daring magazine covers. Posters. Dusty books, plastic models of the Eiffel Tower. And simple, small, ordinary, gym locker locks for sale. 
            Along the wire fence, the railing of a footbridge to keep the tourists from falling into the Seine hang all these slightly weathered padlocks. Locked fast to the wire mesh. Initials or first names in black marker adorn them. Regard! A hand-written sign to explain the ritual: “Lock Your Love.” Buy a lock, imprint your identity and that of your one true love of your heart on it, then lock it to the wire fence, turn the key in the lock, and throw the key into the river.
            Have all the high school and college couples in France come here to do this? On a later bridge, the Pont Neuf perhaps, the fence is black with the locks. You can’t see the light of day through the substantial form of these tokens of undying devotion. Tens of thousands. A hundred thousand. Is this cascade of metal keys polluting the Seine. Why does no one fish here? And if we were to comb the riverbed to recover all the keys disposed of there, and try the locks, in how many cases will the charm have endured…?
            The nonce word our daughter offers us for this sort of ritual is PSA – public shows of affection. We saw some more individualized ones. The couple kissing in the middle of the sidewalk of the Champs-Elysees. We walk one way, they’re kissing; walk back, still face time. There are probably more public places for this for displays of affection, but can you name one?
            The theme of romance continues as darkness falls, and we are now riding on one of the cruise boats plying the tourist trade on the river, heading down to the Eiffel Tower. The tower glows after dark. This is the way we have chosen to make our obeisance to the signature peak in the man-made landscape of Paris. We have passed under many bridges, but now, the guide tells us, in one of her periodic wranglings of English, that we are now to pass under “the most romantic bridge” in Paris. No citations are provided. Tradition, she continues, requires us to kiss “the person next to you” when we pass underneath.
The woman next to Anne is clearly disinclined. I am seated on one side next to the railing, and no mermaids have emerged from the water. As the boat passes underneath, the moment comes. Anne and I turn as one and do our bit for the reputation of the city of love.
            So does the couple sitting in front of us. Both, quite young, perhaps eighteen, have dark and flowing hair, and are quite beautiful. Her hair is flowing, dark brown and wavy; his jet black, curly, fashionably long: meant for each other. Their dress is stylish but unostentatious. Both have smart phones which they hold up in the air to catch the glowing image of the tower and other monuments, the screens catching the images in the darkness better than our digital camera does. Have they locked up their love, I wonder. Will it endure as long as the bond of the couple behind them?
            I wish them all luck, all those thousands of pledgers of troth on the bridges

across the Seine. But a tiny padlock and an abandoned key will not by itself, I suspect, seal the deal