Thursday, February 22, 2018

The City of Love (and locks)

Without love, what is Paris? And 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 the 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.

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 alleged safety risks and arguing the craze is now a cliche. Their petition, at change.org , says "the heart of Paris has been made ugly" by the locks and the Seine has been polluted by thousands of keys.

Plus, they say, tourists shouldn't be fooled: The locks aren't forever. City crews regularly remove them.

But their campaign is a hard sell in a metropolis facing myriad problems from air pollution to a housing crunch. Plus, city authorities 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. Options range from fines to signs encouraging tourists to be responsible, but 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.

Anselmo's and Huff's top complaint is the Pont des Arts, a historic pedestrian bridge near the Louvre. Locks also cling en masse on a bridge near Notre Dame Cathedral and some have even cropped up on the Eiffel Tower.

"We're not heartless, celibate people with no love in our lives. It's because we love the city," said Huff. "Do we want this to be the city of locks?"

As she spoke on the Pont des Arts, the bridge shimmered in the sun from thousands of rusting locks on its rails.

"We really can't blame the tourists for doing what they think they're allowed to do," said Huff, a writer who also works booking visitor reservations. "If tourists aren't going to be responsible by themselves, it's up to the city to set the limits."

Other cities have found ways to cope with the lock mania. In Russia, artificial "trees" offer a dedicated padlock area. A mayor in Florence, Italy, reportedly has threatened fines for those who put locks on the famed Ponte Vecchio.

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