Locks of Love?

20140325_MCG0026_ParisThe best thing about geocaching isn’t the thrill of finding a devilishly disguised cache, nor seeing my “found” total race upwards, and it certainly isn’t collecting the trinkets found in a cache. For me, anyway, the best thing about geocaching is that it takes you to interesting places you would not have found on your own.

The Lovelock Bridge in Paris is a perfect example. On a map, it is just Pont de l’Archevêché (Archbishop’s bridge), a minor connection from the east end of Île de la Cité to the Left Bank. But somewhere on the bridge, there is a geocache called “Bridge of Locks” that says the bridge offers a beautiful view of Notre Dame Cathedral and describes another feature of the bridge: “Loved ones from all over the world proclaim their love on this bridge by securing locks and tossing the key in the river Seine.” So we had to check it out.

Sure enough, over the entire span of the bridge, on both sides, the railings are completely covered in padlocks of all shape and description. Locks upon locks upon locks. Upon locks. Generally, the amorous couple has scratched their names and the date into the lock, although many look to have been professionally printed specifically to be sold to tourists (“Marry me!”).

Perrie and I were shocked that neither of us had ever heard of this phenomenon. I’ve discovered, though, that it is not such an oversight in our education as we thought it might be.

The love lock meme may have begun on the Pont des Arts (or perhaps the Pont de l’Archevêché) around 2008, possibly as recently as 2010. It has grown far beyond that. Gone viral, you might say. Though Google’s street view still shows the bridges as virtually lock-free, apparently almost all of the bridges across the Seine are now infected. And it’s not just Paris anymore: I  found locks attached to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence; apparently it’s spread to Dublin, Seoul, Rome and Cologne as well.

In Paris, the locks are causing concerns beyond aesthetics. The Pont des Arts, just a pedestrian bridge, now holds an extra 93 tonnes of steel added to the guardrails 250 grams at a time. The fencing on the Pont des Arts regularly collapses because it cannot support the weight. There is real concern for the safety for those one the tourist boats below, not to mention the danger to lock-setters who are going to increasing lengths to find places to affix the tokens of their love.

In January, 2014, two Americans living in Paris started a campaign, nolovelocks.com, to fight the scourge of the locks. The story was picked up by the Guardian days after Perrie and I were there. The New York Times also reported on the phenomenon in 2012, and USA Today also covered the problem in 2013.

Without a particularly accurate GPS and in the cold and pouring rain, we didn’t waste too much time trying to find the cache (“it’s black, and not a lock!”). It was a sight to behold, but I’m happy to say that Perrie and I did not contribute to this fad. With tens of thousands of locks on the bridges, what may once have been a novel and romantic gesture is now trite.

When I posted a photo of the bridge on Facebook, a relative asked whether Perrie and I had “locked in our love.”

“Yes,” I replied, “at our wedding.”