Bridges and Symbolism
This time last year I visited Paris with a great love. It was one of those perfect cold winter days leading up to Christmas, in which lovers can lose themselves in each other and the city, feeling warmly happy, and all darkness dissipates just walking around. You find yourself not just in the city, but feel yourselves becoming a part of it. It was on that day that Paris officially became not just a love for me, but the love. It got into my bones. I was reminded of that recently, when I went on one of my walks.
My all time beloved spot in the city is Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris. One of my favourite French movies of all time is Les amants du Pont-Neuf which was shot on this bridge, which has some of the most iconic and breath-taking views in Paris. It is wide and air flows freely over it, so you often feel the sense of your troubles being washed away as you step out onto it. There are also half moon concrete nooks dotted along the bridge where one can curl up and just look and breathe, talk with friends, read, paint... anything one wishes. It’s a magical spot.One of the first things I did when I arrived in September was travel to this bridge at night, look across the Seine up to the Eiffel Tower in the west, then towards Notre Dame in the east, and breathe it all in. I have a painting of that bridge and it now hangs on my wall in my 12m2 apartment, and reminds me every time I feel lost or lonely or frustrated in this big new city, to go walking. To cross over and keep my eyes, ears and heart open for something new.
So, after another particularly fraught morning at the post office trying very simply to get a package that was meant for me, but which they refused to give to me (note to self; forget Paris even has a postal service, one would have more luck with blind pigeons) this day I headed South, wandering without intention towards the passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor, that crosses over the Seine from the Jardin des Tulleries down towards Boulevard St Germain. Some of you may be familiar with this little antidote, as in fact there are many bridges in Paris similar and also around the world (in China, Hungry, Italy and Russia), and this is one such bridge adorned with the symbolic promises of two people adoring each other and locking their souls together into infinity, via love padlocks.
I had forgotten about this bridge until I was approaching it and felt the faint ripple of a saxophone in the airwaves, and had a flashback of my trip here last year. I then had one of those quite shocking moments I often have now here that still take me by surprise; where I smile so widely I feel as though my face might crack, I burst into laughter and believe I might just float up into the air with this sudden rupture of joy in the thinking of the simple sentence, ‘I live in Paris!’
I looked again at these padlocks, reading various inscriptions and names, watching curiously as many young people scattered around did the same and then heard two older Parisian women speaking as they passed me, glanced at me and utter ‘répugnant’. I cannot be certain they were referring to the locks, however earlier in the year, it was in the news, thousands of these padlocks went missing from the Pont des Arts. There have been various speculations about who removed them and why (some speculate they were removed for scrap metal for example), however many Parisians and the authorities have spoken up about their wishes to preserve bridges which are part of their National Heritage, and in so have the locks, considered an eyesore and health and safety risk, removed.
It slightly saddens me that such a symbol could be lost to either bureaucracy or thieves.
Ok I will admit it is not something I would do personally, they are not traditionally attractive, some are out-and-out unsightly, the bridge is falling under the weight of them all, and it may be far more poetic if some messages of melancholy from intellectual minds were left there, or poetry, or miniature artworks or comments for young people about growing up, leaving messages for generations to come. However, the act of locking ones love to a Parisian bridge meant something to someone, and it is the simple gesture of it all, the history a person leaves behind that strikes a note with me and the want for allowing that to survive. That love can be allowed to survive in any form. That we allow something individual to exist for its own sake. That we fight to hold onto something that can also be seen symbolically as national heritage, that collectivists wish to destroy.So I say keep locking your love on the bridge, because in the world we currently live in, we could value from all the symbols of love and hope we can find.