Seen on the Manhattan bound N train
NamSan Love, Seoul, Korea 2008.
“If our love is only a will to possess, it is not love.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
I first observed the phenomenon of “love padlocks” in Seoul a few years back then thought little of them until recently when I found that they were now appearing on the Brooklyn Bridge. Curious, I decided to delve more deeply into the topic and discovered that the recent explosion of the “love padlock” trend began in Rome after the release of Federico Moccia’s 2006 teen romance novel and then film Ho voglia di te (I want you). In the book and movie, the main protagonists visit the Ponte Milvio bridge where they write their names on a lock, declare their eternal love, and throw away the key. Inspired by this, young Roman couples also began to lock their love onto the Ponte Milvio to the extent that the lampposts of the bridge nearly collapsed under the weight of the locks.
Over the past several years the practice spread across Italy, then onto other parts of the world most notably Paris, Seoul, Budapest, and Tokyo. While many young lovers celebrate the practice, others particularly in Paris are not so sure. In fact, the New York Times reported that the ubiquity of the locks has become increasingly irritating for Parisians (An Affront to Love, French Style), as it went on to say:
“The pain doesn’t come only from the fact that some bridges, like Pont de l’Archevêché and Pont des Arts, now feel as if they could collapse under the weight of tourists’ undying love but also from the idea that a lock could represent love. Such an idea is abhorrent to many French people.
At the heart of love à la française lies the idea of freedom. To love truly is to want the other free, and this includes the freedom to walk away. Love is not about possession or property. Love is no prison where two people are each other’s slaves. Love is not a commodity, either. Love is not capitalist, it is revolutionary. If anything, true love shows you the way to selflessness.
In his recent book, “In Praise of Love,” the French philosopher Alain Badiou reminds us that love implies constant risk. There is no safe, everlasting love. The idea that you can lock two people’s love once and for all, and toss the key, is a puerile fantasy. For Mr. Badiou, love is inherently hazardous, always on the brink of failure and above all vulnerable. Embrace its fragility, wish your beloved to be free and you might just, only just, have a chance to retain his or her undying gratitude, and love.”
I think my heart lies closer to that of the mythical love à la française. Though I am sure over time the young Seoulites who have locked their love onto the fence at the Seoul Tower may someday come to live with freer hearts. Until then it seems the management of the Tower has advised young lovers not to throw away their keys.
(It should be noted that the while the English here says ‘Do not throw your key away,’ the Korean says ‘자연보호를 위해 열쇠를 던지지 마세요, which translates to ‘Please do not throw (as in to propel through the air) keys in order to protect nature”, so actually there’s a bit of minor mistranslation here as the the notice does not really suggest keeping your keys ;)
Happy Valentine’s Day!