One lonely padlock on the Presa Street Bridge seeks other lovers' locks in craze sweeping the international scene: Paris, Rome, Moscow.
The Pont de l'Archeveche (the Archbishop's Bridge) is Paris' narrowest bridge. It crosses the Seine, linking the Left Bank to the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Following a contemporary urban custom (circa 1980s-2000s) with outcroppings in Brussels, Mount Huang (China), Vancouver Island, Cologne, Pécs (Hungary), Moscow, Fengyuan (Taiwan), Montevideo, Florence, Rome and, of course, Verona — lovers have been affixing little locks to bridges, or other public fixtures, as signs of their committed love.
It is unclear how or where this contemporary urban mania began, but the affixing of love padlocks to the Ponte Milvio bridge in Rome can be directly traced to the popular Italian 2006 novel, I Want You, by Federico Moccia, which he adapted for the screen as Ho voglia di te... Other origins date back before World War I, as at Most Ljubav, (Bridge of Love), a pedestrian bridge in Vrnjacja Banja, Serbia, where a love-torn affair marked by the symbol of a padlock on this bridge was memorialized by poetess Desanka Maksimovic in her poem Moltiva za ljubav (A Prayer to Love).
Called cadenas d'amour in French, the locks first appeared in Paris affixed to the Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge linking the Left Bank to the Louvre. About 2,000 cadenas, or locks, had been attached to this bridge by early May 2010 when the City of Paris declared that the locks posed a question about the preserving of "heritage" and threatened that "in time these padlocks will be removed." The very next week the locks were gone, overnight, mysteriously. To this day, the French government claims complete innocence in the act. Scrap metal hoarders are suspected, but the case remains unsolved.
Parisian cadenas are not alone in controversy: the Luzhkov bridge in central Moscow became so covered in padlocks that officials erected designated iron "trees" from which lovers could hang their locks. Paris is said to be considering the same. In the meantime, Parisian lovers — locals and tourists alike — have found another place to put their locks: on the Notre Dame side of the Archbishop's Bridge, the Petit Pont de l'Archevché. They seem happy there, for now.
Happy, but solitary, is the single lock on the Presa Crossing of the San Antonio River. It reads "Ben and Anne 2009." It's locked precisely center on the bridge, a perfect place from which to witness weddings on Marriage Island on the River Walk — the small islet a step or two into the San Antonio River, just off the plaza Hotel Contessa’s restaurant, Las Ramblas. Yanaguana tour boat guides claim it is heart-shaped, some state it’s one of the top ten places in the world to get married witnessing an average of over 200 weddings on its wee strand annually — even though some locals don’t know it’s there. It is graced with a 1991 sculpture by local artist Rolando Briseño celebrating the City’s first Catholic Mass conducted on this spot on June 13, 1691, by Spanish missionary Father Damian Massanet who went on to rename the river Saint Anthony of Padua, honoring the feast day.
It is ironic (pun intended) that the Presa Street bridge is engineered perfectly for cadena purposes: It is an iron structure unlike most other River Walk bridges which are concrete and could not hold the little locks.
The cadenas d’amour, like any good gym locker, come in a couple designs: lock and key or combination locks. The “Ben and Anne” lock is a combination lock. It’s said this is the lock of choice for couples who are not completely committed, who might want a way out of their relationship one day; the lock and key kind is for longtime lovers who might even throw the key into the river below once the lock has been affixed to the bridge.
Being basically the remains of a century-old cypress tree root ball, Marriage Island — like the Presa Street Bridge — belongs to the City of San Antonio and is controlled by Downtown Operations. If an onslaught of locks were to one day cover the Presa Street bridge, they’d be subject to the same treatment other lover’s locks have seen, such as the Paris locks disappearing overnight either by vandals or City preservationist police. On the other hand, they might persevere — in the name of love.
Consider visiting this Valentine’s Day with your sweetheart the lonely “Ben and Anne” lock on the River Walk’s Presa Street Bridge. If you are in love, affix a cadena d’amour of your own!
Happy Valentine’s Day, lovers! — Penelope Boyer