Sunday, August 1, 2010


“Ce n’est jamais aussi simple que ça en a l’air.” (It’s never as simple as it seems.) - my professor, in reference to life in the Moroccan harems in the 1800s

The locks had become a shade more sinister.

The first sign was the brand names, all in large letters on the front. The most common by far were Abus, Master, and Bull. Each undermined the sweet, simple, sentimental first vision of the lovelocks. Abus means “abuse” in French. Master suggested an inherent imbalance in relationships, the idea that someone is always empowered, while another is enslaved by sentiment. Bull seemed to mock some of the public declarations of love with a crafty little “ha!” in the juxtaposition. Tim and Laura . . . BULL.

What did it mean to symbolize love with a lock?

Looking at the locks, hung from the grating, I could not help but wonder if love imprisoned. In a conversation before things ended, the last person I loved explained his leaving by his uneasiness with the idea of being “locked in.”

It was a sad thought, being the warden of someone’s passions. Pacing the perimeter of the heart, guarding against intruders. Contentment guards against its own intruders, does not need to lock in or be locked in. How many of the lovelocked couples felt locked in? How many had felt pressure to make a public profession of passion?

One of my students from Louisiana, recently wrote to me to request a recommendation letter for a study abroad program in France. I wrote back that I’d gladly write it but was concerned that the fact that I’d be mailing it from France might delay her application. “Oh Madame!” she wrote back. “You are living a life I dream of. No strings!”

Strings . . . Couldn’t they make you high strung, strung out, strung along? Didn’t you get tangled up in them? Tied down?

Where else did I most often see locks in Paris? On the bouquinistes’s bookstands. Personally, I couldn’t imagine wanting to steal one of the crinkle-paged, yellowed books they sell, afraid it would disintegrate under my fingertips. I liked a durable companion of a book that I could annotate and shuffle around at the bottom of my backpack. But we guard what we value. We assume someone else will value it, too.

The other day, I stopped into the musée du vin in the 15th. A young man walked in just after I did and asked if he could leave a heavy-bottomed bag of his belongings at the front counter while he toured.

-Is it valuable? the woman at the counter asked.

-No, it’s not valuable. But it’s very important to me.

Later, when he was reunited with the important bag, I asked what was in it.

-My rollerskates, he replied.

Last year I was held up. I had left my door unlocked. Before my robber left, rode off on my bicycle with a backpack of electronics, he shut me in a closet. “Stay in here so you don’t get hurt,” he said in a tone strangely protective for someone who’d had a kitchen knife to my throat a few minutes earlier. My heart hiccoughed when the door closed. He had left it unlocked for me, the way I’d left it unlocked for him.

He had just gotten out of prison, and he knew what it felt like to be locked in.

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