A Time of Padlocks – Bridging The Gap Between Romance and History

We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” ― Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon

I stepped onto the Pont de l’Archevêché in Paris a mere week ago with total and utter disdain for padlocks.

Well, let me qualify that, I have nothing against them as a practical means of securing ones belongings cheaply and conveniently when backpacking. However when it comes to scribbling or engraving ones initials on them, attaching them to seemingly any convenient bridge throughout Europe, locking them by key, kissing and throwing said key into (and in doing so I might add; polluting) whichever river happens to flow below, who’s name I am convinced most amorous couples above are ignorant of, declaring never ending love and wandering off convinced (surely no one is?) this act will secure forever that declaration, then I am afraid, padlocks have come to symbolise all that I find anti-romantic about love.

But then, on this ‘lovers’ bridge, something magical that started with a photo and took me on a journey to Serbia of the 20th Century happened…

'Love in Chains is Not Love'

‘Love in Chains is Not Love’

This time (like George and Natalia) I was to meet Nada and Relja. This is how we became acquainted…

Before I ‘met’ them, I was on the Bishop’s Bridge in Paris as my latest group, wanted to see the famous ‘padlock bridge’. It is always somewhat suspicious when groups suddenly start asking for ‘lesser known’ landmarks.

Quite Literally Romantic Overload

Quite Literally Romantic Overload

Though certainly a beautiful three arch bridge from 1828, it seemed a little odd that American teenagers might ask for it by name. As is often the case, this quest turned out to be inspired by a movie. I asked and was told, ‘Now You See Me’, something with Four Horsemen I believe, though I have yet to be enlightened. As we lingered, took photos, I think one girl had even brought a padlock, my attention was caught by the writing in the photo above – beneath thousands of padlocks, one visionary had written ‘love with chains is not love’. I took a photo and thought, now I have to discover once and for all the origin of this craze which I have witnessed slowly spreading out of Italy like a plague of misguided romance across Europe…

Well, I thought I knew. In Italy in 2006, author Federico Moccia published a book called Ho Voglia di Te (I Want You), which features a teenage couple attaching a padlock to Rome’s Milvian Bridge, an act which will ‘make our love last forever’.

The Moment It All Began?

The Moment It All Began?

Pretty soon, thanks to hitting a rich vein of tortured adolescent passion (of which The Twilight series is perhaps the best example) hundreds then thousands of couples throughout Europe were imitating the gesture. If you would like to see it; here is that very scene…

Now I am certainly a self-confessed romantic, too much so perhaps? My issue is in no way with gestures as a form of expressing one’s love for that special one. But when one, armed with the ‘excuse’ of being in love, wanders onto a bridge and it really doesn’t seem to matter which one, arm in arm, carries out an act more akin to vandalism than romance and in doing so shows not an ounce of original thought by merely copying the thousands that have come before, after which one strolls off, presumably even more in love and without the least clue as to why or the historical background behind said act, leaving city councils with the expense of a few days later when the bridge can bear no more, sending a team with clippers, to remove the ‘eternal’, that is just daft.

But it turned out I had to dig deeper than Ponte Milvio in Rome. I had to travel back exactly 100 years to Serbia. I had to meet Nada and Relja…

At the dawn of the First World War, in a small village in Serbia, known as Vrnjacka Banja – today a spa and ‘famous’ for the healing properties of its waters, first discovered by the Romans, lived a schoolmistress by the name of Nada.

Nada In Love - Before A Time of Locks

Nada In Love – Before A Time of Locks

One day Nada laid eyes on a handsome officer in the Serbian army named Relja. She fell hopelessly in love. It was still a time of innocence and the dark clouds that were soon to sweep across Europe and consume Serbia, were yet to appear on the horizon. They made a commitment to each other and their love soon became famous throughout the small town. But in July of 1914 Austria-Hungary invaded and four years followed which were to see this small country lose more than a quarter of its entire population – up to sixty percent of all Serbian males perished.

Relja was send off to fight in Greece. Nada was left behind, waiting and hoping. One day news arrived from Corfu where Relja had met and fallen in love with a beautiful Greek girl.

More than 260.000 Serbian Soldiers Perished...

More than 260.000 Serbian Soldiers Perished…

In his letter written to Nada he broke off his engagement and at the same time left the pages of history…

Nada as one can imagine, was devastated. Heartbroken. Owing to overwhelming sorrow she faded away day after day and finally died, young and miserable. Then something started happening in Vrnjacka Banja. Local girls, upset and by Nada’s destiny and wishing above all to prevent succumbing to a similar fate started writing down their names along with the names of their lovers on padlocks. Together with their beloved they would walk through the park to the really rather beautiful bridge that straddles the river below.

The Original And Best Padlock Bridge

The Original And Best Padlock Bridge

This had been the favourite meeting place of the two infamous lovers. The young girls would symbolically throw the keys into the waters below.

New wars broke out and suffering in this small, but beautiful corner of Europe is well documented. People had enough to occupy themselves with than to recall the fate of two amongst thousands of lovers split by the horrors of war. So The tradition and the story was seemingly lost forever. Then one day to the village came the poet Desanka Maksimović who spoke to the old residents and learned of the fate of Nada and Relja.

Inspired, she wrote one of her most beautiful love poems “A Prayer for Love”, (Molitva za ljubav).” This tradition on this modest bridge in Serbia was reborn…

Recently I learned that a person who means the world to me, but whom I see rarely, is planning on leaving. Europe. In November. It has not been easy to digests and sure when we care about people or things it is all too easy to cling on so tight, we risk destroying the very thing we love. My first reaction was to wish for this not to be true, yet those penned words ‘love in chains is not love’ scribbled on a bridge in Paris by a graffiti artist, so much wiser than the thousands whose – if well intended, yet not thought through – gesture he was commenting on, struck a chord. Now I do realise that nothing lasts forever, and I think Nada would have advised to make the most of your time together. I also have a suspicion she would not have been into padlocks.

It maybe a cliche but if you care for someone you have to set them free and no one was ever set free with a padlock. Like Nada, left behind by her love Relja, maybe one just has to accept that…

“…that, in the end, the most interesting people always leave.”
― Paulo Coelho

Here then – THANKS to Nebojsa from Chicago is his beautiful translation of the poem, Pray For Love, by Desanka Maksimović… In this case let me dedicate, not a padlock, but this poem to anyone who is leaving and those left behind…

Pray for Love
Fast like short lasting flower petals
That in love will start to crumble and smash together
Thirsty for a forgotten dark whirlpool
Oh god others beg for happiness and peace
But me I will remember in my heart. And hold,
Yesterday like a tussock

I will close my sad soul like gold in a chest,
And make it a temple of love.
My soul does not pray for happiness, past joy, or
The belief she asked from me
Upon this terrible day, like a ship wreck,
It needs to be saved

Without help you’re withering fast
Like a poppy in ripe grain and flax
Oh god I’m not praying for happiness, joy, or relishment

I’m afraid this pain won’t die;
Like the holy ignited fire inside of me
But suddenly it dies and becomes ash
Although overnight I fear it will ignite again into passion

~ by 2ndcupoftea on April 2, 2014.

9 Responses to “A Time of Padlocks – Bridging The Gap Between Romance and History”

  1. I learn so much from your blogs. My only request is your pictures “on the job” could be larger.

    • Thanks for reading and learning too 😉 Glad you enjoy my posts. I will see what I can do about ‘on the job’ – but am not very skilled with websites, so they might have to stay small… Many hugs

  2. As always very touching, hope you find your happiness.

    • Thank you Alex – so good to hear from you and thanks for reading… Hope you are well. Would love to see you again in Europe some day. As for my happiness, got to be there somewhere. The search continues 😉

  3. Thomas, this really is one of my favourite sites. It is very deep and makes me think, sometimes pertinent thoughts, very often at some tangent. Keep the blog going my friend.

    • Dear Colin – thank you so much for your wonderful words. It means the world to me you read and your words touched me deeply. Thank you and take care. Hope to see you soon…

  4. Hej Thomas Du skriver godt, det er oprigtigt, nærværende og ægte. Det enkle er nogen gange også det sværeste. Håber du finder, hvad du søger. Kh Pernille Vous

    • Hej Pernille – tusind tak for din kommentar! Det er dejligt at hoere du laeser mine ‘ramblings’… At du har taget tid til at skrive og rose er meget soedt. Haaber alt gaar godt og at paa en eller anden maade at ses snart. Klem T

  5. […] ago, after the famous Serbian poet Desanka Maksimović revisited the tradition in her poem, “Pray for love” (originally entitled “Molitva Za Ljubav”), that tradition then carried over to Paris, […]

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