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Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Love Locks on Ponte Milvio - a Rome tradition from popular teen novels?


These "love locks" seem to be in many cities these days. We saw them for the first time on Ponte Milvio in Rome (above), and assumed that was the only place they were then, and that the idea had spread. 

Above, Moccia with his first book translated
into English.

This year, while reading the first book in Federico Moccia's exceedingly popular contemporary Roman teen trilogy, I learned that Moccia's novels (specifically the 2006 "Ho Voglia di Te") are considered the source of the love locks (or are they?).

In an interview for the New York Times last March, Moccia said the idea came to him when he was in the army. "We had these locks for our bags, and when their service was over, people would attach them to the barracks fence....I thought it would be nice to turn a military thing into its opposite - make love, not war." He takes credit, the article says, for placing the first lock on Ponte Milvio. 

"Dianne, Jerry, Bill, Judy"
We put our own locks on (with good friends visiting from the US) in 2008, not too much later from that first act by Moccia. The locks were already exceedingly popular, with lock salesmen set up on the bridge, as the photos here show.

Bill and Jerry discuss with Judy, right,
which lock to buy - On Ponte Milvio.

Doing a bit of digging, I discovered the "love locks" originated not in Rome but 100 years earlier in Serbia during World War I. Nada and Relja, engaged lovers separated by the war, were separated for good when the young man did not return from the fighting because he had fallen in love with a woman from Corfu. Nada died of a broken heart. The women of the town, Vrnjačka Banja, bought padlocks, wrote their names on them, attached them to the bridge where Nada and Relja used to meet, and threw the keys in the river - all to protect their love. The name of the bridge always had been "The Bridge of Love" (Most ljubavi). The whole story is here. 

Cutting off locks on Ponte Milvio (likely
there goes ours).
Since the fad started in the 2000s, bridges all over the world have become burdened with locks, so much so that some bridges developed structural problems and locks are routinely cut off (see photo right). In some places special frames are set up for the locks. Somehow this seems too civilized for me, taking the raciness and perhaps love out of it. Below, a lock frame set in Toronto's Distillery District (October 2021).

Lock frame (I recall it spells out "LOVE")
in Toronto this year.

Moccia's novels continue to be popular as well, something of a mystery to us, though admittedly we're not the target demographic. The author's effort to get published is the best story here. He started writing the first novel, "One Step to You" (in Italian, "Tre metri sopra il cielo") in the 1980s. Failing at finding a decent publisher, he paid a small publisher to release it. The 3,000 copies sold out quickly but then the publisher closed before any reprints were made. Photocopies of the novel circulated and it gained cult status (reminds me of "Peyton Place" circulating in my day), apparently especially among Roma Nord teenagers, where it's set. It's now 2 film versions and multiple translations later. With the large Feltrinelli publishing house behind him, Moccia's books sold over a million copies when released in a 2004 edition. The English language edition of the first book was published just this year; the next two are slated for next year.

Set in northern Rome, which has wealthy enclaves as well as some substandard housing, the trilogy highlights many aspects of that end of the city, including Ponte Milvio itself and cafes and hangouts in the Flaminio district south across the river. To that extent, we enjoyed the novel. 

Ponte Milvio, locks restrained.

The story is a classic: rich girl/poor boy, good family/unstable family, diligent student/truant. It's so outlandish and caricatured that we found it close to laughable. But, could 1 million readers be wrong? Are we missing empathy with teenage culture of the 1980s and 1990s?  

Almost laughable, but this was the closest I
could find to a photo of a woman sitting
backwards - here she appears to be calmly
 going to market on the back of a scooter -
 hardly a racing motorcycle in the dark nights of Rome

Several incidents involve racing motorcycles at night on city streets, with the girl riding backwards behind the guy, tied to him via a belt. Based on the brand of fashionable belts, Chamomile, the young women are called "chamomile." So Step, the truant who has put at least one person in a coma with his fighting, talks Babi, the studious young woman, into being his chamomile. There are other, fairly uncivil acts that take place in the novel (like running out of country restaurants without paying), making us question the source of its popularity. Still, if this sort of teen activity interests you, and many claim it's all based on true incidents, go for it.  We're stopping at the first book.