Thursday, 12 January 2012
Bridge of Locks
Eva had wanted coffee desperately. Her feet ached from walking for so long around Paris. She did not regret it. Paris like most cities was full of sights and wonders, mostly unofficial and transient as a flower-bloom. But the cafes were full and when she saw that there was a table with the young man alone at it, she asked if she might share it. He smiled briefly and gestured to the chair opposite. When he saw her Plan de Paris and heard her slightly awkwardly order a coffee he knew she was a tourist. At first he had asked simple questions of her; how long was she in Paris for, where was she from, how did she like the city. His accent was slight and he was pleasant and polite, Eva liked politeness in the young. She soon found herself at ease with him and soon enough asked him about all the padlocks on the fencing over one of the bridges.
"Ah that, that's a story to move you at least a little," the young man said softly beckoning a waiter over.
It was almost lunchtime and the young man ordered a pot of coffee and a sandwich. Eva ordered a sandwich and cake - after all, she was on holiday. The waiter nodded, noted and left them.
"Some years back, when I was still at school madame, there was a young lady from the Rue St Honore. A very, very respectable area if madame understands me," the young man began.
Eva nodded to show she understood and pushed her coffee cup to one side.
"This mademoiselle used to walk across the bridge for her business studies tuition from Monsieur Saccard a very brilliant man so I've heard, I don't know for sure. Anyway the mademoiselle used to pass by a group of students and as she was beautiful but obviously rich, comments were made. One day it seems, a young musician on the bridge intervened and reminded the students that politeness cost nothing. The students sneered and rounded on him with their words. The musician defended himself well and without raising the temperature of anyone to violence. The mademoiselle was enchanted at the musician's wit and his willingness to defend her. She had always ignored the students as she passed trying to maintain her dignity, but she felt the barbs of their words nonetheless. She continued with her studies and would always leave money in the musician's hat if he was there. If he was not their, she missed him. The students remained and while they did not comment, they would sneer at her and bow in mock politeness and servitude.
Now it seemed that mademoiselle's father had employed a gentleman to follow her daughter to her classes and home again. When the gentleman remarked on the young musician, the father was at first grateful. He visited the musician when mademoiselle was at her classes and offered the musician his gratitude which the man took and a some large sum, which the man refused.
"A Franc or two will be enough in appreciation of my music, monsieur," he answered politely.
The father did not understand this. He had always sought money and power and could not understand anyone not wishing to do the same. Is it not typical madame that we measure others with our own desires and aspirations?" the young man asked Eva.
She gave a little laugh and nodded in agreement. The waiter brought their lunch and the pot of coffee. Eva paid for it all and the young man thanked her and offered her the cost of the coffee and his sandwich.
"Consider it my contribution to the meal," she said with a warm smile and he bowed in his seat and thanked her.
He poured them both fresh coffee and took a bite of his sandwich, chewing it carefully. Then he continued,
"Ah now then... yes, the father thanked the musician again and returned home a little troubled. Still mademoiselle continued her classes through the summer and little by little as you may guess madame, they fell in love. Shyly at first, the love of glances and quick little smiles, but soon enough mademoiselle would pause and talk to the musician. He would sing a song for her and she would bring him something to eat on her way home. All this was reported to the father by the gentleman.
The father confronted his daughter," the young man shook his head.
"It's the same story madame, old as time itself. Every father has thought he could command his daughter to protect her from undesirable men. Yet every man will be undesirable for his precious daughter, but no father ever learns - in my experience at least. So this father commanded his daughter not to see the musician again. The result - the predictable result madame, was that firstly mademoiselle laid down her own rules concerning herself and her rights. The second was that mademoiselle was driven into the arms of the musician to 'teach papa a lesson'. It is your English Shakespeare who says, 'Lord, what fools these mortals be' I think. Neither mademoiselle nor papa could see their own folly only the folly of the other.
It is perhaps fortunate that the musician was a good man of whom there are not nearly enough. My mother always taught me to be worthy of a woman in order to be worthy of myself. An excellent maxim, but not all women are worthy any more than men. We are all foolish at one time or another in our well-meaning efforts to get along as best we can, I think," the young man said thoughtfully taking another bite of his sandwich.
"Monsieur is quite the philosopher," Eva remarked gently.
The young man chuckled at that.
"Madame, all students get philosophical sooner or later! Ah well forgive me, so much folly and I am sure I have my fair share of it too.
Well after some time the angry father locked the daughter up at home and put a large steel padlock on the door to the street so that she might not get out without his permission - which by the way he had no intention of giving. This was 'protecting his daughter' in his mind and 'being unreasonable and stupid' in his daughter's mind. in truth they were both as unreasoning as each other. The musician missed her passing by and knowing from her where she lived, he stood outside her house and played songs to her. The father was furious as you may imagine. At first he warned the musician off, then when that did not work he threatened the man. That did not work either. So the father came up with a terrible idea. He had two men visit the musician and take him back to his pitch on the bridge. There he was chained to the bridge and padlocked to it. The key was then thrown into the river. The students asked him what the padlock and chain was all about and when he told them they brought him food and clothing. They spread the word and wrote about the lovers. Eh bien madame, this is Paris, the city of lovers, naturally the father came out badly. The women of the city adored the musician and were furious with the father. The men of the city kept their peace and let their daughters have a little more freedom but watched them anxiously as I suppose every father does.
Then one morning a few lovers attached padlocks with their names written on them and ribbons attached to the fencing. They fed the musician and gave him coffee. They put up a drape around him and gave him warm water to bathe and new clothes. His friends helped him too. A week later the father came to him and told him that if he would forget his daughter the chain would be cut and he would be freed. He laughed and remarked that he had refused offers to cut the chain though he had received many such offers. He loved mademoiselle and nobody else. The father began to get cross, for he realised that he had already lost. His daughter was pining away, refusing food and drink until she might be with her love. He growled and cut the chains anyway telling the man to be off.
"You cannot chain love monsieur, your daughter is still her father's prisoner," the musician replied.
The father was about to make some angry comment when three more lovers came and attached padlocks to the fencing of the bridge. The father frowned and asked them what on earth they were doing.
"It is our sympathy for all those lovers who are separated by the hard-hearted. Their love is our love," the lovers told him.
The father then hung his head in shame for he realised his folly then. He returned home deep in thought, followed though he was not aware of it, by the musician. He entered the house and removed the padlock. Almost immediately after he shut the door behind him, the musician began to play his guitar and sing to his love. Behind her windows mademoiselle heard her young man and burst into tears. She called for food and ate a little. Then she took the rest and tiptoed out of the house, quietly noticed by her father who sat in his study with his head in his hands.
Once out of the house, mademoiselle shared her breakfast with her musician who, shocked at her condition took her to a cafe and fed her. He took her home with him to his apartment in Montmartre and cared for her. After a little while he wrote to her father and arranged a meeting with him. The result was that the lovers were wed for the father could see that this man loved his daughter as much as he did and a little more. Which is as it should be. The padlocks remain on the bridge as a symbol of lovers locked in love no matter who or what shall keep them apart."
"It sounds like a contemporary fairytale," Eva told the young serious man.
"More a tale of the sympathy the world has for lovers," the young man replied.
They finished their meal and went their separate ways, but Eva wrote down the tale in her journal and did not forget it. It was for her one of those beautiful moments that are as transient as a bottle flowing along a river passing quickly but memorable on its own terms.