Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com.
Nothing stays forever. Impermanence is one of life’s hard truths. Human beings don’t mind some kinds of change, but we like to be the deciders of which things stay and which go. When we find something we like, we do everything in our power to hold on to it. If an investment pays a high rate of interest, we lock it in. If our homes contain valuable stuff, we lock it in and install an alarm. And when we fall in love, we try to lock it in with sacred vows and a legally binding license from the state.
Since the early 2000s, couples around the world have adopted the padlock as a symbol of their eternal love. They etch their names on the locks, attach them to the grillwork of gates or bridges, and throw away the keys. Paris, that most romantic of cities, draws thousands of lovers each year and not a few of them have fastened their lovelocks to the city’s bridges and tossed the keys into the Seine. Since the river is also a popular site for suicides and the disposal of murder victims, firemen in wetsuits routinely scour the river to retrieve the bodies and, while they’re about it, they dredge up loads of rusting keys that pollute the water. There’s no way to know how many relationships represented by those discarded keys remain unbroken. But under the Pont Neuf, adjacent to the divorce courts, the divers tend to find more discarded wedding bands than keys.
Although many Parisians have regarded the profusion of padlocks as an eyesore, city officials left them alone until last June when the beautiful Pont des Art buckled under forty-five tons of ironclad love. Citing damage to the city’s cultural heritage and a hazard to boaters below, they ordered the locks removed. A team of unsentimental workers arrived the next day with bolt-cutters and put an end to the weighty display. Glass panels will replace the grillwork on the bridge, but the French of all people cannot be seen to inhibit the expression of love. Romantics are encouraged henceforth to convey their love by posting togetherness selfies to lovewithoutlocks.paris.fr. It’s a good solution. With all we’ve learned recently about embarrassing online posts that never die, a promise in cyberspace may prove more enduring than the lovelocks.
I’ve just returned from Paris and visited the Cluny Museum where for many years they exhibited a collection of chastity belts, the non-symbolic way of locking in the love. Or more accurately, locking love out. I always thought chastity belts were a medieval contrivance dreamed up by jealous knights heading off to the Crusades, a fiendishly cruel way to assure that their wives didn’t get up to any hanky-panky while they were away at war. It seemed a dreadfully uncomfortable, unsanitary, and impractical burden for a woman. I worried what would happen to her if the keeper of the key didn’t return? Would she have to take a hacksaw to her nether parts? Did she go to her grave corseted in leather and iron? But it turns out the device didn’t exist until a hundred years after the Crusades. Tests recently revealed that the metal on a supposed 15th Century chastity belt dated from the 19th Century and the Cluny has withdrawn its exhibit.
Chastity belts were mentioned in writings of the 16th Century, but they remained rare until the 19th Century. The structure improved, softer materials were found, and a number of inventors applied for patents. In England, women entering a male-dominated workplace chose to wear the new, less cumbersome belts as a protection against rape. In the U.S., where the chief concern was self-abuse, some “at-risk women” had to be protected from themselves until about 1930.
Today, there’s a brisk market in chastity belts, including models designed for the male anatomy. The bondage and S and M communities really like them. Airport TSA agents really don’t. A chastity belt can’t be removed and placed in a plastic tray to go through the metal detector and when it sets off the alarm, well. It creates a delicate situation all around. Notwithstanding such small inconveniences, there’s nothing like a lock and key to boost one’s sense of security. When marital vows and religious sanctions can’t guarantee fidelity, a sturdy lock will do the job.
A number of specialty firms continue to guarantee innocence in hand-wrought iron and steel. If you’re one of those people matched with a weak-willed partner, you can go to Amazon (hey, where else?) and buy “Dr. Polasky’s chastity protector” for just $59.99, free shipping and giftwrap available. When I last checked, there were only four left in stock.
I don’t like to say that love isn’t eternal, but the unbreakable lock is definitely a myth. Amazon also sells the Knipex high leverage mini-bolt cutter with cutting notch and comfort grip.