A couple of weeks ago, I was walking across the Triana bridge in Seville with my friend Shawn Hennessey, of Sevilla Tapas fame. We stopped to look at a cluster of padlocks attached to the wrought-iron railings, which I had never seen before, but had read about a few months ago on Inside the Travel Lab, Abigail King’s blog. The locks all had two names or initials written on them in felt pen, and a date.
Abigail explained in her post that the lock thing had appeared in the last couple of years, started by some Italian students who were spreading a craze that started in Rome on the Milvio bridge, based on the story of the romantic comedy Ho voglia de Te (I Want You), which came out in 2007. The main characters swear eternal love by fastening a lock onto the Milvio bridge and throwing the key into the Tiber. The film was adapted by Federico Moccia from his novel of the same name which, along with his other books, has been a huge bestseller in Spain as well as Italy – and not just among teenage girls either. As far as I can tell (well, by having a quick look at Amazon), they’re not out in English yet, but it can only be a matter of time.
Yesterday in El Pais there was an interview with Federico Moccia, in which he threw a bit more light on the whole thing. “I was looking for a Roman legend about love, but there wasn’t one so I made one up: I just put together the idea of the steel lock with chucking the key into the river, something final,” he said.
The tradition has caught on all over Europe, with apparently 9,232 ‘love locks’ attached to bridges just in Spain, according to a map on Moccia’s Spanish website
And not just on bridges – one of the latest locations is the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, where the padlocks are attached to the railings arond the statue of Felipe III. It’s a bit of a hike from there down to the Manzanares river to chuck the keys away though. And I can’t help wondering whether the locks were even put there by bona fide lovers – the Madrid tourist office is just a few metres away and it is a pretty good way of attracting attention.
Moccia goes onto to explain in the interview that he wrote his first novel, Three Metres Above Heaven, in 1991 (he’s 47 now) but couldn’t get a publisher. In the end, he paid a small publisher €1,500 to print 1,500 copies, which a friend who ran a bookshop agreed to put on display. The books sold out in no time, but when he went back to the publisher to get some more printed, he found they had gone bust.
But Moccia had found a fan base among teenage girls, and they were not to be dissuaded so easily. They started photocopying the book and passing it around, creating a word-of-mouth hit. “One day I came home and there was a message on my machine from the producer Riccardo Tozzi, who wanted to turn the story into a film.”
When the film came out in 2004, the book was reissued, and since then there have been 40 more editions. He has since written two other novels as well as I Want You. Moccia himself is now directing the film adaptations, which are being made in Spanish as well as Italian.
His detractors criticise the books for being all about fashion and cod philosophy, but Moccia, not surprisingly, is laughing all the way the bank and is still a firm believer in love, romance and following your dreams.