I cross the bridge over reka Moyka near the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. It is mid-evening in St. Petersburg, and the sun shines horizontally through the city. There are couples leaning against the railings, mothers pushing strollers, and nearby an older woman speaks into a bullhorn trying to lure passengers onto a nearby sightseeing boat. Moving with the crowds across the wooden planks of the bridge, I notice padlocks, in all shapes, sizes and colors, fastened to the metal bars of the bridge. I look closer and notice names, handwritten in permanent marker, scratched across each lock. There are hundreds, each one locked tight onto the metal railings of the bridge.
I’ve been told that seeing a bride in Russia is good luck. This is a fairly superstitious culture; but considering the number of brides I’ve seen since arriving here, I should start playing the lottery. It might be the season for marriage (we are in the height of the white nights), or it might be that I’ve been frequenting iconic locations in this city, but it has been strange seeing so many unions.
Last Saturday, I was in Novgorod, an old medieval town three hours by bus south of St. Petersburg. As I crossed the bridge from the new side of town to the old Kremlin, I saw a bride and groom in the act of locking one of these padlocks to the side of the bridge. A crowd encircled the two and cheered as they took the key, and together, threw it over the side of the bridge into the river below.
In Russia, the word замок not only translates to lock, but also castle. I’ve been told that the lock is a new tradition, taken from Italy (although some claim it originated in China), that ensures a healthy and long marriage. A Russian friend of mine explains it is more for the bride, but doesn’t offer any more explanation at that.
I’m curious, is thinking of love as a padlock affixed to a bridge, the key sunk to the bottom of the river, a healthy analogy? Is this what love is?