I hate graffiti. It intimidates me. In underpasses, on abandoned factories and houses, in railway yards, in impossible spots. Graffiti artists mark out their territory in places a woman alone perhaps shouldn't be. Perhaps will regret being. Perhaps goes there anyway.
This place is other. This is not-you. This is us. We are brutal, virile, dangerous. We oppose you. This is our war-paint. Enter at your own risk.
In London, that is.
In Cannobio, jewel of Lago Maggiore, the graffiti on the underpass walls tell a different story.
A love story. A love story all hearts and flowers, and ti amo 4 ever. A love story full of adolescent insecurity, longing and bravado. Strangely, while the anglophone world looks to Italian as the language of passion, these youngsters pepper their pantings with English.
Five minutes away in Switzerland, however, the authorities are one step ahead of the graffiti artists. Here, the public loos in Ascona's lakeside playground are pre-graffitified, not with the stutterings of juveniles but with whimsical poetry in French and Italian. Still, even the Municipio has a heart: the theme, as ever, is l'amour.
Back in Cannobio, another kind of amorous declaration has appeared. The practice of sealing a relationship with a padlock and throwing the key into a river, down a sheer mountainside or into some other unreachable location, has reached us all the way from China, where it was originally used to seal a bargain made with the ineffable. Step out onto Cannobio's Ponte Ballerino, the footbridge that crosses the Cannobino river and connects Cannobio with Traffiume, and one is greeted by lock after lock, many etched with the stock phrases of eternal love in Italian, German and English. All winking in the sunshine. All, we have to assume, unassailable.
Happy San Valentino, however you choose to express yourself...
And if you're the architect responsible for the Ponte Ballerino, perhaps you might like to rework your sums for the extra weight...how much love can one bridge take?