Spare Me the Bridge to Sicily

January 3, 2010

In early 2008 I met an American engineer at a moving sale he and his wife were hosting at their posh apartment in Rome. He’d been twiddling his thumbs for two years in Italy, waiting around to start work on the suspension bridge to Sicily. Prodi was in, Berlusconi was out, and Berlusconi’s plans for the bridge had been scrapped. I bought some throw pillows from the engineer and wished him well. I was glad to see him give up and go home.

Well, Berlusconi is in again—with what seems like a vice grip on Italy—and the bridge project is very much back. In fact, there was some shoving around of dirt at the construction site near Reggio Calabria on December 23, sort of a faux inauguration, and I’m sad. They’ll ravage the fragile Straits of Messina—home to the mythic Scylla and Charybdis—with tons of concrete and sludge, pillars tall as the Empire State Building, and the greed of developers and mafia bosses.

Sicily should retain her mystique as an island, remain physically and culturally discrete. OK, it’s true that I’m a reactionary here. I want to give the local populace a good shake and say, Stop, amici! Dust off your accordions. Don your native costumes. Bring back the public baths. Make Sicilian the official language. Return to the puppet theater of your vanished world.

But most of my Sicilian friends agree with me about the bridge. Yes, we know it’s a royal pain to wait in those lines for the ferry. Yes, Messina’s a mess to drive through. But doesn’t Italy have more worthy projects? Like finishing the A3 highway between Reggio and Naples? Saving L’Acquila? Improving rail service in Sicily and the rest of southern Italy? Solving the perennial water crisis of inland Sicily? Preserving Sicily’s endangered antiquities? Preventing landslides in Messina?

Is this bridge a monument to ego? Something like the Foro Mussolini or the Vittoriano (“chopped,” as Peter Davy wrote, “with terrible brutality into the…hill”)?

Ach! Spare Sicily, per carità, from mass tourism, environmental brutality, and what D.H. Lawrence called “hateful homogeneous world-oneness.”

Stop sign in Siracusa, Sicily

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you. Buon anno a tutti.

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7 comments to Spare Me the Bridge to Sicily

  • Emalene

    Oh I so agree a bridge is merely a project for profits, there are so many bettter projects for Sicily. Hopefully with Silvio’s problems he will forget about his bridge.

  • Every time people start to discuss this bridge, it makes me think of a recent bridge of contention in Alaska which was planned to connect to a relatively unimportant island. They nick-named it “The Bridge to Nowhere”. Though I don’t believe Sicily qualifies as a “Nowhere”, I have a suspicion that this bridge is about as welcome as the Alaskan one.

  • joanne

    The bridge controversy is a very hot potato. I was in Calabria when they had the protest “NON PONTE”. Our apartment had a birdeys view of the protest, the land, sea, and air patrols. Riot squads in full gear, but at the finality, only one dead person (one of the speakers had a heart attack on the stage and they were unable to save him).. a very peaceful demonstration in all. The people though were very adamant and passionate in their belief of NO BRIDGE. We had numerous discussions with Calabrians regarding the bridge, and the majority of them were in favour of the construction. They believe that it will bring work to this impoverished area of high unemployement, and that when construction is finished, the tourism will substancially increase because of the wow factor of the highest bridge in the world.
    I, on the other hand, beg to differ. If they do employ locals for construction, it will be a bandaid effect. The monstrosity that will be this bridge will be subject to gale force winds and the “scirocco” from Africa all winter long, making it extremely hazardous, as well as at risk for numerous closures all season long. As for tourism… hmmmm, how will tourists remain around long enough to spend money if the infrastructure in the ways of highways, roadways, hotels etc are not in place? The freeway from Gioa Tauro to Reggio has to be one of the worst I have ever seen. The roadways for the tourist to travel on are patchworks of pothills, broken torn up repatched ashphalt, and roughly spread gravel.
    I fell that Mr. Berlusconi resurected this folly so that he can go down in history as the “Great Berlo” who built the bridge. Maybe he is jealous of Caesar?
    All in all it remains to be seen as to whether this plan will come to fruition.
    My vote is firmly against the “Ponte”.

    • Jann

      Joanne, thank you so much for your first-hand account of what’s going on in Calabria re the bridge. Your front seat to the NON PONTE protest must have been quite something! And I agree with you about the Rome-Reggio freeway being a mess in spots. Why haven’t they been able to finish that in the past 10 years? I’m crossing my fingers that the Great Berlo will soon vanish from view, along with his plans…

  • Oh my, you are making this idea deliciously tempting. I promise I will come, and I won’t need a bridge to get there! I have never had the watermelon pudding with cinnamon and rosewater. What is that like? Sounds like a divine summer sweet.

  • I love your sense of humor, Jann, and I can visualize your good hearted frustration, as you try to get through to the Sicilians. “Dust off your accordions. Don your native costumes. Bring back the public baths. Make Sicilian the official language. Return to the puppet theater of your vanished world.” Brilliant. Love your writing and your insights. Now if only we could keep the simplicity and charm that makes us love Italy as we do. I say down with the bridge and let’s get some traditional sweets and go see a puppet show!

    • Jann

      Great idea, Diane! Come on down to Sicily and we’ll devour some warm ricotta tarts, chocolate cannoli, and watermelon pudding infused with cinnamon and rosewater before starting the puppet search.

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