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