Burning Bridges in Venice, Literally & Figuratively

Ah, where do I begin with the long, troubled saga of the new bridge over the Grand Canal?

Well, for centuries, there had only been ONE bridge over the Grand Canal, and that was the famed Rialto Bridge. Anybody who wanted to cross the 2+ mile long Canal Grande either had to schlep there or be ferried across by a gondola traghetto. Then, in the 19th and 20th centuries, two other bridges were added, which - if truth be told - made life A LOT easier for the Venetians. The same cannot be said of the new FOURTH bridge over the Grand Canal.

About 10 years ago, the city government first announced the building of a bridge that would link the bus station on the south side of the canal with the train station on the north. I remember when I first saw the project drawings by world-famous architect Santiago Calatrava... As you can see above, it was beautiful, without a doubt... poetry in glass, marble and brass, with some steps twice the width of the others so that folks could stand and admire the view. I could see why the mayor, who's also a professor at Venice's architectural university, wanted it.

But it also struck me as imminently impractical. Venice's bridges can already be slippery in the humid lagoon climate... This, I thought, is going to be like an ice rink.

And guess what? Now, over 10 years later, innumerable delays and astronomical building costs (more than ELEVEN MILLION EUROS, nearly fifteen million US dollars, and more than five million euros over budget) that's exactly what's happening.

The bridge officially opened without any fanfare on the eleventh of September of this year (since the inaugural celebrations were canceled in fear of a huge public protest). Almost immediately thereafter, several people would be injured when they lost their footing. It's gotten to the point that the Veniceword newsletter reports that folks all over the world have begun tuning into the bridge's new webcam to see if they can catch any of these Benny-Hillesque moments in real time. (What do you know... The camera seems to be down at the moment!)

The Venetian city government will not, however, intervene to make the bridge safer. You gotta love the official response: Public works councillor Mara Rumiz said falls on Venice bridges ''are natural'' and that it would be ''less complicated and less costly'' to put signs up alerting tourists to the problem rather than ''substituting parts of the bridge''.

And now, just to add insult to injury... or injury to injury, as the case may be, there may be now nothing to hang onto for safety as one crosses the bridge! It turns out that the gleaming brass handrail is becoming too hot to touch in Venice's recent spate of warm autumn weather. "I noticed that the upper handrail becomes burning hot. I'm afraid next summer it will be a problem," the Venetian Order of Engineers president, Vito Saccarola, was quoted as saying by news agency Adnkronos, and went on to describe the structure as "beautiful, but not indispensable."

And there you have it. Called for years the ponte di Calatrava and now christened the Constitution Bridge, the fourth bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice has become a symbol to all Venetians of not only the ultimate albatross, but also of the complete disconnect and disregard of the government about the human realities of the city.

It's the seeming victory of form over function, not to mention of tourist attractions over quality of life...

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