I’ve been thinking a lot about bridges, lately.
There’s a new bridge east of Centraal Station, constructed as part of a general renewal of the area around my office. I was walking along it a few weeks ago and noticed a padlock hanging from one of the tensioned cables below the handrail. Biking cities like Amsterdam are usually full of abandoned locking infrastructure, so I thought no more about it. But further along, I came across another, then a third.
I stopped and looked more closely, and realized that each of them had initials scratched or engraved on it. I did a little research and stumbled upon a new custom that’s slowly spreading through Europe from the east: love padlocks. In Serbia, couples have been using locks on bridges as markers of their relationships since before World War 2. In Rome, the weight of padlocks left by readers of Federico Moccia’s 2006 novel Ho voglia di te bent the lampposts of the Ponte Milvio. (The city has now put up chain fences for the locks instead.) Officials in Dublin and Paris have been removing them from local bridges, to predictable outcry. In Amsterdam, by the looks of things, space is being made for the new tradition.
Watching the spread of this custom reminds me that the backs of the Euro banknotes all carry pictures of bridges. That’s ironic: we’re struggling, here, with how far we can build connections across economies and cultures. Will the weight of our common bonds bend and distort the things that connect us beyond repair? Will we find ways to accommodate our differences, or must we cut our locks? This isn’t just between nations; the Dutch election result this last autumn was a comprehensive rejection of divisive politics and a demand by the electorate that the two sides of the spectrum reach across the gap between them.
In the meantime, I read that the Pope now has a Twitter account, @pontifex. He has, at the time of writing, over 475,000 followers, but it is only following seven versions of himself in different languages. This strikes me as poignant and telling.
But bridges have been being built in Rome for a long time. A single arch of the oldest Roman stone bridge, the Pons Aemilius, still stands in the Tiber. The piers date back to 179* BC, and the current stone superstructure has lasted since 142 BC. Water has flowed under that old arch, under the feet of emperors, popes, soldiers, politicians, rebels, and lovers, for a very long time. I suspect the lovers have changed the least, and will last the longest.
Of course, the internet is a bridge too, in a way. And I’d like to take a moment to affix a virtual padlock to it today: AS + ML, five years on. (*throws key into the bitstream*)
* Why yes, you do see what I did there.
Continued from Open thread 178