Crossing Italian Bridges
“Pioggia sul ponte!” the headline declared.
“Rain on the bridge?” I mused. “Which bridge?”
The descendants of the builders of the ancient Roman aqueducts, I learned, are adept at constructing a different type of bridge — one that extends a national holiday that occurs during the week through the next weekend. If June 2, Italy’s equivalent of July 4, falls on a Thursday, for instance, il ponte stretches over Friday to create a four-day weekend.
Depending on the calendar, Italians may enjoy a ponte di Capodanno (New Years bridge), a ponte di Pasqua (Easter bridge), or a ponte dei morti (bridge of the dead) for the November 1 holiday of All Saints Day (Tutti I Santi). For Ferragosto, the quintessential Italian summer holiday, il ponte may stretch even farther to include the weekends before and after August 15.
Workers, often in the civil service, who are particularly adept at extending a holiday are called, with some admiration, pontisti (bridge makers). Others have a different talent: fare i ponti d’oro (literally making bridges of gold — making things as easy as possible). This strategy works especially well for getting someone you don’t like to leave. “A nemico che fugge, ponti d’oro,” Italians say. “To fleeing foe, bridges of gold!”
Italy is famous for other ponti, of course. The picturesque Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s oldest bridge, has housed goldsmiths’ and jewelers’ shops for centuries. The Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) in Venice connects the Doges’ palazzo with the dungeons. It owes its evocative name to the sorrowful sound of prisoners who caught their last glimpse of La Serenissima through its windows as they headed to their cells.
Every Spring Venice hosts a non-competitive run, open to everyone without age or nationality restrictions. The name of this traditional race is “Su e zo per i ponti,” which in the Venetian dialect means “up and down the bridges.”
A few years ago the Ponte Milvio, just north of Rome’s center, inspired a new romantic gesture. The young hero of Ho voglia di te (I want you), a best-selling novel made into a popular movie, convinced his girlfriend to reenact a fictitious legend: They wrapped a lucchetto (padlock) with a chain around one of the bridge’s lampposts and threw the key into the Tiber as a symbol of their undying love.
So many couples began fastening locks and chains on Ponte Milvio that the posts began to buckle under their weight. In 2007 city officials removed the lucchetti and set up designated steel pillars where lovers can now lock in their commitment without damaging the bridge itself. “Luchettomania” has spread to other bridges throughout Italy, but if you can’t get to an Italian bridge, you can create a digital lucchetto online at www.lucchettipontemilvio.com
Sayings and Expressions
ponticello — a small bridge
tagliare i ponti con qualcuno — to cut (burn) one’s bridges with someone
“finire a vivere sotto un ponte” — to end up living under a bridge (to become extremely poor, to end up living like a bum)
“Ne è passata di acqua sotto i ponti!” — A lot of water has gone under the bridges (That was a long time ago, and many things have changed since then.)
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