Postcard from Laura: Bridges do more than cross rivers

| February 23, 2013 | 0 Comments

Every country has a bridge. Parts of a wooden 1st century bridge survives in Italy. It was most prominently used during the 13th century for the religious pilgrimages from Canterbury, England, to Sicily, and those travelers on the trade route who continued by sea to Africa, Greece, Malta, Spain and beyond.

Last year, an estimated 12 million visitors to Florence, Italy, crossed over this piece of history known as the Ponte Vecchio, which simply means the “old bridge.”

A 15th century bridge is the subject of the delightful song and dance “Sur le pont d’Avignon”; this tune is part of every French school child’s playtime rhyme. It recounts a tradition when music was played in cafés under the bridge, as is still the case in Prague, Czech Republic.

In other parts of the world, mind-boggling structures costing billions are made of new-age materials; seven out of the world’s list of longest suspension bridges are in Japan, China and Republic of Korea.

When in New York many years ago, I saw the longest in North America named after the Italian explorer Verrazano; but I would never have the guts to drive over it in rush-hour traffic. The bridge, placed vertical, is also said to be the invention of the modern-day skyscraper which dot modern-day skylines from Germany to Morocco.

In the list of the top 10 tallest buildings in the world, Chicago holds on to slot number nine with the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) completed in 1973. Chicago also has the greatest number of moveable or swivel bridges in the world and claims the title of international innovator in the engineering of bridges.

I have walked over many of them and never given their safety a second thought. During the building in the late 19th century of the Eads Bridge in St. Louis, which was the first to use pneumatic caissons, there were a series of safety issues which almost stopped construction. The caissons were sunk so deep that they caused 15 workers to die from caissons disease, otherwise known as “the bends.” Citizens also feared its stability and so the bridge underwent what has come to be called the “elephant test.”

It was believed that an elephant would not set foot on an unsafe structure. Four years ago when I was in India, a very distinguished older woman told me that it was a high compliment if one said, “you are as graceful as an elephant.” I thought of this statement today, as I was told about the circus elephant that, in 1874, walked across the Eads Bridge heading toward Illinois.

Soon afterward, trains started running back and forth across the bridge which linked St. Louis, Missouri, with St. Louis, Illinois. It was the start of the St. Louis-Springfield-Bloomington-Chicago train service still in use today. That bridge physically and symbolically represents a link between two neighboring states.

Another type of bridging has been taking place since 1956. President Eisenhower believed in a program that would create bonds between people from different cities around the world. Sister City is this international nonprofit program that creates and strengthens partnerships between U.S. and international communities by bridging differences among people.

Another example would be when the European Union decided on the design of the Euro bank notes. There was a definite iconographic intent and implied “bridging over something” or a meeting of physical parts and minds. The Euro is used daily by approximately 335 million Europeans in 27 different countries; for example, it is used in Naperville, Illinois’ Sister City Nitra, Slovakia.

This past year, it was estimated that more than 915 billion Euro notes were in circulation; the Euro also has the highest value in the world. By using doors or gateways and windows on the front of the Euro bank notes and bridges on the back of these notes, there is a clear statement. Through trade and commerce we are “bridging the gap” and developing links between countries and the future.

Laura C. Johnson:

Sister Cities annual conference
April 19-20, Rockford will host the 2013 Illinois Sister Cities Association Annual Conference. The Friday evening banquet at the Coronado Performing Arts Center will feature a customized menu serving cuisines from Illinois’ nine sister city countries and live music. To register, visit and click on “Sister Cities Annual Conference.” For more information, call Jay Mathur at 815-978-2583.

Culled from :Here

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