“A bridge going from nowhere to nowhere” was one caustic comment I heard from a Derryman over the weekend. He was referring to the Peace Bridge that was opened by Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny in attendance. In contrast to that, I heard some other Derry people say it was a wonderful construction and that its opening was a truly joyful occasion. Martin McGuinness buys into that view of it. He called it “magnificent” and “iconic”, and admired its curvature.
Nice word, curvature. When I lived in Winnipeg, some of the WASP citizens used to tell me you’d know when an Italian family moved in, because inside two weeks maximum, they'd have taken out the straight-line path to the front door and replaced it by one with, well, curvature. It was clear the WASPs had a low opinion of curvature. Maybe of Italians too.
The fact is, this is a footbridge, so it’s not going to do much for the commerce of Derry. It’s untrue to say it goes from nowhere to nowhere – it goes from the largely unionist Waterside to the largely nationalist City side. It’ll be used, not by trucks and vehicles quickening the commercial heart-beat of the city but by pedestrians, probably out for a recreational walk or jog or maybe a spin on the bicycle. The Deputy First Minister is right to call it “iconic”, if by using that over-exercised word he means admired and symbolic.
It’s admired because it is in itself a beautiful object (WASP alert: all those curves) and it’s symbolic because it offers material evidence that Derry wants to link the two sides of its city, excluding no one (bigot alert: your day is done).
John Hume’s da used to tell him “You can’t eat a flag, son” and he was right. On the other hand, you can’t eat a bridge either. Both, properly used, can nourish the soul.