The Fourth of July may be the most American of holidays, but this year it provides an opportunity to do something very Italian: fare il ponte (make the bridge). This is no architectural construction but an extension of a national holiday that occurs during the week through the next weekend. Since July 4 falls on a Thursday, many of us are stretching il ponte over Friday for a four-day weekend.
The descendants of Rome's famed acqueduct builders are masters of such creations. Depending on the calendar, Italians may enjoy a ponte di Capodanno (New Year's 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.”
Italian and English also share a common bridge-based expression. We look back and say, “Ne è passata di acqua sotto i ponti!" or "A lot of water has gone under the bridges." Less literally, the past is past, and many things have changed.
Words and Expressions
ponticello — small bridge
ponte levatoio — drawbridge
ponte sospeso — suspension 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 and end up without a home)
Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language. Click here for more information on her "writer's studio" in Capri this fall.