One topic guaranteed to split Jerusalem dinner parties into rabid warring factions is the brand new light railway bridge that the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava has erected at great expense- at $73m, triple the original estimate. Add to that the pricey opening ceremony last night, which blew half the city's cultural affairs budget for the whole year on dazzling skyrockets, aerial acrobats and pop singers. Since the railway is at least a couple of years behind schedule, and its construction creates maddening chaos for drivers, kvetching is inevitable.
Love it or hate it, there's no middle ground on this bridge. The response of Jean Max, a grandmother who's lived three decades in Jerusalem, is typical:"It might even be great architecture. But not for this city. It's too modern and it clashes. Ugly, ugly, ugly." At the opening ceremony, opponents booed the mayor and called it "cursed." They labelled it a "clothes line", rather than use the lofty official name Bridge of Chords (more like discord). Most Jerusalemites call it the Bridge of Strings, because of its suspension with 66 steel cables from a tilted mast over 100 meters high. From certain angles , it resembles a goliath David's Harp. Or a Bedouin's tent. From afar, it's striking, even though it pokes out from a clutter of grubby apartment complexes and hotels. (Every time Izzy Bee catches a glimpse of the spectacular structure, it makes me gasp. A modern and useful landmark in a modern part of West Jerusalem is to be praised. So what if it's not imitating the buildings from King Herod's day?)
Haaretz newspaper griped on its front page how the opening ceremony for the bridge brought the city to gridlock for ten hours, when the whole idea was initially to ease traffic. Commentators complained that there are 40 Calatrava bridges scattered around the globe, and they all share a "processed and globalized aesthetic" which makes them comparable to "the McDonalds of bridges: easy to digest but whose nutritional value is suspect." What's more, it's super-sized!
When it emerged that a Palestinian subcontractor for the project employed workers during the Jewish Sabbath, when observant Jews do not work, many ultra-Orthodox demanded the opening ceremony be cancelled.
“The municipality was stunned to discover this week that a subcontractor from East Jerusalem … carried out surfacing work at the bridge’s plaza before the end of Shabbat (Sabbath)” the city said in a statement.
The subcontractor was fired.
For admirers, this bridge evokes harps and psalms and the Midrashic legend
that David went everywhere with his harp in hand, and would hang his harp above his bed when he slept. At midnight as the wind would blow from the north, the harp would begin to play by itself. He would awaken and begin anew to praise G-d..
Arabs living in East Jerusalem have little time to fuss over the aesthetics of the new white suspension bridge at the city's opposite gateway. Most of them get greeted at gunpoint by soldiers at checkpoints along the less-than-lovely separation barrier, after all.