Acts of God and Others

The collapse of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa on the motorway that links Italy to Monte Carlo and the French Riviera reminds me of one of the great American novels: The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

Here’s my attempt to modify the memorable first sentence of Thornton Wilder’s 1927 masterpiece about the role of God in our lives so as to make it fit the disaster which last month (August) befell the Italian port city where Christopher Columbus was born: “On Tuesday morning, August the fourteenth, 2018, the finest bridge built in the long-gone boom times one long half century ago broke and precipitated 43 travelers into the gulf below.”

I would add: “Perhaps it was significant that, according to a family of four who happened to be nearby, lightning struck the base of one of the pillars holding up the bridge moments before its collapse flung the vehicles of those doomed cascading into the void.”

In Wilder’s novel, set in the 18th century, five people are “flung” like “gesticulating ants” down into the void when “the finest bridge in all Peru,” linking Lima to Cuzco, collapses in 1714, and “By a series of coincidences so extraordinary that one must almost suspect some Intention” the catastrophe is witnessed by a Franciscan monk called Brother Juniper.

This “little red-haired Franciscan from northern Italy,”...

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