Sunday, September 04, 2005

fallible gods

To fall in love is to create a religion that has a fallible god.

-Jorge Luis Borges

I'm not sure whether it was actual grief or just all the sand, sweat, and sunscreen that had gotten into my eyes - I had never gotten this emotional over topsoil erosion before. But tears were streaming down my face as I jogged up South Beach yesterday morning. Where there had been a thick layer of perfectly manicured beach sand was now just a patchily exposed cement surface. Most of the sand had blown off into the ocean with Hurricane Katrina.

topsoil-less: Miami's denuded beach Posted by Picasa

It was hardly the storm's most disastrous effect, but it does seem like the most convenient metaphor for this last week of disaster and disappointment: all pretenses and artifice stripped bare, leaving only the sad, ugly truth. Miami Beach, like New Orleans and so many other places, exists more as a product of the human imagination than any natural geological processes - and our inspired tinkering with nature tends to leave us all the more vulnerable to nature's impacts. A pristine, sandy beach seems much lovelier than the scrubby, untamed wilderness that preceded it; just as New Orleans is much nicer behind those levees than in its native, swampy state. The farther we get from reality, though, the more susceptible we become to these harsh reminders.

It seems that this is what we humans do: we take something humble, homely and real and we strive to build something that is huge, fake and beautiful, not foreseeing the wasteland that will result when it crumbles. As in that Jorge Luis Borges quote about love, we build our hopes on foundations which are just as fallible as we are ourselves.

While New Orleans may take years to reassemble, I'm sure that Miami Beach will be lustrously beautifully again in time for the fall tourist season. Only a few of us foolish late-summer residents will remember the ugly landscape that a hurricane exposed.

I'm not always this depressed; please read a more cheerful post about South Beach. I'd also recommend Nicholas Lemann's "In the Ruins," an insightful essay on New Orleans.

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