by Kevin Allman
Recently The New York Times blog The Opinionator published an essay by Seattle writer Timothy Egan titled "Earthquake Roulette." The gist of it was the dichotomy between being in love with your home and knowing that the natural odds are against it:
The real triumph of hope over experience is not a second marriage, as the saying goes, but the fact that millions of us continue to live atop some of the most fragile ground on the planet, knowing full well it could crack, shatter, splinter and heave at any moment.
I try not to dwell on The Big One, like many denizens of the Ring of Fire, that 25,000-mile-long horseshoe of insecurity from South America to Japan, where Pacific plates collide with coastal crust. It is native ground for about 90 percent of the worlds earthquakes.
It was a nice essay, concluding with a story about the Italian city of L'Aquila, which has been destroyed by quakes six times since the 1300s. Egan draws a parallel with Seattle -- one of America's cities that geologists agree is overdue for a large earthquake -- and concludes:
My city is barely 150 years old, a mere child to L'Aquilas advanced age. At some point, people there learned to make peace with ground that can kill you. Such is the contract for living in a lovely place, still taking shape, still forming.
None of the commenters seemed to think this strange, but I couldn't help wondering what the reaction would've been had a New Orleanian wrote a similar paragraph:
At some point, people here learned to make peace with weather that can kill you. Such is the contract for living in a lovely place, still taking shape, still forming.
Actually, I do know what the reaction would be -- because I've heard it. We all have. You're idiots for living below sea level. (Never mind that we don't, mostly.) Culture is all well and good, but grow up and accept that you'll have to move somewhere else. (And what of the port?) Fine, but don't expect MY tax dollars to bail out your ass when it happens. (Do we not pay taxes?) And, the worst: What kind of morons don't know to get out of the way of a freakin' hurricane?
The same kind of morons who live on a fault line, I guess.
For the record: I don't think Egan is an idiot, or that Seattleites are morons for living in their own beautiful city. I just wonder why we're considered that way when we do the same things, for the same reasons.
And I wonder what the reaction would've been in The New York Times had a New Orleanian wrote a similar essay called "Hurricane Roulette."
Or maybe I don't.