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January 18, 2012

Flying Too Close to the Sun

Remo Casilli/Reuters

Larger than the Titanic by nearly seventy feet, the Costa Concordia houses 4,300 passengers and 1,100 crew members—that’s one crew member for every four passengers; seventeen decks; 1,500 cabins — one third of which have private balconies; the world’s largest fitness center at sea (65,000 square feet); five restaurants (two of which require reservations); thirteen bars (in addition to cigar and cognac bars); a three level theater; a casino; a discotheque; a Grand Prix race simulator; an internet café, and much, much more. And while we would probably not consider it a technological marvel in the late modern world, as we would have considered the Titanic or the Hindenburg in an earlier era, it is nevertheless something of a marvel, its sheer magnitude making it larger than life.

Of course, the photograph above doesn’t quite do it justice. Foundered on a rock off of the coast of Tuscany near the island of Giglio that left a 160 foot gash in its hull and listing to the starboard side, the photograph above contrasts the failure of an overextended and idealized technological mastery of nature (for fun and profit!) with the sustainable houses and buildings that occupy the coastline.  A storm could come along that wipes out the village, no doubt, but it wasn’t an unpredictable weather event that led to the disaster here.  It was the failure to respect modernity’s gamble.  And while those who built the village appear to have respected the natural crag of the outcropping, preserving it as a defense against the sea and the wind,  those sailing the Concordia did not.  As Don Quixote’s sidekick Pancho reminds him, “whether the stone hits the bottle or the bottle hits the stone … its always bad for the bottle.” And so here, the ship once visually magnificent, humbled; indeed, in its own way it appears to have settled into a fetal position of total resignation.  It is perhaps a subtle irony that the ship’s name—referring to the state or condition of agreement or harmony—is betrayed by the scene depicted in the photograph in which harmony rests with the village and not with the trappings of an unbounded hubris.

— John Lucaites

(adapted from No Caption Needed)

(Photo: Remo Casilli/Reuters)

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