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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Custard Dreams

I was up late last night combing the web for photographs of damage caused during last summer's war in Lebanon. 

As odd as it may sound, while I scrolled through the pictures of buckled streets, pock-marked highways and shattered buildings in both Israel and Lebanon, I didn't really register the human suffering amidst the rubble.  Instead I was struck by an odd realization... of just how thin the veneer of civilization is spread across the surface of the earth. 

I'm not speaking euphemistically about the paucity of civilized behavior or the patterns in which our civilization is dispersed... but rather the fallacy of how deeply man's physical /communal presence is embedded into his environment.

Think about this:  Why do we find images of palm trees on tropical beaches so soothing and reassuring?  Why do we take comfort from their reclining, improbable posture?  What is the allure of watching as their shallow roots are undercut by the surf... waiting for the inevitable moment when they will be tossed into the foaming breakers and become flotsam in a vast, trackless ocean? 

I suggest that it's because of their stark contrast to the solid, embedded civilization from which we day-dream about taking our tropical vacations.

We go to school and work each day secure in the knowledge that, unlike those transitory south sea palms, our towns and cities are sturdy, permanent things rooted deep in the earth like clean, well-cared-for teeth. 

But anyone who has ever taken a moment to look closely at the aftermath of earthquakes or wars, or even a construction site, knows a different truth... the truth of a paper-thin glaze of man's presence on the untamed earth.  A pretty garnish.  An afterthought's afterthought by the Master Chef.

The humbling realization that followed me down the slope into sleep last night was that nearly everything we cling to for comfort, status and identity in this world is little more than the brittle surface of a Crème Brûlée... waiting there on the crisp, clean linen for the spoon of fate or whim or avarice to shatter it... and us.

Is it any wonder I'm exhausted this morning?


Posted by David Bogner on July 12, 2007 | Permalink


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We go to school and work each day secure in the knowledge that, unlike those transitory south sea palms, our towns and cities are sturdy, permanent things rooted deep in the earth like clean, well-cared-for teeth.

My security of that world was shattered on August 29, 2005. It took Hurricane Katrina just 8 hours to destroy 150 - 200 years of the Mississippi Gulf Coast history.Katrina shattered our infrastructure to such an extent that utility companies are still making repairs almost 2 years later.

The 60,000 homes destroyed are being rebuilt but it will at least another 5-6 years before they are. Another 40,000 homes were so heavily damaged, they had to be torn down.

Businesses were destroyed. 238 precious lives were lost lost in Mississippi.

Pictures, videos, and news reports cannot convey the reality of the desolation.

The civilization we take for granted is fragile indeed.

Posted by: seawitch | Jul 12, 2007 2:41:57 PM

Great Post Trep! Its like the earth keeps itching and uses nature to scratch itself. :-)

Posted by: Rami | Jul 12, 2007 2:58:27 PM

It is this very thinness that allows societies to continue to participate in atrocities (and justify their participation) with such disregard for the forgotten past.

I hope that enough of us are "deeper" than that. But you're right... all the seeming permanence around us isn't so permanent that a bit of upheaval won't obliterate it. Food for thought.

Posted by: GradualDazzle | Jul 12, 2007 5:13:00 PM


Where were you in Mississippi? I was sent up there as part of the relief effort; we staged out of Gautier.

I'm from Florida and used to being hit by hurricanes, but what Katrina's storm surge did was beyond belief. A thin crust indeed.

Posted by: K Newman | Jul 12, 2007 6:07:38 PM

This brings to mind Psalm 103
"As for man, his days are like grass,he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone,and its place remembers it no more."

When I'm feeling more philosophical from time to time I have these same thoughts. Sometimes life seems so solid and sometimes it feels extremely delicate.

Posted by: Maya | Jul 12, 2007 6:19:29 PM

Three words: September 11, 2001.

Posted by: psachya | Jul 12, 2007 6:40:28 PM

Trep: on the recommendation of my daughter, I've started reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Of course, I can only comment on the first 30 pages, being a slow-to-the-point-of-retardation reader, but it's a description of a man and his boy getting along after the creme brulee crust has been shattered. Cery evocative, especially if, like me, you have a young child or two running around the house.

Posted by: wrymouth | Jul 12, 2007 7:14:01 PM

This is why I read your blog, David. Sometimes you write true Treppenwitz.

I read this post and recalled _Lord of the Flies_. I don't think I agree with the creme brulee metaphor; the custard under the crust is sweet but the violent disorder under the crust of civilization is bitter. But I get your meaning.

PS Will you write me directly, please? I have a technical question for you.

Posted by: antares | Jul 13, 2007 12:22:53 AM

k newman, first thank you so much for helping. I'm in Gulfport.

Posted by: seawitch | Jul 13, 2007 3:04:36 PM


My pleasure. That's what neighbors are for. :)

Posted by: K Newman | Jul 14, 2007 10:28:16 PM

seawitch... Absolutely.

Rami... Man does a fair amount of scratching too.

GradualDazzle... Nature is far more vicious than man could ever hope to be.

Maya... I still can't believe I let this one out into the world. I usually delete posts like this one. :-)

psachya... Well, technically one word and two numbers. :-)

wrymouth ... We'll have to form a book club called "slow to the point of retardation". Catchy.

antares... I hope my email helped.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 16, 2007 1:46:21 PM

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