Friday, February 01, 2008

Lock down the toilets, the shit’s escaping

In my “Floods, personal experiences of” file, there are now two entries. This one, & one sixty years ago, in Hokitika, the small town on the West Coast of the South Island in New Zealand where I was born.

My memories, naturally, are limited. The river streaming, swollen from the heavy rain that was endemic in those parts coupled with the Spring melt of snow from the Southern Alps that defined one horizon. Up over the wharves, mixing with the rainwater that had pooled from the downpour.

But rivers in NZ are structured by their flooding & tend to be able to contain it. On the other side of the Island, on the Canterbury Plains, a train trip took you across viaducts that spanned what seemed like a kilometers-wide stretch of gravel, in the middle of which was a small stream, a few meters across. Come the thaw, however, & those streams would turn into rivers, running bank to bank, entirely filling the space.

Between then & now, I have only experienced floods vicariously, via whatever forms of media were dominant at the time—print & radio, add, first, film & then television to that, delete radio, delete film, put television in caps, add the internet, delete print.

The immediacy of television, the expanse of it, brings you close to flooding anywhere in the world. & because of the sound/sight bite aspect, the range is wide; New Orleans, Indonesia, China, Europe—any or all can be seen in a 30 minute news show. & though we now see less of more because there are cameras everywhere & everyone is a news reporter, I believe there are also more floods, more often, more severe, just as there are more forest fires & areas of drought. Pity this busy monster, man unkind, not.

This time round, television & the web have been supplemented by actuality, going down to the river bank & watching that gradual rise, driving around & seeing areas beginning to gather water, streets getting closed off, heading down the back driveway to go up to the shops to find the lagoon is lapping at the bottom of the street a hundred meters away.

& the actuality adds another dimension to floods that I hadn’t been really aware of, & until they invent smellevision—now that’s a contradiction; let’s instead call it television with olifactory settings—it’s an aspect that will continue to be under-appreciated. The stench is horrific; think rotting vegetation, agricultural chemical runoff, disturbed mud, dead animals, the litter of a hundred fast food outlets & then add megaliters of raw sewerage from a broken pipe at the local treatment plant. All flowing into areas with no natural outlets, just spreading across the countryside, pooling there, fermenting in the sun.

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