Friday, June 25, 1999

A true fountain of inspiration

I recently learned of the demolition of the famous Hotel Fuenti, located on the beautiful coast of Amalfi in Italy. This structure had become a symbol of what seems to be known as environmental "abusivismo” in Italy. At least this is what comes out of the automatic translator I use when navigating Italian web sites. I am sure that this case is fascinating to those who are interested in administrative law or in the study of Italian society. To begin with, this case has been around for the last thirty years.

The demolition of 34,000 square meters of reinforced concrete structure is no small matter anywhere. Exactly how these measures are approved and taken in order to effectively defend the environmental rights of a society or an individual without resulting in legal "abusivismo” is a challenge to one’s imagination.

I am sure that most of us, without going into much more detail, are absolutely sure that whatever the legal regulations the promoters of the Fuenti violated, there are thousands of worse violations that will never suffer this drastic fate.

On the other hand, most of us will probably not shed too many tears over what may be a total injustice that the Fuenti’s owners are being subjected to. One explanation of the above may be what one could call the Fuenti’s high Visual Contamination Index (VCI).

In order to understand the VCI, let us imagine that we can assign points to the ugliness of any structure, ten points for the ugliest to 1 point for the least ugly. Likewise, we could assign points for the relevance or beauty of its location, from one point for the most insignificant to ten points for the most beautiful and relevant. By multiplying both rankings, we can obtain the VCI. In the Fuenti case, if we assign an eight for ugliness and multiply this by an eight for the beauty and relevance of its location, we obtain a total score of 64. This apparently is enough to send the structure to the gallows.

Does this seem easy and fair? Not necessarily. Imagine trying to get two Italians to come to an agreement about the assignation of points for beauty and relevance!

I sincerely hope that the case of the Hotel Fuenti will serve as an inspiration so that we can begin to confront the serious problems of visual contamination that occur in Venezuela, specially on the Island of Margarita.

Playa El Angel, Playa Guacuco, Playa Anywhere. In all of these we can observe how half-finished structures, like a herd of dinosaur skeletons, provide eyesores to all those who care to pass by. Is it possible that these structures insolently consider that simply because they have suffered an accident, financial or otherwise during the initial construction period, they have the right to contaminate our island. Just as an airplane is required to take on sufficient fuel to get it to its next destination, any construction project should be required to have enough resources to get it to completion.

When you study some of the laws that govern this matter, for example the Urbanization Law, you can find plenty of articles that allow, for one reason or another, authorities to paralyze work on any construction project. Surprisingly, there is no mention whatsoever that refers to the obligation of a project’s promoters to actually finish what they started. Evidently, since the laws are drafted by politicians who are not exactly known for their ability to finish what they started, the word “surprisingly” is probably overdone.

Although I consider the road to the demolition of existing structures to be a dangerous one if based simply on visual contamination, I do believe it is possible to develop a good set of rules to handle half finished projects. Obviously, any law drafted to regulate this matter must guarantee affected parties the right to develop alternatives within a specified period of time (years, not decades!).

We must also analyze those projects that, due to simple lack of use or care are severely deteriorated. We are all aware that fashion once considered that holes in blue jeans were “chic”. Likewise, any amount of building materials has been used to create a rustic look to buildings, mostly with a lot of success. However, when we observe walls that are crumbling due to lack of care or, even worse, to bad construction practices, we do not need rocket science to see that something has gone seriously wrong and that we must find a cure.

With every day that goes by, all aspects of defense of our environment become more and more critical. For an island like Margarita that lives of tourism and that is faced with increasingly heavy competition from other locations, the avoidance of visual contamination is more than critical, it is vital.

Friday, June 11, 1999

Three bullets on punctuality

Time and human rights

I have no intention of putting the right to punctuality in the same category as the right to education, security, health care, food, and work. 

However, in a country such as ours (Venezuela) where we because of sheer lack of punctuality can easily lose up to three hours per week waiting for something or another, this, over our an average active life span of 55 years, adds up to around one year. 

As civil-rights organizations normally go ballistic whenever anyone is arrested without justification even for a couple of hours, I wonder how they let this pass.

There can be no doubt that the majority of our countrymen do, without any remorse whatsoever, blithely ignore the existence and purpose of the clock, and so it is evident that in terms of punctuality we need a total reform of our civil society. How do we achieve this? 

One alternative would be the creation of a “Punctual Venezuela,” parallel to the actual one. For example, if we start to use a little symbol that could be printed on all invitations to those activities that really require punctuality at the risk of being either excluded from the event or publicly chastised, we could possibly begin to create some semblance of civility. This symbol could be a watch, but I’d rather leave that up to the specialists in advertising.

The interesting part of this alternative is that it would allow us to impose, as of today, a heavy public and social sanction for those who lack punctuality without having to request that “notorious and incurable sinners” kick the habit cold-turkey. Also, maintaining the option of a not punctual Venezuela alive would allow us to continue to humor those foreign visitors who with a tropical flare that rivals our best take every chance they get to free themselves from the yoke of punctuality.

About parallels and meridians

We have recently witnessed public spectacles such as the fight the United States has sustained with Europe about bananas. Perhaps the effect of global warming has been much greater than we suspect as it seems to have moved the parallels normally identified with Banana Republics northward.

However the meridians might have gone haywire as well. I often take my daughters to parties that begin at midnight, which to me simply seems like a real and crude version, in cinéma vérité, of Saturday Night Fever. I cannot but suspect that their generation has simply decided to substitute the East Coast’s meridian for that of the West Coast. Some of the television channels seem also to suffer from the same syndrome. Somehow, I always seem to go to bed at night watching their afternoon comics while, if I am not careful, my daughters could wake up with their XXX-rated after midnight material.

My daughter’s cult

She is rarely late but she is absolutely never ever a minute early. She follows that Just-In-Time cult that drives us inhumanely nuts.

Extracted from "Voice and Noise" 2006. The first two bullets are based on an article published June 11, 1999 in The Daily Journal