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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Decline

The local TV station showed a bunch of interviews with the producers, director, and major actors on Detective Montalbano series. Something the producer said about the series location caught my attention. He said he went all around Sicily looking for a place that could stand in for the fictional Vigata. When he got to Ragusa he knew he had found it. The place was nearly deserted. Hardly anyone lived there. No hotels, no restaurants, no ice cream parlors. Nothing. It was a forgotten place with beautiful churches and streets and houses that had been abandoned. "It was like a faraway place," the producer recalled. Now, of course, Ragusa has become a hot tourist destination thanks to the popularity of the Montalbano series.

The mental image of a deserted town with crumbling past glory fascinates me. I am living in an era of human history that saw unprecedented population growth nearly everywhere in the world. I can only experience the fall of civilization and the gradual emptying of cities through books and movies and ... wait, there are hardly any movies or books depicting the decline of civilization, because movies have also been existing in the era of unprecedented population growth.

I have heard of only one nonfiction book that explicitly describes the details of decline over time: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. George R R Martin likes the theme of declining worlds too, but I haven't read those novels. Perhaps the subject is too depressing for most people to write about.

In reality various civilizations have undergone this "emptying" process in history, from Alexandria of Egypt to Maya cities to the Silk Road. Books usually describe the excavation of ruins but not while the civilizations are transformed into ruins. People are still hanging around but the numbers dwindle and houses stand empty and crumbling slowly. I wonder what it's like to live in the midst of the decline.

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