06 September 2005

Mr. Holt, Your Ride is Here

Phillip Kennicot, who either spends an unusual amount of his life in hotels, or has some false sense that they are supposed to be tougher than other buildings, has his world view shattered, not unlike the glass at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans.
For a while, on Monday, one of the more arresting images from New Orleans was the Hyatt Regency Hotel, its windows blasted out, curtains flapping in the wind, pink insulation exposed to the elements . . . For $150 a night, the large name-brand hotel offers the illusion of safety, the assurance that you are not set down among foreign people, strange customs, incomprehensible languages . . . And the windows? When we enter the hotel room, that wall of glass seems so inviting, as if we might sit in the lone chair by the lone table and stare out at the world, safely held at bay by impregnable transparent panels . . . There's been a convention in the theater world to think of the division between audience and spectacle as a fourth wall, a wall that the playwright tries to eliminate through the force of his drama. But as images poured forth of hungry, exhausted, terrified and soaked survivors, anyone with any sense was happy for any kind of barrier that kept this drama, this devastation at bay . . . With hotels like the Hyatt, we have extended this illusory zone of security around the world. Katrina did far worse damage, by orders of magnitude, than some shattered glass at the Hyatt. But it was the image of a hotel -- a refuge against the world -- that first suggested the degree to which Katrina would bring a foreign world, of chaos and frailty, into the comfort zone of American security.
All very eloquent, but full of crap nontheless. Problem here is viewing the devastation through the lens of the Post's culture critic. Yes, Phil, I get your metaphor around America and our tenuous need for security, but the whole 'hotels are supposed to be impenetrable' angle is a bit too precious for us here in flyover land.

Of course Phil's musings aren't nearly as revolting - in that classic Manhattan-centric snobbishness sorta way - as Jim Holt's effort:
The devastation that Hurricane Katrina wreaked upon New Orleans concentrated the minds of New Yorkers, who also weighed the possible consequences of such a storm hitting the five boroughs someday, including the evacuation of up to 2.4 million residents. A team of emergency planners was to be dispatched to the Gulf Coast to glean what preparatory lessons they could. Katrina's remoter effects were felt here in the form of a stifling blanket of humidity. Several competitors at the U.S. Open were overcome: One vomited on the court; another collapsed in the bleachers; yet another, a rather good-looking player from Spain, Feliciano Lopez, played in white Capri pants that were soon rendered all but transparent by his copious perspiration, affording fans an unexpected anatomical spectacle.
Katrina bad, Gulf Coast is toast, but what about New York? For a guy like Jim Holt, there probably is no greater torture than making him drive to a July 4th Missouri barbecue in a rickety F-150 with no air conditioning. Think about it.

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