Wednesday, December 15, 2004

0.0010799 Leagues Under the Sea

For philistine idiocy, it's hard to beat this idea:

The Hilton Maldives Resort & Spa is to open 'Ithaa', the world’s first aquarium-style undersea restaurant....Ithaa will sit six meters below the waves of the Indian Ocean, surrounded by a vibrant coral reef and encased in clear acrylic offering diners 180-degrees of panoramic underwater views.

Perhaps I'm too wedded to a traditionalist viewpoint, but I think the word "vibrant" is better suited to coral reefs that don't have restaurants built in the middle of them. But I digress. According to Carsten Schieck, General Manager of Hilton Maldives Resort & Spa:
Our guests always comment on being blown away by the colour, clarity, and beauty of the underwater world in the Maldives, so it seemed the perfect idea to build a restaurant where diners can experience fine cuisine and take time to enjoy the views – without ever getting their feet wet.
It's possible, though, that these guests viewed "getting their feet wet" as somehow integral to the experience of being underwater, and that gawking at the same reef through plexiglas, while eating saffron-infused crabcakes dabbed with papaya-sage chutney, might not have quite the same emotional impact.

I think the point of seeking out "natural splendor" is that one should engage with it on its own terms as much as possible. Sure, it might be nice to be able to take in a Broadway show while bathed in the astringent moonlight of the Sahara, or to get half-price pitchers on Friday nights while visiting the Realms of the Boreal Pole. But the fact that one can imagine enjoying some familiar form of commerce in an unlikely location is not, in itself, justification for demanding it.

The virtue of being underwater, or in the Sahara, or at the North Pole, is precisely that it forces one to put aside mundane things and pay attention - real attention - to one's surroundings, instead of scanning wine lists and calculating tips and wolfing down creme brulee. Maybe I'm being overanalytical - it happens! - but it seems to me that what we're avoiding here is the experience of being humbled. If so, as bad as projects like this restaurant are for the natural world, they're possibly worse still for our sense of ourselves.

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