Sunday, December 04, 2005

Playing Between Sand and Water

As a child, as many children do, I liked to play with sand on the beach, close to the sea.  I used to sit just a bit further away from the farthest point the longer waves would hit, and there I started to build.  I knew that, as the time passed, the odd wave would have hit my structure and that, with the passage of time, the whole structure would eventually dissolve, but I also knew that I would still have the time to see buildings, cities and civilisations evolve there, between sand and water, on the border of the sea.

I started out with big solid chunky lumps of sand, building up a solid irregular wall against the water.  In my mind those walls and those lumps of sand represented a primitive culture, just getting the jist of culture and civilisation, trying to ward off the entropic currents of the sea.

Then, on top and around those structures I started building more elaborate decorations.  The irregular buildings started getting a squared shape, and small walls started running between buildings.  This represented a young culture just discovering the value of functional shapes.

Inevitably a wave hit at one point, dissolving one wall and destroying part of my culture.  This destruction created vacuums where a new different culture or subculture could emerge and be shaped.  Depending on how it evolved and the waning and waxing of the waves, it could take over or disappear.

Baroque cultures appeared and took over the world, forgetting about the waves, building high pinnacles and towers into the sky, drawing beautiful arcs and digging tunnels close, too close to the sea… until they got destroyed almost at once by their own hubris.

More conservative cultures used most of their energies to built tall and thick walls to keep the water away.  The lack of water however didn't allow building much beyond those walls and, after a while walls and buildings just got dry and started crumbling.

Smart cultures were built around the very concept of wave.  They were shaped in such a way that the waves got channelled along canals into artificial lakes, turning the destructive force of water into a useful tool for further construction. 

However even smart cultures would become complacent and stopped building, stopped caring about new waves, sometimes coming from a different direction, sometimes of different size, and they also got eroded one bit at a time and disappeared.. leaving behind beautiful but unusable tunnels and artefacts for the newcomers.

The waves were, in my mind, the forces of time and change, the barbaric invasions and natural disasters, the forces of entropy continuously eating away at the culture.

More than twenty years later, while contemplating a kid playing on the beach of Antibes on the Cotes Azure, all these thoughts came back to my mind and I was surprised realising how close they were to development, the continuous evolution of structures, layers over layers of civilisation, always under siege by both the external and internal forces of entropy, always ready to fall to hubris and complacency.

And I realized with joy that I never stopped doing what I liked and what I wanted, I never really stopped playing with sand.

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