Thursday, October 28

Under the volcano

The question, I suppose, is what do we count. And if anything, later, why do we tell it?

On September 19, more than a week ago, on a delicious Canary Island, a volcano stopped announcing that it would erupt and began. Since then, the Spanish media have been taken over by history. They tell us everything, with the famous luxury of details; many radio and television shows, in fact, moved there to get into the super deluxe of details; the legends “live from La Palma” or “the eruption live” or “last minute of the volcano” swarm and overflow.

It makes a certain sense: volcanoes erupt or erupt little, lava takes time and lets itself be filmed, everything is so photogenic, colored sparks, heartfelt tears. People complain with reasons and no one; they complain about nature, about destiny: no one is to blame if a volcano ignites. The tragedy of the La Palma volcano is almost kind: it has left several hundred families without their homes, some without their livelihoods, it has not caused – luckily and by skill – no deaths. And it is not difficult to put a camera or a microphone in the immediate vicinity, transmit it, offer the respectable public the trembling of controlled terror, the grace of the misfortune of others, the tickle of the live show. Meanwhile, a few kilometers away, hundreds or thousands are trying to jump into the sea.

In the first six months of this year, 1,922 people died or disappeared trying to get from the African coasts to the Canary Islands. More than 300 people every month: an average of more than ten deaths per day – and the flow does not stop. Sometimes those stories, those deaths, deserved a little note in a newspaper; almost always not.

We know everything about the 232 hectares and 461 houses that have already been buried under the advance of the lava – and why the lava is advancing, and where it is going, and what the insurers will do with the houses and the banana trees, and how much they are going to put the state to get them back, and the church that fell apart and all the deep human drama, so deep, so human. We do not know a damn thing about those –around– two thousand people who died trying to improve their lives, willing to risk everything to improve it: brave without fortune. We do not know who they were, why they chose that risk, how they died. We do not know whose guilt is that they are thrown into the sea. We do not know how they lived where they lived to be lucky to die. We do not know and we do not try to know.

We don’t know anything about some; of the others, almost too much. Not that the two issues have much to do with it; it’s just that they happen in the same place, and it impresses me to see the differences jump, the differences dance, the differences shout – and it impresses me that we don’t want to know why we do it either.

We journalists might ask ourselves from time to time what we count, why we count what we count, why not what we don’t. We, the readers, might ask ourselves from time to time what we read or see, why we read or see what we see or read, why not what we don’t. Nothing, a trifle: trying to understand what is “news” and what is not, why it is when it is, why it is not if it is not. Trying to know a little more about the world we build and allow ourselves to be built, trying to guess what we could do with that world. Know why we do not talk about what we do not talk about, all those things that already seem like pure chatter, husk of words, very common places: that if there is hunger, that if there are inequalities and injustices, that if many die because of that or against that. Know why there are words and concepts that are deactivated, that we do not try because it seems that nothing happens anyway, that everything remains the same – that everything continues, the same.

Ask ourselves, at least ask. If only to stop doing what they – once again, who are they – force us to do: to stop being silly.