Punta del Este
7 April 2013
Punta del Este is a major resort city on the Uruguayan coast with a high season that is, apparently, very clearly defined. During the high season, which runs from Christmas to Easter (high summer in the Southern Hemisphere), the population of Punta del Este swells to as many as a million persons. At the present moment in time, less than two weeks after Easter, the city is almost deserted. It would be entirely possible to film a post-apocalyptic zombie flick in the streets of Punta del Este in the middle of the day in off season without really having to make any special arrangements. The season is that well defined. Even though the weather is beautiful here in late summer or early fall, the hotels and restaurants are empty. Many of them are already shuttered and will not open again until next December.
I think Punta del Este must have more beach frontage than any other city on the planet. It easily has more beach than Rio de Janeiro (with many times the population), and it would be hard to imagine another city that could be so blessed with wide, beautiful, sandy beaches in such abundance — although it must be remarked here that Montevideo is also on a peninsula of land jutting out into the ocean, though its waterfront doesn’t have quite the perfect beaches of Punta del Este. And with the high season bringing so many people into the city, the infrastructure is there to handle great numbers of people. There is a large marina and streets with many lanes, and a very long ocean front promenade where a person might literally walk for hours along the beach without retracing their steps.
I have tried to imagine what it is like when the tourist season is in full swing here and the permanent population of about 20,000 must provide services to a million visitors and deliveries into the city must increase by several orders of magnitude just to feed some many visitors for the two months of so that they fill the city, which is now quiet and sleepy and empty almost to the point of feeling abandoned.
Punta del Este, like Colonia del Sacramento, which I wrote about yesterday, was not exactly what I expected. Some things coincided with my expectations, while other experiences of the city diverged considerably from what I had in mind. This also happens when we meet other people about whom we have heard or with whom we have corresponded: we have an idea of this person in mind, but that idea is often set on its ear in an actual meeting. But even to make this observation suggests the possibility of the opposite experience: when we meet a person for the first time, or travel to a location for the first time, and the person or the place is completely predictable, and exactly what we expected.
Probably most people don’t think of themselves as being completely predictable, and probably calling someone completely predictable would be considered an insult — like a person who could be reduced to a machine. Similarly, it would probably come across as an insult to call a place completely predictable. Probably some places are in fact completely predictable, and therefore uninteresting. It is also possible that one person might find a place to be completely predictable even while another person might find the same place to be endlessly interesting. Similarly, again, for persons. So if we formulate the “knowledge argument” I mentioned yesterday in terms of ineffable properties (of a place or a person, etc.), it will also be necessary to take into account who is making the judgement of predictability. It might be possible to quantify predictability, but it also might be possible to classify objects of knowledge into those that are completely unpredictable, those that are predictable to some while unpredictable to others, and those that are completely predictable to all.
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