In January, the salvage companies responsible for the removal of the Costa Concordia from the water of the Italian island of Giglio announced that they might have the wreck cleaned up by early summer. The announcement allayed the fears of some locals concerned that the dismantling process might distract visitors from the coastline's beauty during the upcoming tourist season. Of course, the real distraction would have been beauty.
An aging wreck shows what might have happened if Giglio made the slightly more eccentric but potentially more savvy choice to keep the wreck as a monument and attraction.
The MS World Discoverer had taken passengers all over the world, from the icy shores of Antarctica to the icy shores of Norway, when it struck an uncharted object just off the Solomon Islands on April 30, 2000. The captain, reacting more professionally than the Costa Concordia's much-hated Captain Schettino, steered the listing ship into Roderick Bay, where is keeled over onto its side like a tuckered-out whale.
Because the Solomon Islands were (and are) a poor place, salvagers couldn't be bothered to extricate the wreck from the middle of civil strife. It is still reclining thoughtfully in warm, clear water.
Today, trips to the World Discoverer are a common way for SCUBA shops and Liveaboard dive boats to keep their clients enthralled between sinking spells. The waters around the Bay, it is worth noting, are absolutely full of WWII wrecks -- both American and Japanese -- and so the rusting cruise ship doesn't seem particularly out of place. It is the wreck divers visit when they aren't underwater visiting wrecks.
It is, at least by Solomon standards, a popular attraction. And with good reason: The ship is falling apart in a way that can only be described as aesthetically pleasing.
By contrast, the Costa Concordia, a slicker looking ship to begin with, presents a sun-bleached contrast to Tuscany's rustic coast. Next to Giglio, a town of yellow villas and short turrets, the Costa Concordia might as well be a UFO. This is both a compelling argument for its removal -- a town ought not to be synonymous with an event in which it played an incidental part -- and for its preservation: Historical significance rarely walks hand in hand with historical continuity.
Other attractions, like the World Discoverer, that might be said to have arrived on foreign shores rather than growing organically out of local culture or events include the Statue of Liberty, a giant French woman on American soil, Hitler's frighteningly popular hideouts throughout Europe and -- one could make an argument anyway -- Dubai.
Which is all to say that Giglio will look lovely once the big ship is gone, but would have been able to live with it anyway. Modern tourists have made piece with the idea that the small towns can't hold the world at bay. The Tuscan coastline would have been no less lovely for a wreck and certainly no less marketable, but it doesn't need to be the Solomon Islands either.
A choice was made. For better and for worse, a clean up is no longer inevitable. History tends to linger and, to travelers' credit, we're ok with that.