SILUTE - When I recently told my friends that I had an excellent new business idea they just looked at me strangely. But when I told them the idea was "flood tourism" they just sort of groaned and politely told me to stick to journalism instead.
But I'm not that easily discouraged. My idea was inspired by the annual floods in the Silute region in the west of Lithuania, where the Nemunas River 's the largest in the country 's and its tributaries inundate 3,000 hectares of land and a few unfortunate villages each spring.
My plan for flood tourism basically involved shipping in loads of bored, been-there, done-that tourists to witness this quirky quagmire of Lithuanian culture and nature.
So when an unexpected flood struck Silute on Sep. 23 after a week of pouring rain (the last time it flooded at this time of year was way back in 1944), I couldn't resist a trip there to see for myself how I might put my plan into action.
But when I arrived in my lovely new galoshes (we entrepreneurs have to look good whatever the weather), I was shocked to discover that flood tourism already exists!
It turns out that the locals in Silute have been taking people on excursions into the flooded areas for a few years now. They simply board a specially chartered bus or else paddle around the flooded woods to get a glimpse of this uniquely amphibian form of Lithuanian life.
As I waded through the mud (and my disappointment), I remembered the news reports that I used to watch every year covering the floods. If it wasn't for the fact that they used a different journalist every time, one might have suspected that the TV producers simply used the same footage over and over again. Every year the flood-weary residents of Silute would come out with the same response to the floods - "I don't want to change my accommodation. This is my home." All I can say is that these people must really love something about swamp life, because having my home submerged in half a meter of water every year, and having to go fishing for my shoes is not exactly my idea of fun.
And God only knows what the poor cows make of it all as they stand there up to their necks in it. Well, being cows, they probably just think: "Where's all that nice green stuff gone?"
Disappointed that I would have to go on with the ignoble profession of being a journalist, instead of a flood tour operator, I headed back to the town center to buy a postcard for my skeptical friends. But when I visited the local bookstore I was somewhat taken aback when, in addition to a few postcards showing Silute's architectural wonders, I saw three or four postcards depicting flood scenes. Good God, I thought, these people don't miss a trick. Where else on earth do people actually use natural calamities as a local selling point?
Imagine sunny picture postcards of Florida being ripped apart by a hurricane, or Greetings from Kobe postcards showing the city devastated by an earthquake.
My journalistic research then led me to the local library where I had a good chat with some of the locals, who are only too happy to have a chinwag about the floods. If one were cynical, one might even suspect that they actually eagerly await them, just like Christmas time. They enthusiastically told me that the flood attracts dozens of photographers (mostly of the artistic kind) every year but, unluckily, I'd just missed a flood exhibition at the library. Oh well, perhaps I'll just have to write the definitive history of the Silute floods instead.