The Tamed Waterfalls

The Niagara Waterfalls are one of the most famous natural places in the world for its awesome beauty. During the glaciations era, the sliding of big ice masses carved huge lakes and rivers out of this land, like the very Niagara, known among the Iroquois as “Thundering Waters”: this rushing river runs for 50km from Lake Erie to Ontario, marking the border between Canada and USA. Along its route it opens up in a wide bend before falling onto its lower bed, creating the biggest of the Niagara Waterfalls, known as “Horseshoe Falls”. The “American Falls” and “Bridal Veil Falls” are located on the eastern side. All together they form the Niagara Falls, where some 110.000 m3 of water falls every minute over the crest. There, a wild nature paints vivid greens and blues that then mix up with the white foam; a very wet and thick mist spreads out onto the panoramic terrace. The gaze gets caught in the movement of water and wanders to unknown places. In spite of the effort, to describe this natural wonder with words is a wild-goose chase, even for those who have seen it live, as it rather inspires a contemplative silence: I was astonished, fill with wonder and respect, not a word, just strong emotions.

The USA side of the waterfalls

The american side of the waterfalls

Around the waterfalls, on the river banks, 2 cities arose, both called Niagara Falls, one Canadian and one American. Their hotels make the visit comfortable to millions of tourists. Moreover, they built stone tunnels, iron and wooden pathways and organized a boat tour to experience the waterfalls from very near. The ones who love nature will notice that the landscape here is scared not only by these structures, but even more by other buildings: the streets of the Canadian Niagara Falls are a sequence of fast-foods, fair attractions and casinos. It seems a big turning point changed the city during the 90’s when the economy was in the doldrums and local authorities introduced casinos to enforce tourism. The aim has been achieved, but its price, not in dollars, is very high: one of the most beautiful natural places in the world is irreparably disfigured by offsite elements.

The only thing that the falls and the funfair-city of gambling share is the status of touristic attraction. Niagara Falls, also known as the Canadian Las Vegas, is tailored for that type of tourist who, after 335 working days, wants everything ready and easy to get: the waterfalls during the day, lunch just 3 minutes away at the fast food, then a chemical ice cream at the next-door shop, the carousels and Dracula’s castle to content the children and the adrenaline of gambling by night. All in one. After one entire year toiling, now it’s time for a binge of whichever sort of fun to recover from so much slogging; but the touristic overdose stuns its victims so harshly that the countless cameras must step in and substitute a tilted memory: they are the only ones that can fix moments otherwise overlapped and confused among psychedelic lights.

Even those who at the same time like nature, casinos and fast-foods have to admit that their combination is alienating. Not all the touristic attractions can be put together, as their type is sometimes too different. Quite the opposite, to call the Niagara Falls “touristic attraction” is in itself questionable: we are talking in facts about a contemplative, meditative place where to let the imagination free to run, carried away by the rushing waters. It’s a place where to feel one with nature and discover its extreme beauty and awesome force. Casinos, on the other hand, are a matter of adrenaline, as well as Dracula’s castle; the fair offers an earthly, light entertainment, the opposite of a philosophical introspection. Even the structures built to make the visit to the falls easier damage the landscape a little, even if they are clearly useful especially to less agile people. Probably what’s lost is the same tiring adventure that normally leads to this kind of epic places, the long journey into the wilderness that prepares the human spirit for the view of the extreme of nature, like when, after long walks and steep climbs in the woods, you reach an astonishing panoramic point over the valley beneath, or when, after long wandering, a virgin beach appears behind the leaves. But the falls are there, 5 minutes from the comfortable hotel bedroom, easy like such a wild place is usually not. You turn to the left, the waterfalls, to the right psychedelic lights, New York style skyscrapers and a Hard Rock Cafe. Something doesn’t add up; more than something. It’s brutal alienation.

It has to be said also that the falls are different from the other touristic attractions here not only for the type of feelings they arouse, but even more for their quality. The adrenaline in Niagara Falls casinos is pretty much the same as in other similar places in the world, as the burgers in its fast-foods are as poor as elsewhere and the castle of fear is as crummy as in every fair. Niagara Falls are unique in the world instead, different from whichever other natural place, and have made possible the same existence of the city thanks to their extraordinary beauty. Putting a Las Vegas next to them is like insulting them, like lowering them to the level of the 3 dollars burgers, including them in a stock mass tourism.

During the night the falls are lighted up with xenon floodlights. They shine in the dark amazing many people. The light sometimes changes from white to other colours, creating spectacular effects to impress the audience on the terrace. I got there exactly by night, when a splendid full moon was shining. Remembering virgin landscapes in clear nights, I right off though how beautiful the waterfalls would be, covered with its silver veil. I hadn’t calculated xenon. I found out that it’s more powerful than neon to light up far points. Very interesting, but unfortunately I was there for the falls, not for xenon. What did they purport by that? To embellish something that nature had already shaped as unique? Did they pretend to do it by making them red, yellow and purple? So much conceit humans harbour in their soul! I rather wanted to see them under the moonlight and I waited until midnight, because rumour had it that at that time the xenon floodlights go to bed, together with the tourists. It was true! I exulted, but not for long, as the lights of the 2 Niagara Falls were still a too strong barrier for the moonlight. What a shame! A full moon night could not illuminate the falls. And it won’t be able to do it anymore, until there will be electricity. Urbanization and tourism have stolen something important to these falls. They have transformed them into an item to be paid in dollars, whereas their proper price would rather be the sweat. The human hybris has brought to light them up in colours, forcing them to share the artificiality of the surrounding Las Vegas. Even here humans want to be the protagonists. It would be better if, with humility, they left the scene to nature, trying to protect it from artificial distortions like xenon floodlights and fast-foods neon signs, to allow the experience of pure nature at its highest expression. In an ideal world, i dream that in limpid nights the 2 Niagara cities will turn all their lights off to let the moon paint silver waterfalls in a silver landscape, with its inimitable touch.

The “Horseshoe Falls” on the canadian side of the Niagara

On the waterfalls-side road, almost in the centre of Niagara Falls, a Buddhist temple stands; it’s often criticized for being kitsch and offsite. I wonder why. Does it clash with the levity of the Canadian Las Vegas? Or is it because we are poles apart from Tibet? Well, it’s far from the hometown of its religion, but this temple is not offsite at all, because this is the land of the waterfalls. This land belongs to the Niagara, certainly not to the casinos that survive thanks to the natural wonder. The one who escapes from the samsara of the city can take refuge to this temple and meditate on the falls, remembering them and feeling them inside. Meditating… Meditating is never offsite, and for sure not here. If only the god of money was disowned and the ancient gods remembered a little more! To meditate.

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