Monday, April 16, 2012

remains of the day: The Titanic

Can you believe it has been 100 years?

Why are we still engrossed? Admittedly there is the fact that Titanic was the iPhone of its time, if you will—the hottest improvement to existing technology that everybody was talking about. Bad metaphor, I know, but imagine in 1912 something as astonishing, matchless, and formidable as the Titanic and what she symbolized (the Edwardian Era and all that--read about it here).

She was crushing in her size (which makes the whole notion that she could “conquer the ocean” understandable), and so plush and luxurious in her trimmings…What an intriguing and appealing combination to people! We are so used to this idea today, the result of cruise ships, but Titanic was the first of this kind of ship, and before her ocean travel was uncomfortable and strenuous—a trial to be endured, not a journey to be savored.  Then there’s the fact that she went down on her maiden voyage, which is just horrifying, to be honest.

If she had sunk after 5 years of service, or even a few runs across the Atlantic, that would be one thing, but when you imagine this gorgeous, carpeted, majestic ship blazing with light dipping into the ocean, icy sea water washing over the spanking new porcelain, the elaborate wood carvings, and reaching out to swallow the ladies of 1st Class, swathed in furs and dripping in jewels…well that is a damn good story, and the fact that it is true makes it even better.
But when it gets down to it, I think the real gut behind our human obsession is the wealth. Plenty of bad happens to the impoverished, and quite frequently, but it doesn’t get near as much attention as stories like this.
There are probably those that get a kind of sadist delight when the rich suffer indiscriminately, and the rich themselves are undoubtedly sickened by the reality that it could happen to them too, and all of us in the middle consider it a slice of life that validates the fact that death does not discriminate. And that Mother Nature should not be questioned because she’ll break your shit.

And yes, humans are a bit morbid in that we like disasters. And what makes the story of the Titanic that much better is the fact that there were survivors that witnessed the excruciating sinking and were able to tell the stories that are now locked into the collective memory of history—of the ignored warnings of icebergs, the Marconi operators using the new “SOS” signal to no avail, the band playing up until the very end, the outline of the rising ship against the starry sky.. It made it more real than if nobody had survived to tell the tale.
And, of course, the fact that once she went under, she disappeared for 73 years, the wreck not being discovered (despite much searching) until 1985. And then those ghostly images of the wreck, rivers of rust flowing over the once glossy woodwork, albino ratfish swimming past chandeliers, and spindly crabs clinging to Baroque fireplaces. It is just incredible.

And, most haunting of all, the places where bodies should be, because of the leather shoes that survived (due to chemical preservatives) and their positioning on the sea floor.
Recently, an image was captured that would suggest a partial human remain, and there is a conflict on whether or not a portion of it should be sample for DNA tests (to identify the body), if possible. It sure looks like...part of a leg, doesn't it?

I’m just relieved that it took so long to find the Titanic, and that the technology to do so didn’t exist until decades after, so that the bodies were entirely gone. Can you imagine..?
It is also a stroke of luck that she lies in the Mariana trench, deep within the sea, so that attempts to raise her have been easily squashed.

These images do no justice to just how huge the piece is--my head didn't even come up to the porthole. It is massive, 25x15 feet.

I’m fine with recovering some artifacts here and there—I have seen them myself several times—and they truly bring history and the tragedy to life. Last time I was in Las Vegas I went to the display in the Luxor and it was incredible. The best part was seeing The Big Piece, which put the size of the ship into perspective for me like nothing ever had before. My heart was palpitating just looking at it and I was literally shaking as I restrained myself from reaching out to touch it (ropes and signs everywhere forbidding this). I can’t describe how I felt stranding in front of it, after years of loving and researching my heart out for the Titanic. It was rewarding and heartbreaking and tremendous in so many ways.

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