Saturday, February 18, 2012

3 Million Rivets, A Postage Stamp, An Egg Cup

I wasn't interested in going to the Titanic artifacts exhibit at the Telus World of Science, which, in retrospect, surprises me.  Both girls were keen on it, and not just because of the James Cameron movie; Glory is actually reading a "Dear Canada"" book about the Titanic, and Fenya has read about it as well.  I submitted to the tyranny of the majority and went along, against my wishes, and I'm glad I did.

In two months' time, it will have been a century since the sinking of the unsinkable ship and the loss of 1500 lives.  In terms of tragedy, there have been two world wars, innumerable natural disasters, and the 9/11 attacks in the interim, so why does the sinking of the Titanic continue to intrigue us, a hundred years later?

I continue to be drawn in by the 'what if's' of the scenario, like the Marvel comic of the same name, seeing diverse alternatives play out infinite possibilities.  What if Captain Edward Smith had listened to the ice warnings from other ships like the Carpathia, and reduced his speed instead rushing to New York at full steam?  What if the binoculars for the crow's nest hadn't been lost and the onrushing iceberg spotted miles ahead?  What if that same iceberg had a smooth side, or had only punctured 4 watertight compartments instead of six and managed to stay afloat?

Unlike Fenya, all the books I read about the Titanic in school had to speculate about its final resting place, as the wreck was only discovered in 1985, and nothing was brought up until the early 90s. Fenya asked why it was so difficult to retrieve the artifacts and I said, "Well, imagine swimming in a pool the size of a football field.  Now turn it sideways so the far end is now the bottom, all right?  You know how your ears start to hurt at the bottom of the deep end?  Now imagine swimming to bottom of that big pool.  Got it?  Now imagine going 40 pools deep."

The exhibit was a tremendous opportunity to see actual items recovered from the Titanic, from the obscure to the mundane. Rivets, representative of the three million used in her construction.  Glassware and china from all three classes of passenger.  Luggage, clothing, postcards, even a remarkably preserved Canadian postage stamp, all brought up into the light after almost 8 decades where no sunlight reaches, and the pressure is an astonishing 6000 pounds per square inch.

In the accompanying Imax film Titanica, we accompanied the international crew of the Akademik Keldysh and her two submersibles as they travel to the wreckage.  Intellectually, I know there is some life at those depths, but seeing fish swimming and crabs scuttling in that pressure and cold is still like watching telemetry from a distant planet.  And when the captain asks how the dive chief knows the coordinates of the wreckage, heaign him say, "back before they sealed up all the charts and maps, I saw the position written upside down and I memorized it.  I plugged it into my GPS and now it's plugged in to the Keldysh, and we're heading straight there," is like hearing dialogue from a spy thriller.

Everyone attending the exhibit is given a boarding pass showing the name and background information of one of the Titanic's passengers, and a list at the end of the exhibit shows you whether or not your particular individual was one of the lucky survivors or not.

Visitors are matched by gender, so I knew the odds were against 'my' survival; onlhy 17% of the men on the Titanic survived, since priority was given to 'women and children' first.  Fenya's school teacher returning from India likewise perished, but Audrey and Glory's passengers both survived.

We picked up the green-screen photo above to commemorate our visit to the depths and the past, and the obligatory fridge magnet which is our souvenir of choice (every home has a dedicated display space that just also happens to contain food and beer).  Fenya opted for something a bit more obscure, yet everyday: a replica White Star Lines egg cup, proudly bearing the company logo.

When it launched, the Titanic was the largest moving object ever built by human hands, and designed to carry over 1000 people across the Atlantic in as much comfort as possible, with their dolls, relish dishes, tools and books.  On a legendary vessel, their simple goal of transiting from one place to another went terribly awry, and took most of them into history instead.  How could one not be interested in that?

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