Sunday, May 20, 2007

Down with the old canoe

Sometimes I'm sad that Hollywood took over some of my childhood passions. The Lord of the Rings can't be mentioned without images of Orlando Bloom and Liv Tyler coming to mind. Similarly, the Titanic can't be referenced without acknowledging the 1997 mammoth blockbuster that starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Although I love Winslet and I'm partial to DiCaprio, I did not like that movie. I didn't like it because it was based on a fictional love story when fiction wasn't necessary. There was plenty of real heart-break to communicate. Also, that song by Celine Dion sucked.

My interest in the Titanic started in grade 8 when we had to read A Night to Remember, and the research hobby spiraled from there. After political science, I've probably read more about the Titanic than any other subject (although don't ask me to regurgitate any details, since this all took place years ago). My grandma also had an interest in the Titanic, and maintained that Down with the Old Canoe was the best book on the subject.I tried reading it when I was younger, but was turned off by the academic tone. It may be time to give it another try.

Last fall CBC Radio advertised the Titanic exhibit that was coming to the Royal BC Museum, and I called my grandma to share the news of our good fortune, without realizing that the exhibit wouldn't be coming until April. Once we found out, we were still excited about it, of course, and had tentative plans to go together.

As many of you know, my grandma passed away in February.

Michael brought me to the exhibit as an early birthday present, and I'm happy to report that it wasn't that good, and I know my grandma would have agreed. I was disappointed by the focus on the remnants from the wreck site. It was mildly interesting to see a plate from the first-class china set; it was specially-made for the Titanic and didn't even make it through one voyage, yet it survived on the bottom of the sea floor for decades; but while the surviving plate may bring to mind the class themes that dominate the Titanic story, it doesn't capture the main draw of the Titanic story: it was a perfect tragedy. Dozens of events lined up to create such a devastating outcome: the crew that was looking for icebergs didn't have binoculars; if the Titanic had hit the berg head on, instead of turning at the last moment, it wouldn't have sunk: if there were enough life boats, no one would have died: if the nearby ship hadn't assumed the emergency flairs were fire works, it would have been able to save hundreds of people. Those are the bits that people want to hear about.

There was one aspect of the exhibit that I did like, even though I found it a bit morbid. When we went in, Michael and I were given male and female boarding passes. They had information about who we were traveling with, our circumstances of travel and what we did for a living. At the end of the exhibit we were able to check lists of the saved and the lost to see if we made it. It was an effective way to illustrate the personal level of tragedy that resulted when the ship when down.

Michael's pass was for Richard George Hocking. He died, but his family all survived. Mine was for Charlotte Annie Tate. I survived with my baby, but my husband died. See what I mean? Fictional stories are not necessary.


Anonymous said...

Erin, an excellent post! Well-written, emotionally pertinent and interesting.

I don't think I knew how much you loved the Titanic. I too loved A Night to Remember (we were in the same English class). Though whenever I think of reading that book in school, I remember some smart ass pointing out that if Greg Sample (another classmate) was a sailor, his title would be Seaman Sample.

brie said...

Erin, I tried to think of something insightful and/or witty to write about this post and I came up empty handed! So, I will be plain. I really enjoyed it. Very nice!

Anonymous said...

Seaman Sample. Snort, snort, giggle, giggle. That's still funny.


P.S. I am very sorry to hear about your grandma, Erin. I know you will continue to miss her a lot. Hugs from me.

Tracey said...

I came across your blog randomly by hitting the "next blog" button and thought it was funny that you had just gone to the Titanic exhibit because I went last weekend. Haha. Anyways, just thought I should share since it's one of those times when you realize just how small the world really is.