Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Titanic Tuesdays: Her Final Resting Place

I hope everyone had a fun Halloween! I’m currently munching on leftover Kit-Kats (we only had a handful of trick-or-treaters, which means more candy for me!) while I blog this. Mmm, Kit-Kats.

A conversation I had (if you can call a series of blog comments and tweets a conversation?) with a book blogger last week got me thinking about the genesis of my Titanic obsession. (Darcus of Starcrossed Reviews, who,, I might add, gave Destined a fantastic review, if you haven’t already seen it.) In one of these comments, she mentioned that she had become obsessed in middle school, which happened to be the age I got really interested in the ship. I‘m still trying to ignore the fact that, for her, I suspect middle school still fell within this century. How is it possible that I’m interacting with other adults online who were born when I was in high school? I do not feel old enough to be able to say those words, yet there they are.

Anyway, I always say my obsession started when news of the wreck’s discovery was found, but counting back now, I’m not sure that’s true. I would have been 9 years old in 1985, and while I know my interest was piqued with the news, I don’t think it was until 7th grade that I really got into it. We had to do oral reports that year, and while I don’t remember if we had any specific theme assigned, I know that I chose to do my report on the Titanic. I was already interested at the time, but it wasn’t until I started doing research for the paper that I got truly fascinated. I still have this one, vivid memory of jumping on the bed in our guest room while trying to memorize the report. Don’t ask me why I was jumping on the bed: maybe I thought all the bouncing would help the facts stick in my brain? I was kind of a weird kid sometimes.

(Naturally, now that I’m writing all of this out, I’m starting to doubt my own memory. While I know I did a report on Titanic at some point, I also did one on the Exxon oil spill, and now I’m unsure which report was the jumping-on-the-bed one. *sigh* Getting older sucks.)

Whichever grade it was, my obsession was born with that report, and ever since then I have devoured everything I see about the ship. And when it was announced in the late 1990s that a movie was being made about it, I was ecstatic. Then it got delayed, and delayed again, and critics weren’t being particularly nice about it, and I started to worry that it wouldn’t live up to my rather high expectations. I think it’s safe to say I wasn’t disappointed. *g* Like most people at that time, my obsession was renewed, and a few years later I got the idea to try my hand at writing a fictional account of the ship, told from the point of view of a 21st century woman sent back in time. And that’s how Destined was born.

Now, on to my actual blog post on the impetus of my obsession: the discovery of the wreck.

Since this isn’t a school report, I’m not going to go into all the details of how Robert Ballard found the wreck site. Most of us have already heard them, anyway. Long story short: while searching the Atlantic for sunken nuclear subs (a trip financed by the US Navy, and a detail he only recently disclosed), he and his team were also keeping an eye out for the Titanic, knowing that they were in the same general area of her last known coordinates. Ballard had been long obsessed with finding the wreck, so even though that particular research trip wasn’t financed for that purpose, he was always looking for it. And on September 1, 1985, he found it.

Underwater photography wasn’t nearly as good then as it is now, so the sonar being used only sent back grainy black-and-white shots similar to the images you see on a pregnancy ultrasound. (Maybe it’s just me, but I can rarely make out the baby in those things. Remember Rachel in that episode of Friends where she thinks she’s a bad mom because she can’t see her own baby on the sonogram? If I ever had kids, that would be me.) While scanning the ocean floor, someone spotted something in the sand, debris that didn’t look natural. They followed it, until something bigger popped up on the screen: a ship’s boiler. And thus, the Titanic was found after 73 years. It was early morning, around 1:00am or so. By 2:00am, amidst all the cheering and dancing and champagne-toasting, one of the men caught sight of the clock and said “you know, she sinks in 20 minutes.”At that point, the celebrating stopped as everyone realized they were 20 minutes away from the exact time the Titanic sank those 73 years ago. It was a sobering realization: they were (quite literally) dancing on the grave of 1500 people. Ballard invited everyone who wanted to join him at the stern of the research ship, and at 2:20am, they held an impromptu memorial 2 1/2 miles above the ship’s wreckage.

Maybe I’m just a sap, but whenever I hear that story, I get a little misty. There’s something incredibly powerful about the image of the ship resting, surprisingly intact, on the sea floor. Sure, it’s in two pieces, there are holes everywhere (some due to the elements and some due to damage caused by human submersibles landing on her decks and bumping into her) and many parts are missing completely, but still the sight of her is almost … majestic. How can you see that iconic shot of the bow and not feel something?

[photo credit: NOAA/IFE/URI]

Most organic material has long been eaten away by bacteria and other deep-sea organisms, leaving only the steel and some wood behind. Bodies are long-gone, but we can still see where some fell due to metal jewelry and leather shoes. The boots I used on the cover of Destined are from one such shot of the debris field, one that struck me more than any other image I’ve seen. I stumbled across it when I was looking for images of the ship to use for my cover, at that point aiming for 1912 shots of the ship as she set sail. But every design I came up with using those shots felt wrong somehow. Then I saw the shot here, and knew, in an instant, that I’d found my cover. It matched so perfectly with a scene I’d written (if you’ve read the book, you know which I mean, and if you haven’t, I won’t spoil anything by saying more), it was almost like I’d written it to fit the photo, rather than finding the photo later. Serendipity, I suppose. The more I look at those boots, the more haunting they become. They didn’t just fall there on their own: someone was wearing them, someone who had just lost their life. There may not be any human remains today—even the bones are gone—but all those pairs of shoes leave no doubt the massive debris field surrounding the shipwreck is a graveyard. It’s a humbling sight. (You can see a larger version of the boots picture at the NOAA site. The part that always grabs my attention is the round object—a coin?— just below the boot on the right.)

[photo credit: NOAA/IFE/URI]

I know it’s futile to hope this but, while I’m as hungry for more Titanic information as the next fan, I really wish the salvaging expeditions would end. I have no problem with the scientific explorations that go down there and look without touching, but the people that dive to dig up artifacts for the purpose of selling or even just displaying in museums are speeding up the destruction of the ship. She lasted over 70 years in relatively decent condition, and now, after we’ve been plundering her for the past 26, she’s falling apart. Significant changes have been noted: for example, the crow’s nest, seen on the 1985 still attached to the main mast, is completely gone. The plaque left on the bow by Ballard’s team in 1985 has even disappeared, presumably looted by illegal salvagers. Who does that?

Sorry, I didn’t mean for this to turn into a rant against artifact salvaging, but as you can see, I’m passionate about the ship. It’s fascinated me for most of my life, and after all the research I did to write Destined, I find I have an even deeper appreciation for the thousands of lives lost nearly 100 years ago.

Good luck to everyone starting NaNoWriMo today! I’m skipping it this year in order to finish editing my next novel, but I’ve enjoyed participating a few times in the past. Destined was my first foray into NaNoWriMo, as a matter of fact, way back in 2001! See, there I go, making myself feel old again.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to assume that, since this wasn't a school report, you didn't jump on the bed either. ;)