Is it perverse to want to have a drink at the pub in which passengers of the Titanic had their last? Is it strange that the manager of the pub, who has only been there 7 years, knows that over 100 years ago a pair of brothers missed said voyage because they got carried away with the merriment? Is it even weirder that I am so relieved for those brothers, of a different time, and now long dead, that I can feel myself welling up?
We go to great lengths to visit places of historical significance; maybe significance is the wrong word, The Grapes is after all, just a pub. However, it seems certain sentimentalities stir within us, a selective empathic tug over tragedies, that simply defies any sound reasoning. As I’m sitting and sipping at the bar, I’m tying together two completely different strands of stories, and making myself unwontedly emotional, imagining my dad having drowned on the very first Merchant Navy ship he worked on that left from Southampton.
I was 13 when I first saw Titanic, and yes, I mean the film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. I later bought the video tape, Celine Dion’s song from the soundtrack and a huge poster with the ship emblazoned across it. 20 years later, I’m at the dock in Southampton where the doomed ship departed, and I only give a cursory thought to the Mayflower.
I’m not unusual for my proclivity to want to learn more about the Titanic at the exclusion of other similar tragedies on the sea. ‘Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition’ at the Luxor Hotel, in Las Vegas, covers 25,000 square feet. 25 million people have visited, so far, and at this point, the intention is for it to have permanent residency.
A startling sized piece of the hull can be seen, recovered over the span of four arduous years. In 1996 an attempt went spectacularly wrong when a cable snapped, sending the beleaguered hull plummeting back down 12,500 feet to the seabed. Each attempt to retrieve it cost between one to three million dollars. The complicated chemical treatment to ensure its preservation, which is somewhat ironic, and storage must run to a grotesque figure too.
The wreck site was discovered in 1985, I was a year old, so, people have been earnestly, and doggedly, focusing their attention on bringing back to life the ghosts of those passengers my entire life. I can’t help but wonder, will the same be done for the personal possessions of the Syrian refugees that have been drowning in our waters?
Maybe distance from the event makes us recover our humanity, unlike when it’s happening? Let’s not forget, there were only 27 seats filled, of the available 65, on the first lifeboat that fled from the Titanic. 27 people allowed their fellow passengers to freeze to death or drown.