Sunday, November 6, 2011

Intermission, Entry 21

Intermission Entry 21, November 17th, 2011, 3:36am (GMT +0)

Happy Halloween!

Er, what?

The 31st of October fell on a turnaround day for us here on the Indy, and turnaround means so much extra work for everyone (except the musicians) that they decided to postpone the all-crew Halloween party until the 2nd. Then we had five or six days of pretty nasty weather, bad enough that safety didn't want several hundred drunken crew members stumbling home on a ship that was rolling eight or nine degrees in each direction.

So tonight became Halloween. Tuck (my roommate, the drummer) and I both thought that the party would be a bit subdued due to the delay . . . and boy were we wrong. The back deck (already nearly twice the size of the one on the Grandeur) was packed to the point where no one could even move.

It was a good party. Again, I am impressed with my shipmates' ability to scrounge together interesting costumes, although on this run we have access to the shops in Southampton and that makes things a little easier. My favorite was the trombone player dressed in a full length tiger suit, complete with striped face paint. “Joel, did you get any strange looks from security when they found that in your luggage?”

It turns out that the tiger suit has a history. There's a headliner act named Claire Maiden – a piano player/singer who does a few ragtime numbers as part of her act. One of them is “Tiger Rag,” which features the trombone on a “tiger growl” part. Last contract, Joel was playing her show fairly every few weeks when she came to ship, and (for some reason now lost to history) had a little pair of tiger ears that he would wear for the solo. Everyone had a nice laugh about it.

That is, until the lead trumpet player and his girlfriend saw a tiger suit for sale in a store on shore. They couldn't help themselves, and sure enough the next time that Claire came to ship Joel was ready. He'd had one of the dancers fit snaps to the inside of his black dress shirt, and so when the time came for his solo he ripped the shirt open and played the solo on stage in the full tiger suit that he'd been wearing under his blacks. There's youtube footage of this somewhere.

Friggin' musicians. I love my coworkers sometimes.

From the notebook, October 17th, 2011, Amsterdam

I saw the Anne Frank house today.

Powerful. Heartbreaking. These are the two words that come to mind when I think of the museum. I was alright through most of it until I turned a corner and there was the bookcase standing in front of the secret door to the annex. The shock shattered my outer emotional shell, and from that point on I was spending most of my time trying not to cry in front of total strangers. I suspect that they were doing the same thing.

The museum does a really good job of turning what could just be a monument into a narrative. The path starts in the lower levels of the store, winding through the front rooms and warehouse while describing the years leading up to Nazi occupation. Then, as the fascist crackdown begins, you enter the rooms of the annex. The rooms are bare, as per Otto Frank's wishes after the war, and the walls are covered in quotes from Anne's diary. There is a spot on the wall where Anne's and Margot's heights are marked in pencil, each line with a date as they grew. Then, when they're betrayed, a passage takes you out of the annex and into the museum building where their different fates are outlined. Otto Frank, Anne's father, was the only one of the eight to survive.

A video interview with Otto in the 60's was one of the most heartbreaking parts of the entire exhibit. He's not a broken man, by any means, but you can see the load he carries in his eyes. He speaks of the diary (I paraphrase here):

“I knew Anne was keeping it, but I promised never to read it. After the war, when it became clear that no one from my family would be coming back, I finally opened it with the idea of publishing Anne's book – it was something she'd always talked about.

It was hard to read, and took me a long time. I was surprised by what I found – this was a very different Anne than the one I knew in the annex as my daughter. She was possessed of such strong internal motions, and so critical of herself . . . it makes me wonder if any parent really knows their children.”

It was fascinating to compare this museum with the deportation monument in Paris. The Paris monument was built to honor those who were deported from Paris by the Nazis to almost certain death. It is located on the end of an island on the Seine where resistance fighters, Jews, and other undesirables were loaded onto boats. It is well hidden – if dad hadn't know what he was looking for, we wouldn't have found it.

Instead of the more conventional narrative structure of the Anne Frank museum, the deportation monument seeks to educate the viewer by inspiring some of the terror that those leaving the city must have felt. You descend a narrow concrete stairway into a courtyard where the horizon is invisible. The only things you can see are a caged opening over the bleak gray waters of the Seine and another stairway descending into darkness.

Following this stairway takes you into an inner space. Inscriptions are carved into the stone like rough graffiti. There is a maze of narrow concrete tunnels, many of them closed with heavy iron grates and spikes. The overall impression is of a warren of underground tunnels, with the viewer imprisoned inside. It may not sound like much written out like this, but in person it inspires terror in a very visceral, illogical way. It only takes a very small leap of the imagination to put oneself into the prison that the deportees must have been in.

The centerpiece of the monument is a tunnel of lights, stretching away from the viewer behind another set of iron bars. Each light is for one person deported and killed by the Nazis from this point in Paris. There are thousands of them, and more inscriptions can be found here carved into the walls as if by desperate prisoners. The feeling of terror was almost palpable; it was as if the deed done here 70 years ago poisoned the very stones and soil.

Two very different ways of educating people about similar events.

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