This is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees...
--- "Sailing to Byzantium"

One of the advantages of going across the border into Baja California is that --- when they were filming the movie --- we got to watch them building the Titanic, at Popotla, just a few miles to the south of here. I drove past it many times, and there was always something new to befuddle the mind.

For one thing, it was an excellent time-warp. For years, Popotla was a barren, failed housing development. Before it went under, they built a dirt road from the highway to the ocean, and an ugly neo-moderne arch for an entryway. Over the years, the arch had been pulled at and beaten by vandals, turned tattered and gray, inside, smelling of trash and piss.

Then, out of no-where, in preparation for a $200,000,000 movie, they built dozens of new sheds, bright lights, 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week construction, and this turn-of-the-century superstructure rising up out of dry and dusty landscape, there at the very edge of the Pacific.

They built the funnels first, for some reason, and moved them about the lot, moved these forty-foot tall tan smokestacks (with the wide black strips across the tops), hither and yon. Every time I passed by, they had been yanked around to yet another place.

Finally, they decided to build the promenade deck, so they planted the smoke-stacks, and underneath them, the prow, the bridge, and the upper decks.

The first-class ballroom could easily be seen from the highway. One night, as I passed it, the entire promenade was lit up, hundreds of ship's lights, lined along the superstructure. Through the portholes, I thought I could see figures, dressed in formal attire, moving back and forth to the rhythm of a ghostly music.

"The Titanic should be setting sail shortly," I thought. I hoped to be on board at the launching. The grand ship, filled with lights and music and glamour, setting sail for another Byzantium. The hundreds of us in our tuxedos and formal gowns, there in the first class ballroom, holding our glasses of 1911 vintage Champagne, with the band playing "Just a Bird in a Gilded Cage" and "Casey Did Dance with the Strawberry Blonde."

How glorious it would be to sail past San Diego and Long Beach and Dana Point --- all bright lights and music, forging ahead into the foggy darkness, racing along at twenty-five knots, to collide, finally and inevitably, with an errant ice-cube calved by the Santa Barbara Yacht Club Cocktail Lounge.

The silence as the great engines halt. The breathlessness of the quiet, and the darkness all about. Then begins the fatal descent with us on deck, in our tuxedoes and frock coats and formal dresses, so very well aware of our fate, but willing to be part of the tragic history of the tragic sea.

Standing at the rail, abjuring the chance to be saved, elegant and noble to the last, the musicians and the captain and the thousand or so of us, descending now into the cold and fearsome sea, as the lights go out all about us, the hissing of the boilers, the bursting in two, the huge body of it descending into the depths --- and we are left (still in our frock coats) with nothing but the iciness of the water, and the brilliant stars cold above us, and the wondrous folly, the tragedy of man's watery fate.

--- From The 25th Anniversary Newsletter of
The Reginald A. Fessenden Educational Fund
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