Monday, July 5, 2010

We Do a Tattoo

July 4, 2010


Before you start scrolling down to see a picture of our body art, perhaps we should familiarize you with another definition of the word tattoo—"a display of military exercises offered as evening entertainment." No needles involved, and quite the opposite of a painful experience, our three and a half hours at The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo was a perfect way to celebrate July Fourth away from home.

The Nova Scotia Tattoo is the world's largest annual indoor show, featuring over 2,000 international performers. In addition to Mounties and military drill teams and bands, there are gymnasts, acrobats, singers, clowns, and dancers. This year, the Tattoo celebrates the Canadian Navy's hundred year anniversary, so there are lots of numbers with a nautical theme.

It is hard to pick a favorite act, but we particularly enjoyed a team of precision bicyclists—they piled more people on a bicycle than we believed was humanly possible. Here is a photo of their dramatic unicycle parade. Just when we thought the largest possible unicycle had joined the group, they added another. . . and another.

There were bagpipers, fife and drum bands, marching bands, and a navy demonstration team that did precision maneuvers with ladders. A German military team did some amazing gun juggling. We watched an Army and a Navy team compete on an obstacle course. Civilians did traditional jigs and step dances, and later tap danced dressed like sailors. In the finale, all the performers took the floor, all the musicians played and the choirs sang—over 500 voices and instruments strong. They played both the United States and Canadian national anthems, and some music that was unfamiliar to us that felt like a dose of pure grandeur. .Dick said the hair stood up on his neck; I had tears in my eyes. The next day we came upon the Belgian Navy Band performing a concert in a small downtown park, and the choir from the Tattoo was waiting to perform. I asked one of the singers what it felt like to be singing in that tremendous musical finale, and she said, "My biggest problem is that I always feel like moving and dancing, and that's just not allowed."

The show began at 2:30 and ended at 6 p.m., with just one intermission. We wouldn't have believed that we could sit through a program that long without being bored, until we actually did it. We wouldn't cut a thing.

Another title for today's blog could be "Pageantry and Tragedy."

That is because in the morning we visited the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which seems dedicated to documenting marine disasters. With over 10,000 shipwrecks off the shore of Nova Scotia (and some think it is closer to 25,000), a focus on trouble at sea is probably appropriate.

The museum's claim to fame is "the world's largest collection of wooden artifacts from the Titanic." The reason it has this large collection is that when the Titanic sank, the Carpathia famously picked up her survivors, but the sad task of collecting the dead was left to the transatlantic cable repair ships of Halifax, Nova Scotia. When the cable ship crews found floating debris, they picked it up along with the bodies. The museum has acquired many of the souvenirs the crews collected. In addition to recovered artifacts, the Titanic exhibit illustrates life on the Titanic, contrasting the vast differences between conditions for the first, second and third class passengers, and the crew of 1,000. The class differences continued through to the end—first class passengers were removed from the recovery boats in caskets, second and third class in canvas bags, and crew on stretchers.

Another tragic disaster the museum documents is the Halifax Explosion of 1917. On December 6, 1917, the French ship Mont Blanc was in Halifax Harbor loaded with TNT, other explosives and benzene waiting to convoy to Europe in support of the War effort when the Imo collided with her. A fire began, quickly spread, and when it got to the cargo it generated the biggest man-made explosion in world history at the time, an explosion only surpassed since then by the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during the Second World War. The strength of the explosion emptied the harbor of water, which then generated a huge tidal wave. A fifth of the city was destroyed, and hardly an intact pane of glass survived for many miles around. Adding to the tragedy, a massive snowstorm with plummeting temperatures arrived that evening, freezing many of the people who were left homeless by the explosion. There were 2,000 fatalities, and 9,000 injured, many with terrible burns.

We were touched most by a disaster caused by intentional acts, rather than an accident, which makes it all the more tragic. We learned that half of Germany's Jews fled the country before war broke out in 1939. The liner St. Louis set sail from Germany to Havana just before war was declared, carrying 900 Jews escaping Nazi persecution. When they arrived in Cuba, the political situation had changed, and they were turned away. The United States and Canada also refused them asylum, so the ship returned to Europe, and its passengers disembarked in Antwerp. Belgium, France, Holland and Britain each accepted a portion of the passengers, but, sadly, all but England were soon occupied by Germany. A quarter of the ship's passengers died in German death camps.

I wish I could close this little summary of the museum on a bright spot, but there are precious few of them, because this museum understands that we are captivated by catastrophe at sea, and it feeds us an all you can eat feast of it. At least we are living on land now—if we had visited the museum during our years living afloat, I would be feeling plenty of trepidation about getting around the coast of Nova Scotia without joining the many wrecks resting on the rocks below.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, how do you find all these great events, shows, tours, museums etc??? I need to hear about all the research that went into planning your itinerary before you ever left GA.