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Apocalypse Tourism - VIII

[Editor's Note: The following is Part VIII of an unfinished short story that the author and BlockRadius have chosen to publish in serial form, until its expected completion in Fall 2019].

PART I - Click here

PART II - Click here

PART III - Click here

PART IV - Click here

PART V - Click here

PART VI - Click here

PART VII - Click here


It had been two years since Montreal, since this search for signs of the apocalypse began. I was getting desperate. I hadn’t found anything, only those little hints that apocalypse movies could provide. Except that really, they were not so little. When I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the future, nothing came to mind but them, yet they dominated the mind, just scenes from movies, apocalypse movies of all kinds, and the bleak outlook they held, the grays and browns of smoke and desert sand. And no comfort was to be taken from the idea that these futures depicted were only imaginary, for the very existence of such imagined futures was also real. Man-made and cultivated, incubated in cinema, the apocalypse was here, between conception and the final cut to be released in theaters everywhere.

In contrast with this backdrop, this mosaic of bleak Hollywood futures, I had only my own experience: the past, and the presently passing. And the presently passing was beautiful. Everywhere I looked, there was hope, good deeds, laughter, warmth. Each time I would meet a friend, my heart would swell with not just nostalgia, but the excitement and gratitude at being able to immediately trade this nostalgia in for the real thing, the present, at any moment. And each time, I would make this trade: a little nostalgia (a catch on a lawn, a trunk full of empty beer cans) for the present (a full glass of beer). And then a little bit of the present for a quick fix of nostalgia. And then nostalgia for the present. Back and forth, like breathing. And then sinking back again, eyes crossing beneath the surface, back into memory, trading a little fresh air of the present back for a little underwater nostalgia once again. The downside, of course, was that I could never will myself to remain present, to resist the warm temptation of nostalgia. If meeting a friend I had known for ten years, for example, I would simply not be able to help myself. My friend would begin talking, and I would immediately notice myself falling into the same thought pattern: first, I would think about how I had known this friend for ten years; second, I would wonder if this friend was thinking the same thing as I was; and third, I would dismiss the idea and attempt to listen once more, returning to the present, though never quite catching up all the way, in endless struggle with the pull of the past. And then eventually, this friend and I would part ways again, and our parting would be like its own kind of apocalypse, an encounter ending forever, a present experience born into memory.

So this was my life, I thought: imagining the apocalypse unoriginally, and saying goodbye to friends. I looked at the time. My phone had thirty percent battery. I checked under the seat again for another outlet, but it was just like the one by the window, and I didn’t have an adapter. In Prague, I would have to transfer to another train. Just make it to that train, I thought. Just make it to Dresden.

In Bratislava, I had said goodbye to my friend and then rushed to the station, only for the train to board thirty minutes late. Since originally, before the delay, I would have had only twenty minutes in Prague to transfer, I was now resigned to the fact that I would miss my next train. The best I could hope for now was that my phone would stay alive long enough to help get me on a later train, to get me to Dresden by the end of the night.

To save battery, I turned off the podcast I was listening to, a conversation about contemporary anti-semitism and the latest rise of European nationalism. As a Jew, about to visit Germany for the first time, I felt uneasy. This was a different kind of tourism. This was not Shenzhen, the beautiful future; nor Bolivia, the beautiful girl. This was Dresden, the horrible site of the merciless bombing by the Allied forces at the end of World War II, which I only knew about from reading Slaughterhouse-Five (Vonnegut, 1969), and about which, beyond that, I knew nothing. And this was Germany, modern history’s greatest villain. So what was I doing? Why not just spend the night in Prague, in charming Prague?

Years ago, while living in New York, there was nowhere in the world I had a greater desire to visit than Hiroshima, Japan. I don’t know why, exactly. Perhaps it was just a kind of practical curiosity to see what a city looked like today that had experienced the apocalypse only 70 years ago, to gain some insight into the future of city planning, into what human beings would construct if given a “clean slate,” and through this insight develop some deeper understanding of the human condition that might serve me in my professional career, whatever that might one day become, or even in my relationships with friends, family, women… Or perhaps it was just to visit a post-apocalyptic city, to experience a true escape from the reality of living in New York, as far away from reality and as deep into the post-war, post-apocalyptic imagination as one could delve.

But Hiroshima was nothing like I imagined. It was far, far richer; far more than a memorial, it was a vibrant city of bright lights, crowds, and commotion, of local scents, flavors, and style, rivers and wires, backstreets and boulevards, boats and trains, sunshine, rainbows. The A-Bomb Dome was the single sign that the apocalypse once struck, the ruins of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, the only structure within the blast radius of the first atomic bomb in human history to detonate still standing seconds later, and only because the bomb had detonated directly overhead, just as it’s calmest in the eye of the storm; the building’s skeleton now a tourist attraction, but above all, a powerful symbol of resilience and remembrance. My friend and I drank vending machine beers and wandered the red light district, just wandering, only wandering, observing, passing through, lost on purpose, eating okonomiyaki and long, convenience store sushi rolls, as if they were popsicles. Taking the ferry to Miyajima and getting pickpocketed by a wild, yet ornamental, urban deer, en route to the floating Itsukushima Shrine, erected in the 6th century, (or around the same time that it is believed that aliens from outer space were teaching the Tiwanaku people of present-day Bolivia how to carve stone with the precision of a 21st-century 3D printer); taking the ferry three days later from Fukuoka to Busan; meeting this friend again by chance in New York years later; and saying goodbye, for God knows how long, again… and again…

The train pulled into Prague thirty minutes late, consistent with its delayed departure. I hurried off the platform, to orient myself as soon as possible. Within seconds, I found the big board of arrivals. Dresden, Dresden… Now boarding, thirty minutes delayed. Incredibly, the train to Dresden had waited for the train from Bratislava, had waited for my train, to arrive! I caught the train, found a seat, and within seconds, it began to roll. Within seconds, everything within seconds. The great synchronization of society. A great symphony, in the presently passing of its grand finale.

Pulling into Dresden, Hiroshima on my mind.

PART IX - Click here




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