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Anfiteatro Echoes

I know this is a kind of cliche title if you translate it and massage it a little, but it’s the only thing that really captured what I was thinking. I was driving home at 2 AM down Stadium Blvd when I passed the stadium and just noticed how quiet and empty it was. For a place that was so full of energy and emotion only a few hours ago, it was just so overwhelmingly quiet. It’s one thing to visit a field like Gettysburg where something significant once happened and try to imagine who might have once stood on the same soil as you, but Michigan Stadium is just such an edifice.

In a weird way, driving by the stadium gave me the same kind of feeling I had when visiting Roman Ruins in Spain. It was oddly not like visiting Roman Ruins in Rome; somehow when I toured the forum the history felt much more alive and recent as our guide walked us, metaphorically and literally, through the events on historically significant days in Rome. I could see where Brutus had run, feel the heat of the summer days. Events here were actively, almost religiously remembered. Historical events had a vibrancy that was not easily overturned.

This kinds of memories transcended the more general feel of history that I got when milling around Merida in Spain. Maybe it was just the language barrier, but somehow the history was more like a backdrop. The ruins poked its head out every so often at breaks in the street so that one could idly look down while sipping beer in a tent at a summer festival. There didn’t seem to be a great reverence for the ruins, though they were certainly appreciated it seemed to manifest itself only in restricting access. There were no crowds climbing over one another to look down, no story tellers recounting the ancient days. Instead, the ruins were a backdrop for the lives people were living now. Friends retold stories of their times in Merida among the ruins, and somehow the overall feel of history seemed to bolster the significance of their own tales. Long forgotten, however, were the specifics. Perhaps nobody famous lived there, or at least nobody famous enough to be remembered for ages. Instead, this city was almost a literal Palimpsest. The history was laid underneath while each generation laid its own foundation of roads, plumbing, and urban planning, along with their own lives, families, and friends. While there’s a connective thread, it’s a linear progression; each generation grows farther from the ancients.

It amazes me that we are connected to the earliest life by countless small steps. If my mother had been told everything about her mother’s mother, and if her mother had…etc…I’d have a complete history of life, at least back to where it was in any sense recorded in a communicable fashion within one life time. And yet, those details slowly slip away. Instead, the neighborhoods that I know my ancestors once farmed are imbued with a special feel of history and I feel connected when I visit, I don’t even know the names of these people separated from me by only a handful of generations. I don’t know their story, and it is unlikely that people similarly removed in the future will know mine.

And so it was with Michigan Stadium. There’s an edifice that still stands, but it’s really just a backdrop. Sure, the alumni will tell tales of the great games that have been played there, but over time those games are forgotten. Who really can recount the details of games that occurred before their youth? Hell, I even have only a scant understanding of the game that inspired our fight song, and that story is virtually Michigan canon by now. Even the “scholars” of Michigan football when they try to reach back far in order to compile statistics have to be content with datasets that include things like, “Michigan either wins by 3 or loses by 5.”

For all the raw energy and emotion poured forth today in the stadium, for all of the celebrations and happiness, the near canonization of Tate Forcier, how much of it will be remembered? How much of it will instead serve to lay the mortar for a foundation of a history feeling that will somehow make each subsequent event feel that much more significant. Surely the players in the early days of the Big House could not have had a strong sense of Michigan “Tradition” or what it means to be a “Michigan Man.” When I think of history, I have a hard time remembering that people never think of their own lives as being part of history.

In Merida there is a large Anfiteatro, or Ampitheater, and a Roman Theater, that were both unearthed relatively recently, if my brain has stored my crudely translated understanding accurately these 4 years. When I walked around the theater, I thought about the plays that had been performed here. Surely there were performances that brought down the house. The Antifeatro had doubtlessly held outrageous performances, harrowing adventures, and other infinitely “memorable” events, and yet nobody remembers. Instead, it just lends itself to the gradual accretion of history in that town.

Earlier today I screamed at the TV after dropped catches and galloped around the room high fiving after Greg Matthews caught the game winning touchdown. Yet even that moment of ebullient ecstasy was so short-lived, I’m not sure if even I will be retelling it. Tonight the energy of the day quickly dimmed at night. Once grand plans shriveled into a quiet night with friends cut even smaller by general malaise and grogginess.

As I drove by the stadium I just couldn’t help but be back in Merida walking around the Teatro Romano. I know that this place has significance, but I don’t know what it is. I don’t know its history before my involvement with it, and over time I will likely gradually drift away from it. The friendships forged there will slowly melt apart, the high fives forgotten, strained vocal chords healed. I will remember, but I doubt it will live past me. For all our might and technology we so diligently document our lives, but who will bother to read it? Instead, the best we can hope for is that our lives contribute to the brick and mortar of an ever-building civilization, that we contribute one more layer to the outwardly growing crust of humanity.


September 13, 2009 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The End of an Era

As I watched the colorful liquids swirl down the drain, punctuated only by the clinking of glass and unscrewing of caps, I knew that my life was taking a more serious turn. For so long our living room, both of our current apartment and the old place on Thayer, has been lit by flourescing fluids in various liquor bottles by a black light.

It was kind of an easy decision to pour them out; the entertainment center where they’d rested for at least two years was taken home when one of my roommates moved out recently, and I couldn’t remember the last time we actually turned on the black light for more than a few minutes.

Still, there was some nostalgia that flowed out with those waters. It’s odd, the bottles had become dusty and were now serving a purpose far from what they were originally intended. They were only rarely illuminated and just served as a quiet background for our lives. But when uncapped, the waters were even lusher and brighter than I had originally hoped they might be when we first pulled highlighters apart in the hopes of making something aesthetic and college-y with our empty liquor bottles.

Maybe it’s forcing the symbolism too much, but it just felt like a lot of college came pouring out with that water. So many of the memories have been covered in dust. My college enrollment has served a purpose far from what I originally anticipated it to: while it’s been an environment supportive of intellectual growth, it’s been a huge social catalyst. It’s where I first learned to come out of my shell, relax, and, in a weird way, let loose and party. That’s probably one of the greatest lessons I learned at Michigan, and it was thanks to so many people along the way that I was able to model. Those memories are not often very vividly recounted, but when they do come back, they pour out, just as vivid, and perhaps even more, than they originally were.

The beauty of memory is that it doesn’t take up space. When I was done dumping out our decorative liquor bottles I was left with no pretty water and some dull, dusty old glass that I recycled, but when I relive my college memories, the times of sadness, friendship, ennui, struggle, triumph, and realization that few experiences can be cleverly binned into a lame, trite categories, the memories flow around me, but they don’t leave me, and it will hopefully be a long time before their container is recycled.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , | 4 Comments