Sunday, November 24, 2013

Oblivion

The hotel I'm staying at for the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion is in Inner Harbor, a very recently built up area southeast from the main wharf area where the National Aquarium lies, about 20 minutes' brisk walk from the Convention Center. At the heart
 
of these new hotels, shops and restaurants is a roundabout with a big gilded object. To the untrained eye it looks like public art. Even when not surrounded with Christmas lights, its wavy golden flames look cheerful. Come closer, though - something I fear few do - and dark
 
shapes emerge in the golden flames, shapes which eventually reveal themselves to be hanged bodies. This is no ornament for an office park or luxury hotel; it's the National Katyn Memorial, erected on the 60th anniversary of the Soviet massacre of 20,000 military officers in 1940. Somehow it upsets me greatly to see it in this so unsuitable setting, and I've found myself walking over to it repeatedly as if to console it. Inner Harbor must have looked quite different in 2000. Perhaps the flames rose over the water and into an open sky? Now it's hidden in plain sight.

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