Saturday, August 28, 2010

All that remains...

It was Def Leppard who asked the musical/philosophical question, "Where does love go when it dies?"  That's pretty much what I wonder when I see abandoned buildings.
Urban decay and structures in disuse have become a sort of fascination for me, both in terms of history and art.  My data storage is corrupted with age, but I believe it started when I worked in a city school.  The elementary school was across the street form an abandoned hospital.  Nearly every window in the sprawling structure was broken.  Curtains turned beige with time billowed out through the jagged glass, causing the kids to tell stories of ghosts.  "It used to be an insane asylum," one boy told me.  "Yes," I replied.  "They build those next to schools all the time."
Weeds grew through the cracks in the parking lot.  Metal rods jutted up in the concrete, each one about nose-high on me and colored dark red with rust.  Bent.  Askew.  What were they?  Signposts?  Pipes? 
And I think that's just it.  What were those places meant for?  Many of us folks don't know.  But they were a labor of love for someone at one point or another, in the act of construction if nothing else.   The buildings are forever trapped in time, frozen in whatever era that their residents decided to walk away from them.  This creates an eerie sense of displacement.  They aren't high tech enough to be modern, they aren't preserved well enough to seem historical.  They just...are.  No wonder they are the breeding ground for so many ghost stories.  Yet with enough time elapsed and enough...well, decay...they become entirely new forms of art. 

I'm not alone in this fascination it would seem.  Entire sites and blogs have risen up on the subject of abandoned buildings.   There is even an underground movement of hobbyists called "infiltrators" who risk legal action through trespass and physical injury through rotted floorboards, just to skulk and explore these abandoned places.  A few of them are thrill-seekers, others are serious photographers wishing to capture these sites as art.  And it need not be your run-of-the-mill apartment or office building.  There are many fascinating places to choose from, everything from old movie theaters to closed missile silos.  
The one site that lights the fires of my imagination more than any other is the city of Prypiat in Ukraine.  The entire city was built in the old Soviet times as an "atomograd," meaning a residence for workers at a nuclear power plant.  Unfortunately, Prypiat's power plant was Chernobyl.  After the disaster in 1986, the entire city was abandoned.  Due to radiation levels that are still extremely high to this day, no one has ever returned to live in the city.  Admittedly I have not done thorough research, but there can't be many cases in history like Prypiat, where an entire population picks up and leaves within a span of a day or two, leaving everything behind, never to return. Only recently has plant and animal life returned to what is now known as the "zone of alienation."  Aside from the valuables that were pilfered by a few intrepid looters, all is as it was on April 26th, 1986.  I think it would be fascinating to visit Prypiat and to wander about, exploring these buildings that are decayed and frozen in time...while wearing suitable radiation gear, of course.   So many ideas for novels and short stories.

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