There is something comfortable about being voluntarily uncomfortable – a stranger with no parasol in a country of full sun where most of the women wear long gloves and visors while carrying umbrellas; an American carrying a bulky black backpack and a big Nikon camera in a thrift-shop sailor dress in a sea of school uniforms and wispy summer layers; a working tourist who does not speak the language. It was the first day of her children’s YMCA International Kindergarten so it was the first day she could walk around the city on her own, finding black and white film for her “real” camera, a cutting board, a UV umbrella, postcards, taking pictures of groups of schoolgirls singing at the monuments in the Peace Memorial Park, “In the searing flash, I became a picture. Blasted by the heat, I melted into the wall. Blasted by the wind, you disappeared into the earth.”
She cries several times while in the Peace Memorial Park – once while listening to the English audio at the Tower for Mobilized Students, and throughout the two devastating documentary films she watches in the museum: A Mother’s Prayer from 1990 and Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Harvest of Nuclear War from 1982. (Se decides to leave the museum after these two free films and to return another day. There is only so much of this despair that she can absorb, especially when she needs to pick up her kids at the end of the day.) Both films have footage of a two year old girl heaving and crying out for her dead mother and roving shots of the dead, skulls, burned bodies, keloids, deformities, destroyed cities, everything completely obliterated and yet, and yet, the miracle of some kind of survival for some. A young girl fans the ashes of her father in an urn, wishing to cool him. He was a fisherman and died three days after being exposed to the atomic tests on the Bikini Atoll. In Hiroshima, all things atomic are connected. Sadako, the girl who died of leukemia while folding thousands of her medicine wrappers into paper cranes; another girl who was damaged by radiation at the moment of conception would never understand the damage. “There is no cure for the atom bomb. The eternal prayer of Hiroshima, motherland of peace, is for a world without nuclear weapons to be secured.”
She is stunned by the moving footage of grasses, flowers and ladders, and yes, even people, burned white onto the surface of wood and stone, negative shadows like Anna Atkins’ cyanotypes of Victorian flowers, like Adam Fuss’ silk Shaker ladder. Carol had written more eloquently about all this in her essay Blossoming Bombs and she just could not believe that she could feel any more than she had already felt about these absences, these atomic ghosts. She not only wants to make cyanotypes, but also do rubbings of flowers, grasses and ladders. She still has not found an art supply store, even after walking around the city from 9am until 5pm with only one brief stop – an amazing lunch of eel, zucchini and pepper tempura on a bowl of perfect rice with miso and black tea, barefoot in a back room bar with only women.
It was only 21 days after the first atomic bomb test in Alamogordo, New Mexico that the U.S. dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima and then just a few more after that when they dropped Fat Man on Nagasaki. They wanted to see and study what the atomic bomb would do to people on the other side of the world. It was a criminal experiment. She wanted to listen to Joy Division’s Atrocity Exhibition and when she saw footage of the countless charred bodies and the emaciated survivors, she had flashbacks to other footage – footage of the concentration camps – another war, another war the U.S. was involved in.
The Japanese people have attempted to make maps from memory of the destroyed neighborhoods at ground zero – neighborhoods that were once full of artists and doctors, actors and writers. She was struck by the pinkness of one of the handmade Hiroshima neighborhood maps. It was the same pink as her own drawing of Hiroshima. She is troubled by the name of the park – “Peace Memorial Park” – as if peace has vanished and we can only remember it, not live it and she supposes that for the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this is ultimately and absolutely true. She is troubled by the fact that such a brutal slaughter is the reason for this park where children sing and picnic and tourists come with paper cranes and cameras. Opaque cataracts; only plasma cells remain; to damage young tissue is to damage young lives; we have to bear the responsibility because we know full well……