Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Peace Memorial Museum

This was the most incredible day. She felt like she hit the jackpot, especially being the 2nd day in a row after a night of Guthrie wetting his bed and waking up way too early and having had a fairly uninspired yesterday. She was exhausted as she took the kids to school so she sat in a cafe to finish reading Barthes' Empire of Signs. She then leisurely strolls through town finding throat lozenges and baby soap and a little gallery of Japanese prints. The owner, Mitsumi, pulls out her own sumi ink paintings to show her and says that it makes her very sad that so many people know Hiroshima because of war and only make work about war and peace. She is more interested in abstraction.

She then goes to her meeting with Steven Leeper, Chairperson and Director of of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation - the first American ever to hold this position. They immediately become friends because they share friends in common - Arjun Makhijani and Alice Stewart. He really wants to meet her husband to discuss RERF and David's research findings. They eat a bento box lunch in his spacious and sky-high office with his charming and brilliant "secretary" Miwako Sawado and they all talk about Hiromi Tsuchida's photographs, Hiroshima Mon Amour, RERF, art and her projects. She promises to help him find a room and audience in Chapel Hill next month for his U.S. tour with an A-bomb survivor to discuss "The New Nuclear Danger." Miwako explains that each monument is owned privately by a different person or entity and she will get her access to make rubbings of each one she requests.

Steven introduces her to three Japanese museum staff and curators to assist her - Kahori Wada and Mr. Ochiba and one other beautiful woman. They sit at a table and she is astounded by their hospitality and generosity. She can not believe when they bring out files with color photographs of melted glass bottles, burned roof tiles and ceramic insulators and ask her which ones she would like to use in her experiment. It takes Steven a while to explain her project to them - that she wants to place these "A-bomb exposed" objects directly on the x-ray film for a long exposure to see if the film registers any radiation. She expects it will - some sort of abstraction, explosion, trace, mark, scattered pattern of contamination, still, even after so many years. Steven explains that no one - especially RERF or the city of Hiroshima - wants her project to "succeed". They have spent a lot of time and effort convincing people that Hiroshima is now safe. RERF claimed - and still does - that only people within 2 kilometers (recently changed to 3.5 kilometres) within 2 weeks of the A-bomb have cause for concern. (Citizens need two witnesses that they meet this criteria to receive a passbook, essentially a card for free health care.) He tells her about a recent delegation of American woman. Two of them stayed in Tokyo because they were pregnant and were worried about being exposed to Hiroshima. He suggests that she use a lead box during her exposures to rule out any background radiation. She needs to get some highly sensitive blue x-ray film as soon as possible so she can begin this experiment.

Miwako spends three hours with her and Steven introduces her to the World Friendship Center (WFC) - a non-political and non-religious group - who will give her an English tour of all the monuments and memorials in Hiroshima. As they sat there, the WFC gave the Peace Culture Foundation over 200,000 yen for the Burmese and Chinese victims of recent natural disasters. It is lead by a new American volunteer every two years. It is currently run by two very sweet philanthropists - Kent and Sarah Sweitzer. She quietly moves over to the corner of the room during the photo shoot so she is not directly in the middle of this important transaction. She can not quite believe that she is perched up in this glass room overlooking the Peace Memorial Park with such amazing organizers when she has walked down below so many times as a tourist. The Sweitzers introduce he to Michiko Yamane who will give her the tour of the monuments. She leaves them at the the International Meeting Hall where she reads the Japanese Times - her first serious look at the rest of the world since their arrival. It is no better or worse than the last time she checked. She donates a copy of her book to the library there.

As she walks to try to find the "basement of lots of stuff beneath Books Off" she feels truly lucky. She smiles to herself in her new flea market diagonal green and brown striped sun dress and is completely surprised that she remembers where she had seen Books Off during the first few days here and when she walks down into the basement to discover the world's best thrift store - huge, clean, organized and full of Japanese things. Within 5 minutes she finds the most beautiful Japanese sun dress with an asymmetrical hemline, ribbon neckline and a red and blue lantern pattern for 15 dollars. (She happily spends it because she just sold two of her bomb drawings to a trustee-collector at the Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center where 30 of her bomb drawings are on show as part of the exhibition Uncoordinated: Mapping Cartogaphy in Contemporary Art.) She realizes she can only mostly look today because it is time to go get watermelon popsicles for the kids and pick them up from school. She will come back.

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