Sunday, January 06, 2013

Ban the Bomb! (Trafalgar Square, 1960)

At my mom's briefly today, found her in a nostalgic/semi-grim mood, i.e., she'd dug up her old journals and scrapbooks, kept when she was 19 and 20, living in Paris and London, respectively, in 1959 and 1960.

At 71 today, she said that since she could die at any time now, her journals, written in her native German, would be useless to her children (me and my brother, sitting right there), so she should just throw them out. But just LOOK at her first real love! (Beautiful German boy with Elvis hair and Elvis-style suit.) And then the Moroccan boy that she was in love with in Paris! (Another beautiful boy with Elvis hair and Elvis-style suit!)

ME: Ma! Please! Why in the world would you ever even think of throwing this all away?!

MOM: I had to clean out my sister's things [2008 is the year she died in Germany; my mom had to fly over there and take care of everything], and she had box after box of photographs and diaries. I had to throw most of them away. I could die today, and you [me and my brother] couldn't read them. Might as well throw them out now.

ME: Ma! Your whole family lives to be 80-something. You're 71! You've got another 10 or 15 years! Wait until you're on your deathbed or something! God. What if you throw this stuff out now and then a few months from now wonder: "Hmmm...What did that boy I was in love with when I was 19 look like, exactly? Ooops! I DID have his picture in my scrapbook, but, oh, I threw it away. Ho-hum."

One thing among the scrapbooks that caught my eye: In the back of one London scrapbook was a 1960 flyer with the headline "Ban the Bomb!" A famous anti-nuke rally in London's Trafalgar Square on April 18, 1960, that drew between 60,000 and 100,000 marchers. Why this struck a chord with me: Having read EVERY Sylvia Plath biography/letters/journals, etc., I remembered that Plath had gone to something called a "Ban the Bomb" march in London in 1960! And there was--"surprise"!--a marital problem involved: Husband Ted Hughes had, for whatever weird reason, chosen to go to said march without his wife, instead taking Dido Merwin, poet Bill Merwin's wife, whom Plath did not like. Pissed off, Plath called up a random friend of Ted's, and, with him, dragged her 3-week-old baby along to the march.

Plath's horribly hackneyed journal description:

I saw the first of the 7-mile-long column appear -- red and orange and green banners, "Ban the Bomb!" etc., shining and swaying slowly. Absolute silence. I found myself weeping to see the tan, dusty marchers, knapsacks on their backs --Quakers and Catholics, Africans and whites, Algerians and French -- 40 percent were London housewives. I felt proud that the baby's first real adventure should be as a protest against the insanity of world-annihilation. Already a certain percentage of unborn children are doomed by fallout and no one knows the cumulative effects of what is already poisoning the air and sea.

Plath's idiotically trite "description" aside... My 19-year-old mother was at this very march! The two could have bumped up against each other, for all I know! How strange and interesting!

BBC: On This Day

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