As Dag Hammarskjöld's plane ploughed into thick forest near Ndola airport around midnight, I was dancing in a Greek taverna to a cacophony of bouzouki, kitchen clatter and music from the rival bar across the street. Understanding the plane to have landed safely and under pressure to file copy, journalists reported that negotiations with the Katanga leader, Moise Tshombe, had started. As the night passed, sad facts replaced those hopes.
The next morning, swimming in waters so calm I would normally have been able to hear families chatting in the hotel breakfast room and planning their day’s programmes, I could hear nothing. Why this silence? The Athens News, open on every table, explained all.
'Dag Hammarskjöld killed in mystery plane crash.'
Waiters wanting to clear tables watched frustrated as we sat there and read and then re-read every piece of news there was. Maybe some explanation, a ray of hope, but there was none.
'How should Hammarskjöld's successor be selected?' the Athens News asked, reminding us of Khrushchev’s proposal for a troika to replace him. And might President Kennedy rewrite his inaugural address to the General Assembly? Intending to tackle the admission of Red China, disarmament, nuclear testing and the status of Berlin, the UN’s twenty new African members would now expect him to tackle the issues of their continent.
Still seated, we read about Konrad Adenauer, now 85, struggling to keep his Christian Democrats in power. There were gory pictures of former Turkish Premier Menderes and colleagues hanging in shrouds in an Ankara street. We were reminded of British troops protecting newly independent Kuwait following threats by Iraqi Premier Kassem.
On other pages in the Athens News, we learned of different matters occupying public attention. In France, a group of fat women was protesting against ‘starvation diets, boyish lines and present-day dehydrated beauties’, enjoying ‘a banquet where all ate with gusto tremendous quantities, indifferent to dietary dictates or their shapes’. And in Italy, the Supreme Court had stunned the country’s 'morals police' (yes, really) with its ruling that making love in a parked car in the street was legal - as long as it was steamed up!
That evening, having checked with the Athens News, we climbed Pnyx Hill to watch the Son-et-Lumiere at the Acropolis. Lights traced the runner’s historic climb to the Parthenon with the good news that the battle of Marathon had been won. After the show, we returned in silence to our cars and to our hotels. For us, no good news but an uncertain future. And, yes, I still have that issue of the Athens News.