Human Flower Project
Monday, September 20, 2004
Big City Window-Boxes
Two European architects spruce up homely buildings with vertical gardening.
A huge, plain 10-story apartment building in Paris’s 17th arrondissement has become the city’s tallest planter. Architect Edouard Francois transformed it into a “Flower Tower” with wraparound window-boxes and drip-irrigated bamboo.
Jonathan Glancy reports in today’s Guardian that Francois’s innovation brings shade, life and wind-rustle to an otherwise undistinguished block of the city. The architect “has long observed how, given the chance, Parisians will cultivate the tiniest balcony, nurturing surprising greenery in this tightly packed, densely occupied city. He has formalised this hobby….”
Glancy participated in a similar feat of vertical gardening himself 10 years ago in London, hoping to improve and preserve the Hayward Gallery on London’s South Bank: after a design competition, the building was covered with trailing plants.
Francois is also the force behind Montpellier’s “Sprouting Building”. “Straightforward, well-planned apartments were tucked behind what appeared to be a very unlikely rock face, made of concrete covered in a mesh of steel cages filled with loosely compacted stones….
“There was a rush to live here, for not only does each apartment enjoy a more or less enclosed rustic timber balcony - like a potting shed in the sky - but residents knew that, sooner or later, the wall would bloom, as indeed it has.”
Now that’s Urban Renewal, Babylon-style.
Sunday, September 19, 2004
Bad Guys Bloom in Sayles Movie
In the new film by director John Sayles, Silver City , the old association of flowers with evil rises again.
There’s a big vase of flowers beside the dastardly preacher’s pulpit. When fictional Colordao senator Richard Pilager welcomes big-time donors to his mansion in the mountains, red roses and gerber daisies festoon the banquet table. Even the parade for El Dia de Los Muertos, Day of the Dead, with its loads of traditional marigolds, is directed by a cruel coyote who exploits and even murders immigrant workers.
John Sayles’s new movie Silver City tips us which characters are his bad guys: they’re the ones with flowers on hand. Even the wicked lobbyist, who’s snaked our hero’s girlfriend, has a big basket of red chrysanthemums on his front porch.
As anthropologist Jack Goody discusses in his magnum opus The Culture of Flowers , flowers have been associated with depravity in many eras. After the Roman Empire fell, early Christian church leaders forbad flowers except for medicinal use. Other phases of austerity have followed. By linking flower blossoms with the black hats in his latest release, John Sayles proves that this old association is alive and well.
Marigolds—Eye Candy or Eye Medicine?
A Canadian firm has patented an extract of marigold flowers for its benefit to eye health.
Ever tried photographing marigolds? A camera tends to turn their iridescent oranges and yellows positively day-glo. But it appears these humble flowers are capable of more than dazzle.
Fitness and Wellness Week reports that Kemin Foods has been granted a patent from Canada’s Intellectual Property Office to make “purified, crystallized Lutein” from marigold petals. The article notes that several studies have shown lutein, a natural antioxidant found also in spinach and eggs, reduces the risk of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
“Lutein, present in many areas of the eye including the macula and lens, appears to filter high-energy blue wavelengths of visible light - from both natural sunlight and indoor light.”—which may explain both why my marigold photos take on a black-light-poster radiance and why the new eye-care product goes by the name FloraGLO.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
In Lieu of Flowers—Democracy
The florists’ bete noir—“in lieu of flowers”—takes a political twist in Michigan.
Flowers, especially in predominantly Protestant cultures like the U.S., have always been tinged with negativity. For their association with earlier pantheistic religions, they were considered supect—the emblems of licentious nature gods. Thought of as luxury items, flowers implied decadence—Puritan church appointments were spare and plain; put the Bible on the altar, but God forbid an urn of striped peonies!
In our time, this prudish attitude toward flowers takes many forms, most bluntly the prescription added to funeral notices: “in lieu of flowers donations may be made to Such and Such Charity.” The Society of American Florists has been battling this trend since the turn of the twentieth century. Its campaigns to encourage funeral flowers won national PR awards in the 1950s and again in the late ‘80s for putting money and muscle into the effort. Even so, the trend toward “in lieu of” requests keeps increasing.
To turn from the floral expression of mourning to fund-raising in the name of the deceased signals a major discord in our society’s attitudes toward death and remembrance. A heart shaped wreath of roses, as perishable as the beloved, is a tribute that publically mimicks personal loss. A donation to the Heart Association or the American Cancer Society is something altogether different—a memorial to progress that would seem to say, “We’re working on this death thing. A few more scientific breakthroughs, and we can dispense with it altogether!”
Flowers bespeak our vulnerability and transience, memorial donations our largesse and power.
As for today’s twist. Pete Petoskey of Peshawbestown, Michigan, died September 2 at age 89. A retired Army mapmaker, lifelong Democrat, and sports buff, Petoskey had donated money to many Indian tribes through the years. In his father’s waning days, Petoskey’s son asked if, at his death, he’d like donations to go to Guatemalan Indians, in lieu of flowers.
Susan Ager of the Detroit Free Press interviewed Petoskey’s son.
“I remember saying, ‘Dad, do you want people to send money to the Guatemalan Indians in your memory?’ He said: ‘That’s expensive. Many of the Indians that we know are families who don’t have that kind of money.’ He said, ‘Better for them to do something more tangible, like vote for John Kerry.’ “
Culture & Society • Florists • Politics • Religious Rituals • Permalink