Human Flower Project
Friday, December 31, 2004
On the coast of Brazil, both December 31 and January 1 are feast days of Yemanja, Queen of the Sea.
On Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, celebrants light candles amid white gladiolas in rites for the ocean deity Yemanja.
Photo: Silvia Izquierdo for AP
Times Square offers one kind of New Year’s celebration, the beaches of Brazil another.
Afro-Brazilians, especially in the Bahia region, honor the ocean goddess Yemanja by sending blue and white flowers out over the waves. Custom says that if the flowers come ashore, Yemanja is displeased and will bring a poor fishing season; if the flowers vanish, she has accepted the offering and a year of good catches will follow.
February 2nd (Ground Hog Day/Candlemas) is her major holiday, but December 31 and January 1 are dedicated to her also.
Yemanja came to the shores of Brazil with African slaves. A central figure in Yoruban religion, she is known by many names across West Africa and the Caribbean—including La Sirene, the mermaid goddess of Haiti. “In the Yoruban pantheon, Yemanja rules the top half of the ocean while Olokun, a hermaphrodite with long flowing hair, rules the bottom half.” A regal and protective figure, she became associated with the Virgin Mary.
On land and sea, Happy New Year!
Company Recalls Lily Remedy
After sulfites were discovered in some similar products, a California company is taking its dried lily flowers off the market.
Lily bulbs and flowers are old herbal remedies, used both in the West and East.
Wei Chuan USA is recalling its dried lily flowers because “labels failed to disclose that the product may contain sulfites, which can be deadly to those allergic to them.” Consuming sulfites can send asthmatics into shock.
In Chinese medicine, boiled lily flowers and honey before breakfast are sometimes prescribed for patients with hemorrhoids. Euphemism or higher consciousness?—another source recommends dried lily blooms to “calm shen,” or soothe the spirit.
Some Western herbalists exalt the lily’s “antimicrobial oil,” akin to the juices of garlic and onion. The flowers have been used to heal cuts and bruises, and one source deems them “Perfect for removing splinters.”
For now, herbalists would be wise to find alternative anti-epileptic remedies, anodynes (pain relievers), and splinter aids. Another company had to recall its dried lily flowers in 2001.
Thursday, December 30, 2004
“Paradise” on Parade
Saturday brings the 116th Tournament of Roses Parade; from horse-drawn carriages festooned with blossoms, the floats are now computerized, lacquered behemoths that take a year to make.
In 1890 the residents of Pasadena, California, decided New Year’s Day was a bragging opportunity.
“‘In New York, people are buried in snow,’ announced Professor Charles F. Holder” of the Valley Hunt Club. “‘Here our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let’s hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise.’ ”
The Tournament of Roses has an outstanding website, with links to the big commercial float-building companies and all-volunteer armies. All it takes, according to one professional outfit, is “20 million flowers, 8,000 gallons of glue and 16,000 volunteers.”
Stanford Decorated Car, 1909
The Rose Parade is a five star chamber-of-commerce spectacle. A photographic timeline shows how the shaggy early floats, designed and executed by manic frat boys, evolved into the rolling kinetic sculptures of today.
Malaysia float, 1990
Photo: Charisma Designs
Even the sleek 21st century floats must be sheathed only with live flowers and other organic matter. “Dinosaurs and dragons often feature Brussels sprouts, cranberries and squash; underwater scenes may include kale and cauliflower; halved raw potatoes are ideal for a cobblestone walkway.” But spinach doesn’t hold up well.
The Rose Parade themes have been a fairly la-di-dah mix of patriotism and fantasy, though there have been some windshifts through the decades. In 1936, the parade recounted “History in Flowers.” 1968 brought the “Wonderful World of Adventure.” “Thanks to Communications” was the 1988 theme, and for 2005 a decidedly Bushy theme: “Celebrate Family.”
The South Pasadena committee has entered “Mom’s Flight School,” as its float in this year’s competition: “featuring a mother dragon lying on her back, protecting her toddler and unhatched egg.” Hard to tell whether this entry celebrates single-motherhood or in vitro fertilization.
A pop cultural heroine emerges from the fumes: Isabella Coleman, the glue goddess whose innovations in the late 1920s took float-building from backyard hobby-craft to kitsch commercial art (granted, one that appeals to a 7-year old’s aesthetic: polar bears, Fred Flintstone and the Bedrock gang, a 210-foot ice cream sundae, and Dinah Shore in sparkling chariot of white blooms).
The parade begins at 8:00 a.m. (Pacific Time, of course) on New Year’s Day.
Bed of Roses, San Francisco’s float, 1931
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
In Mass Mourning
The world grieves for thousands who died after Sunday’s earthquake off the western coast of Sumatra.
A burial ground in Cuddalore, India.
Photo: Arko Datta for Reuters
Sunday’s violent earthquake on the western edge of Indonesia has killed tens of thousands of people in 11 countries across Asia and Africa.
Flower petals were scattered off the southern coast of India, to remember and bless those who disappeared at sea. But death on this scale makes the sacred and ancient rites of burial impossible, another cruel fact of life for survivors. Across Indonesia and South India, many of the dead must be buried before they can even be identified, unceremoniously, in the interest of public health.
This photograph by Claude Renault gives some sense of the how people in Tamil Nadu customarily mourn the dead—a funeral in Kanchipuram.
And here is a Buddhist prayer from Sri Lanka.
Pujemi Buddham kusumena ‘nena
punnena ‘metena ca hotu mokkham
Puppham milayati yatha idam me
kayo tatha yati vinasabahavam.
This mass of flowers endowed with color, fragrance, and quality
I offer at the lotus-like feet of the King of Sages.
I worship the Buddha with these flowers:
by the merit of this may I attain freedom.
Even as these flowers do fade,
so does my body come to destruction.