Human Flower Project
Saturday, December 31, 2005
Kadomatsu—Welcoming Japan’s New Year
Chimes, brown noodles in broth, and arrangements of pine and bamboo signal a fresh start in Japan.
Photo: Japanese Festivals
Shogatsu has arrived already in Japan. Happy New Year!
This is perhaps the grandest Japanese holiday of all. Throughout late December, Japanese companies have held bonenkai parties, to “forget the year.” One blogger observes that these binge-fests of food and drink are paradoxical: they celebrate “all the stuff you want to leave behind you as you look forward to a new year. Then again it seems like all the silliness you want to forget about is what you end up doing at the bonenkai itself.” Here are some bonenkai revelers feeling no pain.
Shogatsu/New Year’s Day (the word actually means “January”) is marked with many more delicious and decorous customs that, unless you’re allergic to pine, won’t cause a hangover. The kadomatsu is our favorite. Bamboo stalks, sliced diagonally across the top, are decorated with pine, and other plants—nandina, plum branches, purple cabbages…—all bound with straw. These beautiful winter arrangements are set like sentinels by entryways, to receive spiritual blessing and attract goodness.
One commentator writes, “A majestic evergreen pine tree grows into a tall, towering tree, so it is used as a symbol of longevity. Bamboo is a very strong plant that grows very straight and tall with a sturdy root structure, so it is thought of as a symbol of prosperity. The plum tree is not only neat and clean but also withstands the cold patiently and constantly, so it is considered to be a symbol of constancy.” The kadomatsu captures these virtues and may bring them to all who work or dwell within.
and the kadomatsu he designed
for the Honolulu Academy of Arts
Photo: Craig T. Kojima
The kadomatsu—like so many human flower projects—serves many purposes at once: decoration, invitation and prayer.
This article from the Honolulu Star Bulletin explains how to make one correctly. For example, one should use only odd numbers of each plant, and the bamboo should be sliced at various heights, all steeply angled “to allow the spirits to enter.” This article, too, gives precise instructions.
“The bamboo legs must come in contact with the foundation of the home. A table, basket or container holding the bamboo is considered bad luck and should be avoided when placing your kadomatsu outside. It should never enter the home.” Further, the kadomatsu considered luckiest were traditionally made “only by men,” maybe because cutting and tying big bamboo takes superstrength, maybe because otherwise the customary shogatsu foods wouldn’t make it to the table.
Kadomatsu with zigzag paper (gohei)
Photo: Gary Akiko
Special greetings to our friends Masashi, in Japan, and Eishi, in the U.S. And wishes for prosperity, longevity, and constancy to all this Shogatsu 2006.
Friday, December 30, 2005
In California, where most U.S. cut-flowers grow, a new program aims to improve the lives of agricultural workers.
It wasn’t by chance that the National Farm Workers, led by Cesar Chavez, staged its first strike (1965) in the flower fields of McFarland, California. The Golden State made $1 billion off its flowers last year, and the industry, though better than in many parts of the world, is still rife with problems.
In California, “flowers and other ornamentals ranked sixth among all crops causing pesticide illnesses, according to data compiled by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. In San Mateo County, 23 percent of all pesticide poisonings occurred in the flower industry.”
A statewide survey of agricultural workers “Suffering in Silence” (2000) found that many farmworkers are malnourished; others fail to seek medical help for fear of deportation. The report concluded “that the vast majority of California’s agricultural workers are at serious risk for life-threatening chronic diseases, and that they have little or no access to health care.”
A new program—Poder Popular or “power to the people”—may “improve the workers’ health care, nutrition, housing and labor conditions and ...integrate them into the cities where they live.” San Diego is one of six regions with $600,000 in funding to bring improvements about. The project focuses on “promotores,” community leaders and spokespeople.
“In the next six to eight months, the promotores, both men and women, will be trained in such topics as doctor visits, water quality, tenant/landlord laws and fair housing. They also will go into the fields and ask workers what other needs they have, possibly bringing cameras to document living and working conditions.”
We would welcome their photographs of California’s flower fields and farmworkers at the Human Flower Project.
Those who dismiss the issue of pesticides should check out the “Suffering in Silence” report, and consider these eerie photographs by Laurie Tumer. Call them to mind next time you’re tempted to shake or spray a little poison in the garden.
The Poder program is part of California’s Agricultural Worker Health Initiative.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Darwin: Mindful of Flowers
A major exhibition shows how flowers first lured Charles Darwin into science and filled his final days.
Charles Darwin, age 7
Through the end of May 2006, the American Museum of Natural History once more exercises curatorial power—a form of intelligent design—with Darwin, exploring the life and work of modern science’s “Mr. Natural.”
The online exhibition is extensive, too, with even a meditative video of the discoverer’s daily walk.
We had associated Charles Darwin (1809-1882) with primates and big turtles, but now learn that his first studies were of flowers: “meticulous records” of blossoms he made as a 10 year old boy. His still-controversial The Origin of Species (1859) advanced theories of evolution and natural selection that, despite detractors, undergird the natural sciences today.
Over time Darwin’s theoretical mindset steadied but his focus shifted “from geology to zoology to botany.” When his daughter became ill, he moved to Down House nearer the sea and became engrossed studying wild orchids. “Native species bloomed everywhere. This abundance delighted Darwin, who saw in the ‘wonderful creatures’ a perfect case of natural selection at work. He recognized the intricate shapes of orchid flowers for what they were: adaptations that allowed the orchids to receive their insect pollinators as a lock receives a key.”
Care to immerse yourself? Here is Darwin’s On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects published in 1862.
One species that inflamed his curiosity was Angraecum sesquipedale, of Madagascar, an orchid with a throat 12 inches long. “‘Astounding,’ Darwin wrote, of this strange adaptation. ‘What insect could suck it?’” He theorized an insect capable of pollinating this rare beauty and, yes, forty years after Darwin died, entomologists discovered the giant hawk moth that does exactly that. Xanthopan morganii praedicta “hovers like a hummingbird as its long, whip-like proboscis probes for the distant nectar.”
We also find interesting the form of Darwin’s workday. According to the museum’s curators, he “rose early and walked in the garden before breakfast. He worked until 9:30, when he spent an hour in the drawing room, listening to family letters being read. He resumed work in the study, then at noon walked, rain or shine, around the Sandwalk.” Afternoons were devoted to answering letters and reading.
“My life goes on like clockwork,” he wrote, “and I am fixed on the spot where I shall end it.” Like a flower.
Art & Media • Culture & Society • Ecology • Science • Permalink
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
In India, radio and TV greetings are supplanting flowers this season.
by Lynnette Cook
Photo: Nova Space
An intriguing story from the Deccan Herald today says that bubbly DJs have become the media for greetings, business that until recently belonged to flower sellers. Consider: Would you prefer a vase of lilies or your name squawked over FM?
Brij Mohan Khanagwal, president of All India Cut Flower, said the situation looks gloomy. ‘‘Ten years ago, we used to do roaring business during New Year and Christmas. But with the coming of a number of FM radio and television channels, Asia’s largest flower market here is doing lean business, as people prefer sending their wishes through them.’’
Khanagwal said the Delhi flower market has shrunk by 20% in the past five years—ominous. Meanwhile, TV and radio have set aside whole programs for personal greetings; “FM Gold airs ‘Subah ki Chal’ twice a week.”
We remember radio interludes like these from our own teen years (the 1960s)—the equivalent of passing notes on the air. Also, WLOU had a “prayer line” during its morning gospel music show, and there are still a fair number of small radio stations (we hope) with features like “Swap Shop.” (“I got a 120 gallon propane tank, in good shape, also a pair of guineas to sell. Call Buddy….”)
But how could airwaves supplant anemones? We’re reminded of what Mark Knox, longtime florist of Odessa, Texas, told us. The Society of American Florists, he said, had polled customers and learned “that self-recognition is one of the main reasons people send flowers.” Sending flowers may please you, and it also makes me look good.
May we suggest that our friends in India forego radio greetings this holiday. Please send your sweethearts flowers. Don’t you know “self-recognition” is the stuff of blogs?