Human Flower Project
Thursday, December 15, 2005
The Arabian flower with a B-cup is darling of the Middle East.
In the Muslim world, girls are looking past December 25 to the Eid al-Adha holiday in January, as visions of Fulla, and her passel of Islamic accessories, dance in their heads.
Modest breasts, no date for the prom, a hijab (or head scarf), and minimal make-up, Fulla is Muslim Barbie. “More than 1.3 million dolls, at $16 each, have been sold since the toy hit the shelves in November 2003.”
She’s a Human Flower Project because of her name, which is Arabic for (we think) Jasminium sambac. The stylized drawings on Fulla’s pink packaging look like jasmine blooms, but because Yasmine is also a popular female name in parts of the Middle East, we find the floral identity of “Fulla” a bit perplexing. One site says the name means gardenia, another refers to a flower of the Levant “often made into garlands.” Arabic readers, please help us out.
In any case, Fulla’s pink heels take another small step for Western hegemony. If you can’t beat ‘em, sell ‘em. The Central Intelligence Agency appears outdated; to overcome evil-doers, a la Foucault, better to decentralize and short-circuit the intellect all together, going straight to the primal desire for miniature handbags, pink jeans and prayer rugs.
Susan Taylor Martin of the St. Petersburg Times has done an especially fine job of following Fulla from her introduction a year ago to her new sidekicks “Yasmeen and Nada” and (with a feint toward Hinduism) her latest incarnations: Singing Fulla and “Walking Fulla, pushing a luggage cart with suitcases to hold the dozens of seasonal outfits that crowd her closet.”
The doll, like Barbie, is made in China, but sold by a company in Damascus called NewBoy. A representative of the firm says Fulla was developed “to reflect Arab values….She’s not only a sexy lady, but she’s honest, loving and caring and respects her mother and father.” Barbie was loving and caring, wasn’t she? (Was she?) Well, she sure wanted sidekicks and “dozens of seasonal outfits.”
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Archaeologists have uncovered a masterpiece of Mayan art in Guatemala, proof this civilization was “in full flower more than 2000 years ago.”
Detail from mural found at San Bartolo, Guatemala
Photo: National Geographic Society
An exciting story today describes “the oldest intact mural ever found in Meso-America,” a painting 30 ft. long discovered below a pyramid in the Petin jungle of Northern Guatemala. The mural depicts “the son of the Corn God establishing land, water and air, and paradise in the east where the sun rises,” and in adjacent panels, the Corn God’s coronation, death and resurrection. Prof. William Saturno and his team have dated the San Bartolo painting from 150 B.C.
“The Mayans dominated southern Mexico and parts of Central America for some 1,500 years, ...until the Spanish conquered them 500 years ago.” The new find shows that the structures of Mayan society and culture were in place at least 500 years earlier than had been previously believed.
The descendants of the Maya still live in Southern Mexico and Guatemala, and recent political movements in this region have drawn both spirit and substance from the ancient empire, as today indigenos lay claim to the land and a quite literally illustrious heritage.
Ahau glyph (Flower)
Image: Mayan majix
The Maya were brilliant mathematicians. Their linguistic code was cracked only in fairly recent years, revealing a society based on kingship and a manifold system for measuring time. In tandem with a 365-day calendar, the Mayan tzolkin of 260 days “guided the daily rituals and cultural achievement of the people” and according to at least one source is “still in use today in some parts of Mexico and Guatemala.”
One of the 20 days cycling through the tzolkin was known as Ahau or Flower. One commentator explains, “The meanings of the day-sign Ahau are many: Lord, Sun, Flower, Marksman or Blowgunner” —as in English “flower” communicates not just “blossom,” but fertility, femininity, fulfillment, success….
Ahua: both “flower” and “Lord”
Ahau receives a floral bouquet
and wears a floral hat,
with hummingbird accent
(detail from a Mayan vase)
Photo: Justin Kerr
We don’t pretend to understand the cultural complexity of the ancient Maya, though we see evidence in many sources of contemporary fascination with Mayan belief, as well as Mayan mathematics, and of course the art.
One such enthusiast writes, “Mayan time conception is more sophisticated than the one presently in vogue among the ‘western’ cultures. It involves an approach or attitude of mutual involvement, overlapping inclusion, and adaptable pro-active problem solving, rather than ‘taking a stand,’ ‘sticking to our guns,’ or ‘peace through strength.’ The Maya enjoy a world-view free from the entrapments of dualistic thinking.”
We find such claims incompatible with a society based on kingship—for what could be more stringently dualistic than the conception of king/non-king? Yet discovery of the Petin mural proves about Mayan culture once again, “more will be revealed.”
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Horticulturists and atomic researchers in India have begun irradiating flowers, to prolong shelf life and create dazzling mutants.
It’s a tricolor case of cultural discord.
New India Press has reported (Dec. 9) a technique for floral “improvement”: to zap flowers with radiation.
Researchers at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai, and Kerala Ag. University’s Department of Pomology and Floriculture hope to produce appealing new shapes and shades: “Exposing seedlings to radiation can bring about characteristic changes in the genetic make-up and throw up mutants.” The technique will be tried over the next three years on orchid, anthurium, tuberose, marigold, and jasmine.
The news story notes, “Irradiation-induced mutation as a tool for further improvement of orchid and other ornamental plant varieties has already become a subject of numerous studies abroad.” Perhaps in the U.S., though here, you can be sure, any horticultural procedure involving radiation would be kept under wraps. To “throw up mutants” is not a topic for polite conversation—much less a sweet sales pitch.
New India reports that harvested flowers are being zapped too. “Preliminary studies” indicate that the method “enhances the shelf-life of flowers” and makes them easier to transport. Couldn’t we just coat them with polyurethane and be done with it?
Most customers, it’s true, want “new varieties” of flowers. As I shopped for poinsettias last weekend, a nurserywoman pointed with pride to a miniature-something, striped mauve and cream, with bracts as spiky as holly. “What do you think of that?” the sunny saleswoman asked. In a breach of tact, I told her.
In the 1950s, the thought of buying flowers fresh from a “Gamma Irradiation Chamber” just might have been appealing; today, it’s horrifying. We predict that, without a cloak of marketing smoke, shelf-life will be the only life for these double, ruffled, tricolored blossoms in the West.
The National Wildlife Federation’s 35th photo contest drew more than 4000 entries, swooping owls, rutting deer—and a few flowers.
Christopher C. Barry and his zoom lens snapped this “Scudderia katydid nymph” astride a lily in Huntington, West Virginia. Barry’s shot was one of the National Wildlife Federation’s best photos of 2005.
Check out all this year’s finalists and portfolios of past years. Details for submissions to the 2006 contest will be released Jan. 20.