Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Of Bull Markets

Finance leaders in Seoul crown a bull with flowers to begin stock-trading in the new year.


South Korea’s Finance and Economy Minister Han Duck-soo

decorated a bull with flowers January 2 at the Korea Exchange.

Photo: Kim Kyung-Hoon for Reuters

Over the past decade or so, South Korea’s economy has been lurching ahead only to lunge backward. It’s time for a steadying influence. Thus, a stolid bull was led into the Korea Exchange in Seoul yesterday. Finance minister Han Duck-soo ceremonially crowned the animal with a wreath of flowers, opening a new year of trading.

Is this a first for such a fine floral gesture? Likely not. The bull has special fascination and significance in Korea, admired as “powerful,” “noble,’’ and “tractable.’’ (It’s that tractable element that the nation’s economy may need most.)

imageOutside the NYSE

Photo: Fumi’s Web Page

Of course, in the U.S. and elsewhere, “bulls” are those with strong optimism about the market, and the capital to lay behind it. The wonderful rip-snorting sculpture outside the New York Stock Exchange is one of Lower Manhattan’s most popular works of public art. Frankfurt, Germany, we learn, also has a bull outside its stock exchange (matched with a more fiscally conservative bear).

Here is an excellent primer in the development of stock exchanges, written for interested non-economists. From it we learned, among many other things, that the first such trading was instituted to pay off a war debt (!!!???).

imageThe Buttonwood Agreement

As for the New York exchange, it began as The Buttonwood Agreement, when 24 merchants, bankers and general good-ol-boys gathered “at 68 Wall Street, under a buttonwood tree,” and agreed to trade securities. (Here’s a glossary, if you need to brush up on your brokerage terminology, as we do).

But what about blooms and bulls? The practice of decorating cows with flowers is a rite of spring in many parts of the world, an expression of the season’s richness. (Capitalists, of course, call seasons “quarters” and expect riches not just in spring but summer, fall and winter as well.) Ancient Egyptians paid homage to Apis and would march in procession behind an ornamented bull. The sacred cows of India often have their necks encircled with flowers (check the video here: a flower-bearing cow blesses a new building). And in case you missed them, here are some very dressy bulls, Beatriz Inglessis’s marvelous photographs from the Feast of San Isidro in Timotes, Venezuela last May. Of course, the bull has a special place in the hearts of Texans (“hook ‘em horns!”).

We also came across this admittedly arcane but amazing connection between Taurus the bull and the founding of the New York Stock Exchange. It’s all wound up with Masonic astrology and the Pleiades; Rose, Jim, Lee, Johns B and L, please get out your telescopes and advise.

But it IS 2006, after all. Do you find it a bit incongruous that a leader of Korea’s economy is decorating bulls? We do, and have decided that’s just the point.

No matter how you slice it or blow it dry, stock trading is gambling. It’s betting that whatever you can lay claim to now will be worth more later (or less, if you’re that kind of cowboy). Being essentially games of chance, stock exchanges around the world are full of peculiar customs, and many traders are noticeably superstitious.

According to one belief, the outcome of the Super Bowl—also big with gamblers—forecasts whether stocks will go up or down. In 1995, the stock market in Pakistan sank so far that brokers reportedly led 10 goats through the Karachi exchange  and slaughtered them in the parking lot.

imageA livestock market in Nebraska

Photo: Living History Farm

Wherever there’s risk and uncertainty, rituals will proliferate, from the ringing of the opening and closing bells on Wall Street to the much lovelier decorating of a bull in Seoul yesterday. It’s a matter of keeping one’s footing. More than the rest of us, those who make a living out of speculation and abstractions are out of touch. Who needs flowers and bulls more than someone who spends all day talking on two telephones at once, staring at numbers, waving his hands in the air, and bidding the promise of a stranger’s money on a sliver of another stranger’s potential for success? Makes you lust for daisies and a side of beef.

Long before there was Merrill-Lynch or AT&T, stock trading meant swapping ewes or selling your cattle to a “packer buyer”—the kind of activity that could involve something gritty, like pushing open a horse’s mouth to take a look at its teeth.  No longer.

The floral observance at the Korea Exchange suggests market optimism, perhaps, and a definite touch of vertigo.

Posted by Julie on 01/03 at 05:10 PM
Culture & SocietySecular CustomsPermalink

Monday, January 02, 2006

Ramallah’s Flowers—Checkpoints and Desire

In the midst of the second intifada (uprising), flower-giving takes hold in Palestine.

imageMarket at Qalandiyah,

checkpoint between

Jerusalem and Ramallah

Photo: Media Mouse

An intriguing and rare piece of journalism, by Amira Hass, gets beneath the surface of business reporting to deliver a full blown human flower project. Hass’s article in Haaretz explores the fast-changing flower customs of Ramallah, (pop. 24,000) a city on the West Bank, about 10 miles north of Jerusalem. We see how floral practices belie the “facts” of police blotters and pronouncements of governments.

Ramallah has long been a cultural center with a strong community of Christian Arabs. In the 1960s, the city had only one florist: Ramallah Flowers “opposite the Dunia Cinema and the Grand Hotel.” Its owner, Farhan Ma’arouf, was renowned for his discretion and skill, and for his glorious wreaths of flowers woven “with branches of cypress and lemon.” The family once had its own nurseries in Jericho, but after 1967 began buying most of their flowers in Israel, finding, “It was hard to compete with the quantities and the variety” though they still added blooms from their own greenhouses for “a personal touch.” Farhan’s son Amin carried the business on, but the shop closed in 1988.

Today, there are seven florists in Ramallah, and Hass observes they “look like flower shops anywhere.”  Two rather new customs have emerged in Ramallah: bringing flowers to hospital patients (never considered even ten years ago) and presenting bouquets to lecturers, composers and musical soloists at the local arts center. Hass writes that last spring, a bouzouki player made music in keeping with Ramallah’s recent history. “There was a lot of fury, anger and melancholy in his melodies, but the bouquet he received was cheerful.”

imageWreaths in Ramallah

Photo: Nigel Parry

How could flower-giving be catching on in a land of huge unemployment and violence?  Greenhouses have been bulldozed. The checkpoints that surround Ramallah impede how both people and flowers move through the region.

“If someone orders a dark pink flower arrangement from me, and I order the flowers by phone and can’t see them with my own eyes, I could very well get purple flowers that I didn’t want. How can I fulfill the order?” Amin Ma’arouf asks. Popular flowers like anemones are delicate, too delicate for the long delays in delivery that, under current restrictions, have become the norm; the people of Ramallah are carrying on with chrysanthemums and carnations instead.

But Hass notes that restrictions on movement have had another effect—inducing wealthier professionals, like teachers and government officials, to move from outlying areas into Ramallah itself. They bring their money and their tastes with them, tastes which, Hass writes, “have seeped from one group to another - from Christians to Muslims, from veteran urbanites to new city-dwellers, from the upper middle class to the lower middle class.”

Sociologist Lisa Taraki says that the city’s reputation for tolerance has attracted a middle class which in turn, “nurtures and shapes the character of the city.” What is this character?  Hass writes, “The drama inherent in the desire and ability to buy flowers, to adopt and develop a new and not inexpensive custom is that bereavement, death and the economic low of recent years have not engendered a culture of asceticism.” Bouquets of fresh gladiolas prove that.

Flowers may not bring peace to the region, but they are like canaries still singing in a coal mine. They point from extremism toward something more complex, alive.

Posted by Julie on 01/02 at 03:30 PM
Culture & SocietyFloristsPoliticsSecular CustomsPermalink

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Everybody’s a Southerner

With a recipe from Paula Freeman Miller, we begin the New Year cooking for luck.


Yours truly, at the ready with collards, onion and fatback

Photo: Bill Bishop

On January 1 , the whole U.S. becomes suddenly Southern. Culinary and spiritual snowbirds come on down, marking the New Year with a traditional meal of black-eyed peas and collard greens. These dishes, plus corn bread and some part of a pig, are supposed to bring good luck through the year. We figure that eating this well today, we’re already lucky.

A dear friend in North Carolina, Paula Miller, shared her recipe for greens with us. Paula’s family roots reach back to Mississippi, Georgia and Florida: collard country. She writes:

The greens are easy to do - just require a little cooking time.

I usually get 3 or 4 big bunches of fresh collards (I like them better than turnips); I then use a kitchen shear to cut them into long shreds (basically just wash the bunch and then clip across until I get to the root).  I usually keep it about 1 inch wide.

Then you stuff them in a big pot (they can protrude but need to be able to mash them down and put a lid on).  I cut up one large sweet onion or two medium sweet onions (diced) and then use 3-4 packages of the ham bouillon.

Cover the greens with water or fill to near the top of the pan and cover.  Bring to a boil and stir as they start to wilt. Eventually they will be all wilted and you can take the top off.  Just be sure to keep enough water in them to keep them from sticking to the pan. 

I usually cook them at least 1-2 hours and really the longer they cook, the better.  You can serve them with vinegar or pepper vinegar (vinegar over little hot peppers).


Paula and Steve Miller cook up New Year’s greens, Chapel Hill, NC

Photo: Jackson Miller

Paula, an M.D. and photographer as well as a fabulous cook, tells us this recipe came from her feisty “Auntie”: Lona Elizabeth Arnold, a Mississippian. Auntie worked in a shirt factory, then moved to D.C. to care for baby Paula, while Paula’s folks went to work.

Paula writes: I did not have a crib after Auntie came (I always pronounced it as “a-nee”)  At some point in her life (she did not talk about it much) she was married for 15 months - I wear the tiny little diamond she had as a wedding ring on my pinkie finger and really feel like she is my guardian angel.

With an Auntie, who needs “luck”?

Photo:imageCollards and cornbread

Photo: Beauty Joy Food

We didn’t consult Paula about the health benefits of collards; we just know she’s a doctor who cooks up greens regularly and serves them to her family. But if you want to explore further, this site suggests that greens are anti-cancer food, as well as high in calcium. Lots of the vitamins leach out in the long-slow cooking process; that’s why folks save the pot likker for soups.

Find here some alternative ways to cook collards and its cabbage relatives, even—egad—in the microwave. And this site includes lots more recipes for those too fastidious for the traditional “mess of greens.”

imageBrassica oleracea

Wild Cabbage in bloom

Photo: First Nature

Long before people in the South cooked collards, they were popular in China and Rome (apparently, the ancient Greeks turned their noses up and away). “True, the greens provided sustenance during the winter when no other vegetables were able to grow, but they developed the reputation for being unsophisticated and odoriferous.”

Do you want fresh vegetables in January or don’t you? Collards grow beautifully in the South, can even take our light frosts, and they store well—up to a week in the crisper.

The name, we learn, is “a corruption of ‘coleworts’ or ‘colewyrts,’” Old English for “cabbage plants.” Speaking of which, our blog-buddy in Cambridge, England, John Levett at Joseph Beuys Hat, indicates that greens will be on his New Year’s menu, too. Hey, John. How do y’all cook collards over there?

Paula writes that her Auntie used “fatback” instead of ham bouillon; we’ll try a little of both today. This afternoon, we’ll be walking up the street to Jeannie and William’s house for the “Burning of Burdens and Kindling of New Resolve.” First, thank you, Paula (and send pictures!). Next, we resolve not to burn our collards.

Posted by Julie on 01/01 at 12:45 PM
CookingCulture & SocietyMedicineSecular CustomsPermalink
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