Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Friday, January 27, 2006

Nazis & Flowers

“Do you really want to be sent to your death by a perfect gentleman?”


At Sachsenhausen, site of a Nazi concentration camp

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Jan. 27, 2006, Oranienburg, Germany

Photo: Sven Kaestner, for AP

In observance of the first International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a memorial designated by the United Nations, wreaths and roses pay tribute to those killed by the Third Reich.

“Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz and the neighbouring Birkenau camp on Jan. 27, 1945. Some 1.5 million people, most of them Jews, died there from gassing, starvation, exhaustion, beatings and disease. Other victims included Soviet prisoners of war, Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals and political opponents of the Nazis.”

No one knows how many people were murdered in the Nazi camps. Historians estimate that at least 6 million Jews and 4 million others died, most of them systematically murdered in mass gas chambers.

But the honorific tributes laid at monuments across the world must not obscure other floral memorials due today. These were flowers of deceit, of forgetting, Human Flower Projects dedicated to inhumanity.

imageDianthus, by Adolph Hitler

Photo: Hitler Historical Museum

We learn that at the Nazi camp in Dachau, where prisoners were mutilated with medical experiments, there was also a flower garden. Other gardens were planted in the ghetto of Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia, making it a temporary showplace for investigators from the American Red Cross, before “the Jewish ‘actors’ were shipped to their death at Auschwitz.”

Hitler himself was a painter, quite sensitive in his still lifes of flowers.

Here is an excerpt from the letter 1st Lieutenant William Cowling, a young American soldier who took part in the liberation of Dachau, wrote home to his parents:

“The first thing we came to were piles and piles of clothing, shoes, pants, shirts, coats, etc. Then we went into a room with a table with flowers on it and some soap and towels. Another door with the word ‘showers’ lead off of this and upon going through this room it appeared to be a shower room but instead of water, gas came out and in two minutes the people were dead. Next we went next door to four large ovens where they cremated the dead. Then we were taken to piles of dead. There were from two to fifty people in a pile all naked, starved and dead. There must have been about 1,000 dead in all.”

And here are the flowers Alice Lok Cahana remembered. Her story is related in Laurence Rees’s book, AUSCHWITZ: A New History, reviewed by David Von Drehle for the Washington Post.

“We find workers at Auschwitz, on Oct. 7, 1944, coaxing the shivering, hungry children from Barrack 8 in the Birkenau annex with a promise of warm winter clothes. Alice Lok Cahana, 15, hoped to scrounge a few garments for her sickly sister, Edith. The children were led to a brick building in a corner of the compound and told to strip off their rags.

“Alice did not panic, and the reason is quite horrible. She noticed ‘flowers in a window’ of the building she was about to enter—which was, of course, a gas chamber. Flowers made her think of her mother, who loved violets, and so she felt calm.”

imageHeinrich Himmler picks flowers at the herb farm outside Dachau

Photo: Dachau scrapbook

Just five years ago Rabbi Josef Polak returned for the first time to Westerbork, the transit camp in Holland where he and his parents waited to be sent to Bergen-Belsen. Polak said it had been “the craziest place on the planet,” the imprisoned Jews there dressing up in coats and ties, lost in a dream of normalcy even as each Tuesday another 2000 people would be marched off to a train, to die.

“By every available account, SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Albert Gemmeker—the man who ensured the weekly flow of thousands of Jews from the Westerbork transit camp in Holland to the death and labor camps in eastern Europe—was a perfect gentleman. But as Rabbi Joseph Polak asked…, ‘Do you really want to be sent to your death by a perfect gentleman?’”

Westerbork’s buildings were destroyed in 1971. “The craziest place on the planet”  is now a field of flowers.


Posted by Julie on 01/27 at 04:05 PM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapePoliticsSecular CustomsPermalink

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Run on Thistles

To meet the huge demand on Burns Night, Scottish florists placed their orders for the national sticker in Zimbabwe.

imageThistle in May, suburban Glasgow

Photo: Rampant Scotland

The beloved poet of Scotland Robert Burns (1759-1796) was a farm boy, his songs full of daisies, lilacs, and ‘red, red roses.’ But the national celebration of his birthday, January 25, is observed with thistles, this being Scotland’s national flower.

Since local thistles won’t bloom till May, florists have had to scour the world for decorations, for what would Burns Night be, without bagpipes, haggis, and a vase of thistles?

“It’s a bit like taking coals to Newcastle,” Stead Nicolle admitted.  “The 28-year old director of fresh flower importers Sandico (UK) said: ‘I was amazed at the rush in demand we had for thistles this week for the Burns Night celebrations.’” Nicolle and his wife Nicky had thought ahead, importing thistles from Zimbabwe, where it’s summer now.

imageQueens Head tribute to Robert Burns

Photo: Selkirk Scotland

The Burns celebrations will stretch on into the weekend, both in Scotland and elsewhere. We’ve come across festivities scheduled in Toronto, in Spokane, Washington, and even Houston.

Should you care to hold a Burns Night gathering , this site generously provides a format, from the Selkirk prayer and the presentation of haggis (sheep’s stomach), to the whisky toasts. Whate’er you do, don’t forget your thistles. They’ve earned a place at the party.

“The prickly purple thistle was adopted as the Emblem of Scotland during the rein of Alexander III (1249 -1286). Legend has it that an Army of King Haakon of Norway, intent on conquering the Scots, landed at the Coast of Largs at night to surprise the sleeping Scottish Clansmen. In order to move more stealthily under the cover of darkness the Norsemen removed their footwear.”

Big mistake.

imageBadge, Knights of the Order of the Thistle

Photo: Scots History Online

At night, the barefoot Nordic soldiers couldn’t fully appreciate Scotland’s wildflower. “One of Haakon’s men stood on one of these spiny little defenders and shrieked out in pain, alerting the Clansmen.” So the Scots prevailed.  Hammering home this story several centuries later King James V named the Order of the Thistle in 1540. Every order needs its own medal, and this one is a beauty.

A silver cross and star surround the image of a thistle and the motto “Nemo me impune lacessit”—“No-one harms me without punishment.” In Scottish, that’s “Wha daurs meddle wi me.”  In Texas we’d say, “Don’t mess with Scotland.”

For your reading pleasure, here’s a good introduction to “Rabbie” Burns which includes ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and many other poems, including his ode to haggis…

imageRobert Burns

...But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,

The trembling earth resounds his tread,

Clap in his walie nieve a blade,

He’ll make it whissle;

An legs an arms, an heads will sned,

Like taps o thrissle….

(But, mark the rustic, haggis-fed;

The trembling earth resounds his tread,

Grasp in his ample hands a flail

He’ll make it whistle,

Stout legs and arms that never fail,

Proud as the thistle.)


Posted by Julie on 01/26 at 12:53 PM
Culture & SocietyFloristsSecular CustomsPermalink

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Korea’s Lovely Kkotminam

Drawing on ancient chivalry, modern soap operas and cash, South Korean males are proud to be called “flower men.”


Bae Yong Joon, #1 Flower Man

Photo: Dear Bae Yong Joon

Never having mastered the eyelash curler, we are indeed impressed by South Korea’s “kkotminan” —“flower boys.” These are the buffed male beauties of Seoul, nattily dressed, manicured and pretty as a picture.

Even before Salon magazine coined the term metrosexual, the boys of Asia were sampling skin creams and eyebrow pencils. In China, the “‘ai-mei nanren’ (love-beauty men), are spending their rising disposable incomes in beauty salons,” and on cosmetics, an industry whose sales in China rose 8% in 2003.

imageMovie star Kwon Sang Woo

tenderly flogs skin-creams for The Face Shop

Photo: blog 360

But Korea has led the way. “South Korea is rightfully famous in Asia for its pursuit of beauty. Seoul’s plastic surgeons, fashion boutiques, hairdressers and cosmetics merchants attract customers from throughout the region. People in the industry attribute the phenomenon to an ultra-competitive society, especially when it comes to jobs.”

South Korea also boasts two flower men (Kkotminam) with especially maniacal fans: Soccer star Ahn Jung-hwan has been knocking out cosmetic ads as well as knocking in goals. And TV star Bae Yong Joon (bearing some resemblance to Winona Ryder) has become a continental sensation.

Bae portrayed a “bespectacled, shaggy-haired and turtleneck-loving architect” in a serial called “Winter Sonata,” a drama crowded with all the plot devices of love comics, even, oh my, amnesia.

Rina Jimenez-David, writing for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, contends “The ‘flower man’ is every woman’s idealized lover: faithful and persevering, intelligent and sensitive, and yet also manly and authoritative, not to mention wealthy, well-educated and gentle of manner.”

Now that you mention it…sounds nice.

We also have learned of a much older breed of masculine flora in Korea. The Hwarang (flower knights) were a band of scrupulous warriors organized by King Chinhung 2000 years ago. Set apart in Korea’s beautiful wilds, they learned “to develop patience, mental and emotional control….” The Flower Knights were trained in both martial arts and beaux-arts. “Besides religious instruction, the Hwa Rang were taught dance, literature, the arts and sciences. They were also taught the art of warfare, archery, self defense skills…. Based upon the concept of the unity of opposites embodied in the um-yang, the empty-handed fighting techniques were known for their blending of the hard and soft, linear and circular attacks.”

imageKorean Boy Scout merit badge

with Mugungwha, the national flower

Would these ancient archers have shopped for mascara? We’re not sure. (Certainly, Korean women’s 20-year march into the workforce has bent genders as much as 7th century archers ever could.) Still, it seems quite plausible that Korea’s legacy of knights in flower, “hard and soft,” made way for the supple Kkotminan of today.

Consider: In South Korea, the Boy Scouts even give a floral merit badge.

Posted by Julie on 01/25 at 03:06 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietySecular CustomsPermalink

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Graham’s Beardtongue—Speak Now

The U.S. wildlife service at last recommends a Utah penstemon for “threatened” status, just ahead of oil shale mining.

imageGraham’s penstemon

Penstemon grahamii

Photo: Susan Meyer

Sometimes it requires more than a hiking trip and a field guide. Sometimes it takes the collapse in federal laws, an uplifted legal axe, and the threat of strip mining just to see a flower.

Utah conservationists have been wide eyed about Graham’s penstemon for seventy years. They’ve pressed to add this beautiful lavender wildflower of the Uintah Basin to the list of federally protected plants for two decades.

“The total population is estimated to range between 5500 and 7000 individuals, primarily within lands currently leased for oil and gas development. Graham’s Penstemon has been a candidate for federal listing as endangered or threatened since 1975 and has yet to be listed.”

But last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would recommend designating Penstemon grahamii, also known as Graham’s beardtongue, as “threatened,” thus eligible for federal protection. A long time coming.

Environmental groups sued the U.S. wildlife service in 2002 to force serious assessment of the risks this plant is facing. Last week’s announcement was, in part, a result of that lawsuit.

But with the latest epidemic of global hydrocarbon-itis, this particular wildflower faces new perils. Graham’s penstemon “is only found on oil shale barrens where most other plants could never withstand the blazing heat.” In Utah, the few surviving plants grow in only three counties: Uintah, Duchesne, and (you get the picture)  Carbon.

As fuel prices levitate, there’s been a boom in oil and gas development here. And since regulations were relaxed in 2005, drillers are now coming to the region after oil shale, an extraction process that actually strip mines the land. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, “The Bureau of Land Management just last week awarded research and development leases to six firms in Utah and Colorado to begin experimental oil shale production.”

Jim Wandersee and Renee Clary have eloquently described the human propensity for “plant blindness.” How very strange, that it’s taken lawyers, a war over foreign oil, twenty years of agitation, and now the prospect of a moonscape just to see “magenta-striped throats and fiery orange staminodes”—Graham’s penstemon, up close and for real.

imageRange of Graham’s penstemon

(red dots in the East)

Map: Utah State University

Would you care to speak out about this lovely species of beardtongue?: “Comments from all interested parties must be received by March 20, 2006. Public hearing requests must be received by March 6, 2006.”

Send overland mail to:

Henry Maddux

Field Supervisor

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Utah Field Office

2369 West Orton Circle

West Valley, Utah 84119

Email comments: Check here.

To quote the Chambers Brothers: “Time has come today” for Penstemon grahamii.

Posted by Julie on 01/24 at 01:03 PM
EcologyGardening & LandscapePermalink
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