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Princeton, MAINE USA

Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Competing leaders in Bagio double the parades for the 11th Panagbenga flower festival.


Streetdancers at Panagbenga.1

Bagio, the Philippines, 2/25/2006

Photo: Sun Star

The monster flower festival of the Philippines is sporting two heads this year, all the better for spectators.

Last fall, the mayor of Baguio decreed that the 2006 Panagbenga would be run by Nelia Cid, a local businesswoman who’d managed the 2005 event. But the city council swept in with a decree of its own, returning the festival operation to “lawyer Damaso Bangaoet Jr., the acknowledged founder of Panagbenga, who was reportedly eased out of the 2005 flower festival.”

In our experience, leadership roles for community events usually go begging. Is it the glory of flowers or perhaps something less ephemeral driving competition to run Panagbenga?

Whatever the backstaging or backstabbing, the two Panagbengas opened over the weekend, double-delighting tourists and hoteliers. In a spirit of accommodation, the mayor’s parade (under the auspices of Bagio Flower Festival Association/BFFA) went off Saturday, while Bangaoet’s (Bagio Flower Festival Foundation, Inc./BFFFI) took place Sunday.

“A police helicopter dropped rose petals as parade participants marched toward Session Road, the city’s main street.

“Elementary and high school students from various schools pranced in colorful body suits, played musical instruments wearing flower masks, and wore crowns and sun hats shaped like flower petals.”


A BFFA float, Panagbenga 2006

Photo: Sun Star

Saturday’s procession featured 19 flower floats and 13 teams of streetdancers, Sunday’s parade, ten floats and 15 groups of dancers. Bagio police estimated crowds at 400,000.

Another incentive to attend this year’s Panagbenga(s) was provided by Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who had declared a state of national emergency on Friday.

Except for the presence of Surigao del Sur Representative Prospero Pichay, a staunch ally of Ms Arroyo, and a banner describing the flower festival as ‘petals for love, peace and unity,’ visitors like 70-year-old Luther Arboleda said the two-day festival was ‘just the right antidote to what’s happening in Manila.’”

For lots more on both Panagbengas, including photos, check out the Sun Star’s site.

Posted by Julie on 02/28 at 09:42 AM
Culture & SocietyPoliticsSecular CustomsTravelPermalink

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Closing with Callas

Torino’s Winter Olympics staged closing ceremonies this evening, combining Venice Carnival and a phalanx of brides.


Vowing to return in four years? For some reason, women dressed as brides, with illuminated calla lilies, paraded to end the Torino Olympic Games.

Photo: Grigory Dukor, for Reuters

With, weirdly, a march of brides, the Torino Olympics ended this evening. Perhaps NBC will clarify the nuptial theme; thus far we’ve only seen pictures, showing a phalanx of ladies in white carrying faux callas booms, lit from within.

Are the flashlight flowers reminders of the Olympic torch? (Actually we discovered that the wedding theme was part of planning for the Athens summer games two years ago. Have the Italians copycatted the Greeks one more time?)

Our favorite Olympic moment: when Lindsey Jacobellis who, with a big lead in the first-ever women’s snowboard cross, hot-dogged the final jump, crashed, and then regrouped with a big smile for a silver medal. Who would have thought something so fast and loose could still happen at the games?

Posted by Julie on 02/26 at 07:49 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyPermalink

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Pretty Flowers or Good Bones

A change in standards—toward environmentalism and design—has flower fans grumbling over “France in Bloom.”


Photo: France in Bloom

An intriguing article in the London Times today resurrects an old cultural dispute: the designers v. the ornamentalists—those with a taste for structure and those with a love of color.

Happily for English readers, the furor this time is being played out across the Channel, in France. Adam Sage’s story describes the tumult over shifting values in Le Concours des Villes et Villages Fleuris, the Competition for Flowery Towns and Villages, a.k.a. France in Bloom. Some 11,175 French communities from Marseilles (pop. 1.5 million) to Mandeure (pop. 600) apply to be evaluated by a committee of France’s tourism board. “The maximum four-flower rating is a coveted prize that attracts visitors and money, and sets the local mayor on the path to glory.”

Since the competition began in 1957, it should come as no surprise that styles and, if you will, “flower ethics” have changed. “The judges used to be concerned only with the flowers,” one parks official from Saint-Denis-de-l’Hotel noted. “Now they are concerned about recycling rubbish, graffiti, children’s playgrounds and just about everything except the flowers.”

Is the emphasis on community design over blossoms an advance or a retreat, as some allege, to “political correctness”? It depends on your view of petunia cauldrons.

Our friend Cyndy Clark years ago initiated an entirely unofficial competition in Lexington, Kentucky, “The White Flag Award.” (The award was named in mockery of a certain noted and pricey gardening catalogue and was meant to suggest that gardening was an act of conditional surrender to the horrors of existence.) Ms. Clark and her cohorts would drive through the neighborhoods of Lexington, pretentious and down at the heels, cookie-cutter and geodesically domed, naming winners in any number of sponteneous categories. One we particularly remember was a simple brick house on the northside that featured a large black cauldron crammed with purple petunias in the front yard : winner of “Best Petunias in a Cauldron” from the White Flag officials.


Photo: France in Bloom

Looking over the magnificent website of Le Concours des Villes et Villages Fleuris, we see any number of examples of this ornamentalist aesthetic—though the French clearly prefer wine barrels to iron kettles for folksy container gardening. There have always been and, we can only hope, will always be gardeners who will do everything in the name of living color—the window box afficionados, the sort of gardener who will park a broken bicycle in the soil and grow clematis over the handlebars. We also acknowledge that such gardeners are considered a bit declasses.

Zen gardens, with crunchy gravel walks and stands of clumping (not spreading! never spreading!) bamboo, have the upper hand today. With their “good bones,” xeriscape gardens play Katharine Hepburn against the Mae West aesthetic of marigold beds.

Martine Le Sage, president of France in Bloom, framed the contrast not so much as a difference in taste (which it is) but as something more abstract and political: progress. “There has been an evolution,” she said. “It is important that the flowers don’t conceal a miserable environment. People who go to a four-flower village want to see the flowers, but they also want to see that it is a pleasant place to live. It’s true we’ve become politically correct. We encourage candidates not to have flower beds that consume too much water, for instance, and not to spray them with pesticides. We want flowers, but only in the right conditions.”


Photo: France in Bloom

But what if one’s conditions aren’t “right”? Are, in fact, “miserable”? Are people to be deprived of a rose bush because they can’t afford—or just don’t want—a truckload of white pea gravel?

No matter which side of the petunia cauldron you stand on, the Villes et Villages Fleuris website is an education and a joy. If you’re planning a trip to France, make sure to check it out and “design” your itinerary accordingly. If not, you can delight in splashes of color as well as more subdued environments all across France.

Granted, many if not most gardeners strive for excellent design and luscious color, too. Are we presenting a false dichotemy? Mais non.

“The denial of lower, coarse, vulgar, servile—in a word, natural—enjoyment. which constitutes the sacred sphere of culture,  implies an affirmation of the superiority of those who can be satisfied with the sublimated, refined, disinterested, gratuitous, distinguished pleasures” (of green reeds, for example) “forever closed to the profane.”

For 500 more pages and insights on the question of taste from a brilliant Frenchman, see Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction. And while you’re getting through that tome, please let us know where you stand (and garden) vis a vis the ornamentalist/designer debate.

Posted by Julie on 02/25 at 11:01 AM
Culture & SocietyEcologyGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsTravelPermalink

Friday, February 24, 2006

For a Better Deal than Kenya

Water shortages and strong local currency are driving Kenya’s flower industry over the border.

imageEast Africa

Map: Welt Atlas

As a friend of ours formerly in the banking business once put it, “Money never sleeps.” Nowhere is this truer than in the highly competitive flower industry, where companies are always looking for—and finding—a better deal.

That impulse not so many years ago rocketed Kenya from nowhere into the heart of Europe’s flower market. Recent estimates put Kenya’s flower exports at $350 million. But how quickly investors move on.

Catherine Riungu’s recent story for the East African reports that Kenyan flower firms are departing for advantages elsewhere. “Kenya has commanded a 25 per cent market share (in Europe) since 2000, after edging out Columbia and Israel and, last year, its share increased to 31 per cent. But now, emerging suppliers such as Rwanda, Ethiopia and Uganda have designed intensive marketing programmes to promote their countries as friendly for foreign flower investors.”

Kenya’s farms are beset by several serious problems. There have been increasingly well-organized labor actions on the huge farms around Lake Naivasha. And, we now learn, there are dire problems with the lake itself. Riungu reports that Kenya has been in a drought since 1997, lake levels have steeply declined, and the government has been perilously slow to safeguard supplies of water.

“In 1995, the lake was designated as a Ramsar site, a wetlands of international importance due to its rich diversity of flora and fauna. But with the expansion of the 4,000-acre flower farming sector on the lake, the population around the lake has grown in the past 20 years from about 7,000 to about 300,000.”

A spokesperson for one large flower farm said that unless the government stops issuing more permits, “the flower sector will be wiped out in five years because there won’t be any water for irrigation.”

Further, the strong Kenyan shilling is stifling exports. Farms in neighboring Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania hold immediate competitive advantages. The Kenya Flower Council has joined other export business to pressure the Central Bank to stabilize the shilling.

Meanwhile, the flower industry in Ethiopia is booming.

“The major United Kingdom retail chain Morrisons has announced recently that it would soon stock Ethiopian flowers such as roses, carnations and the red-brown berried hypericum…Indian floriculturist Karuturi Networks was among the latest investors to set up shop in Ethiopia recently with a 50ha farm at Holeta, west of Addis Ababa, and plans to acquire an additional 50ha.” Riungu’s story also reports that five Kenyan growers—unnamed—have bought large farms in Ethiopia.

While Kenya struggles with its labor force, a drought, and the foot-dragging of its national bank, money—with open eyes—is looking elsewhere.

Posted by Julie on 02/24 at 11:56 AM
Cut-Flower TradePermalink
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