Human Flower Project
Thursday, February 23, 2006
On Vous Tend La Main
A closer look at Tuesday’s floral protest in Montreal: city workers evoke the impasse and point past it.
Wreath laid at Montreal’s hotel de ville
Photo: Courtesy of Syndicat des Cols Bleus
Merci beaucoup to the Montreal city workers union for sending these close-ups of their floral demonstration at city hall, February 21. We reported yesterday about a discrepancy in news accounts of Tuesday’s “manifestation.” One source had said the cols bleus (blue collar workers) scattered roses on the steps of City Hall, another reported that the workers left funeral wreaths at the door of the labor ministry.
Apparently both accounts were right.
The workers are seeking to reopen collective bargaining on their contract, but after months of litigation—and a recent internal investigation that allegedly “caught” some of the cols bleus slacking off during work hours—relations have become acrimonious.
On the steps of City Hall
Montreal, Feb. 21
Photo: Syndicat des Cols Bleus
The red roses scattered on the steps of the hotel de ville are plaintive, general appeals, whereas the wreaths are more declarative. On one, with an emblem of shaking hands, a ribbon reads “On Vous Tend La Main.” Scraping the rust off our French, we translate this, “With a Hand Extended”—a message of reconciliation. The ribbon on the other wreath, a circle of red carnations sliced with a diagonal (the international sign of “NOT!”), says, “Lien de confiance”—or “No bond of trust here.” Both wreaths were laid against the big doors of the bureau of labor relations at Montreal city hall.
These fascinating floral demonstrations bespeak two different attitudes toward the current state of affairs: one an admission that good faith has been broken, the other a self-proclaimed effort to bind the tie back. By using funeral wreaths, the union suggests the situation has reached a dead end. So where do we go from here?
Overarching the specifics, of course, is the mere fact of flowers. By arriving with blossoms, the cols bleus stop short of surrender. But they say, “We’re the good guys in this situation”—a political strategy to disarm. Will it work?
The only union news we can report is that ten city workers will be docked pay, stemming from the undercover investigation. Canadian Presse reported, “One night crew under surveillance spent six minutes of their nine-hour shift fixing three potholes….The workers will lose one or two days worth of salary, depending on each individual case.
“Guy Hebert, mayor of the Ville-Marie district where the crews worked, said he thinks the majority of employees do their work very well.”
Perhaps the floral demonstration helped thaw the situation. We look forward to news of future developments from our readers in Quebec. (Many thanks to Jean-Paul Lahaie.)
And we welcome references to other labor actions involving flowers, whether historical or current-day.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
‘Manifestation’ in Montreal—Benign or Belligerent?
As workers in Montreal marched on city hall yesterday, some news sources missed the point of their floral demonstration.
at Montreal City Hall
Photo: Radio Canada
Relations between Montreal authorities and the city’s “cols bleus”—blue collar workers— have been described variously as “strained,” “calm,” “angry.” Adjectives aside for the moment, consider that 1000 workers gathered yesterday at Lafontaine Park and marched to city hall, with flowers.
The high temperature yesterday in Montreal was 28 degrees F., not exactly prime conditions for a stroll or outdoor bouquets. What gives?
The workers, we’ve since learned, have been pressing for a new contract with the city of Montreal since at least 2004, when negotiations broke down. The union asked for an arbitrator to be brought in, but when the arbitrator sided with the city, imposing the existing contract, union members took their case to court. They lost and then appealed.
In a 2-1 verdict, “the appeals court ruled the contract would remain valid, apart from one clause dealing with the harmonization of working conditions, which will be stricken….That means the contract, which was imposed on the blue-collars union in October 2004, will remain valid until August 2007.”
To make matters worse for the cols bleus, the city recently reported results of its secret investigation of work crews. According to CBC News, the city snoops “found the blue-collar workers spent most of their shifts on coffee break and aimlessly driving around the city.” The union has called the report “a smear campaign.”
Yesterday, in front of the hotel de ville, the cols bleus responded with flowers. But what did the flowers say? News sources were in wild disagreement.
According to CBC news, “The hundreds of workers marched calmly from Lafontaine Park to city hall. They then spread hundreds of roses across the front steps of Montreal’s city hall.” This source interpreted the floral gesture as conciliatory, “a message of good faith for labour negotiations.”
Others saw things quite differently. Presse Canadienne reported, “The demonstrators met at Lafontaine Park and walked to city hall where they deposited a funeral wreath which symbolized the climate at work.”
And en francais, here’s the same story from The Journal de Montreal’s website: “Plus de 2000 d’entre eux ont manifesté dans le calme, mardi, et ont déposé des couronnes mortuaires devant le bureau des relations de travail de Montréal et à l’hôtel de ville pour illustrer le mauvais état des relations avec l’administration municipale.” Note that this account also doubles the number of marchers, to more than 2000.
Thank to this Montreal blog we found a fuzzy photo from a local radio station (above), and indeed, these look like funeral wreaths. Not just one, but at least two, and perhaps many more. Nos amis canadiens, please send us better pictures! One of these arrangements seems an emblem of some kind. Can any of our readers decipher this message better or give us a more accurate report?
The acrimony between les cols bleus and city officials just doesn’t lend itself to long stemmed roses. “Blue Collar Workers Deliver Flowers to City Hall” (the CBC headline) is, in our view, misleading. Rather these wreaths seem apt expressions of a business relationship that’s gone lifeless. The couronnes mortuaires convey the union’s solidarity and humor, with perhaps a shade of menace.
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Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Thieves broke into the computers of a major flower company in San Remo, Italy, last week, and may have snitched the secrets behind some rare rose varieties.
With all that necessity for light and air, floriculture might not seem an industry vulnerable to espionage. But in fact the trade secrets of major growers are tightly held, and extremely valuable.
Last week, burglars broke into the data bank of Angelo Musetti, a family owned company that has done business in San Remo for 40 years. This region of the Ligurian coast—the Italian Riviera—is justly famous for its floral production, with 450 wholesalers and 6,500 growers. It’s obviously a target for spies, too. The thieves escaped with a computer, CD roms and floppy disks.
“Following the burglary, security is being tightened across the agricultural district. San Remo grower Antonio Marchese, who unveiled a new hybrid rose called Rosa mystica last year, has always refused to keep valuable information on a computer. ‘I trust only myself and a few of the people I work with,’ he said. ‘I take all the precautions I possibly can because there are a lot of pirates out there, ready to steal your work.’”
A new rose may take seven years as much as a million Euros to develop into a hot commodity. “It can, however, earn its creator 10 times that sum,” according to the Guardian.
Here’s a photo of the Musetti compound, and the story in Italian.
Those who’d like to learn something from these Italian growers, and do it legitimately, might want to consider the European Association for Research on Plant Breeding symposium “Breeding for Beauty” September 11-15, to be held, where else?, in San Remo.
Monday, February 20, 2006
Amendoeira—Taking Portugal by Storm
From January through March, the almond trees of Portugal flower, a “blizzard” that began in the South and will melt next month in a Northern festival.
City seal of Portugal’s
Vila Nova de Foz Côa
(with blossoming almond tree)
In the southern province of Algarve, the almond trees began blooming in mid-January. So now, as every spring, the fragrant “snows” of prunus amygdalus dulcis blossoms will move northward. Some storm trackers like racing after funnel clouds; our hope would be one year to spend six weeks following the almond blossoms, from Southern Portugal all the way to Vila Nova de Foz Côa.
The almond, as so many plants, came to Europe and then the New World from the East. And Portugal specifically has the Moors to thank for prunus dulcis. “About 763 CE Arab traders ventured from their capital in Baghdad to trade with other countries. They set up regular trade with Spain and Portugal” and eventually settled there. “Because they missed foods from their homeland such as citrus fruits and almonds, they imported trees. Before long people of the Iberian Peninsula were developing a taste for such treats as marzipan and nougat,” and many other delicacies made with almond.
Santo Estêvão, Tavira (Algarve, Portugal, January, 2005)
The Amendoeiras em Flor (almonds in blossom) are Portugal’s announcement of spring, an echo of how China’s plum tree flowers greet the lunar New Year. In fact, the almond tree is closely related to plums, peaches and apricots. You may have noticed that peach pits look an awful lot like almonds in the shell. Rather that wearing its fruit as flesh on the outside, though, almond “fruit” grows within its shell, a supremely nutritious nut.
But what about those flowers? We’ve read that the almond branch, one of relatively few flowers mentioned in the Bible, is associated with Aaron’s rod. This branch, among its many other magical properties, burst into bloom signifying “the exclusive right to the priesthood of the tribe of Levi.”
Susan Heine dances as an almond tree
Photo: The Jewish Chronicle
Though Judaism is not noted for its floral customs, the almond branch is an exception, brought into the temple on sacred occasions and used to decorate “the seven branched candlesticks of the tabernacle.” We discovered a marvelous human flower project at Beth El Ner Tamid Synagogue in Mequon, Wisconsin. “Susan Heine of the Firebrands of Praise dancers portrayed an Israeli almond tree as part of the group’s performance of Tu B’Shevat-related dances and music.”
A lovely stained glass design (below, right) depicting a Menorah with almond flowers is installed at a Santa Monica, California temple. While the almond may have originated in the Holy Land, it was brought to California by Catholic friars from Spain. (California growers supply most of the worldwide almond market now, but this year, due to a mild winter followed by a late frost, they’re having a tough time of it.)
Stained glass window with blossoming almond
Photo: Plachte Zuieback art glass
We find especially compelling the almond blossom’s mysterious message, of hope. What a feat of imagination (or faith) that is.
There are many legends of the almond tree in bloom, from the sad tale of Phyllis in Greek mythology, to considerable Persian lore, to a popular Portuguese story: we pass it on in celebration of this beautiful country’s multicultural history.
“A Nordic princess, recently married to an Arab king and tormented by a desire to see her own snow-covered lands once more, became seriously homesick, which brought great sadness and pain to the King. His ingenious remedy was to order thousands of almond trees to be planted. When they were in blossom, he ordered all the windows of the palace to be opened. The princess was amazed at encountering field after field of white blossom. It reminded her of the snow-covered land of her own country and she was instantly cured.”
For those lucky enough to be in Portugal this season, here’s the schedule of events for Amendoeira em Flor festival, 2006, in Vila Nova de Foz Côa. It runs February 18-March 19.
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