Human Flower Project
Sunday, February 19, 2006
For the Winners
The 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino feature chutzpah and camellias, a Chinese native that thrives in the Piemonte.
Florence Baverel-Robert of France earned a gold medal and
an Olympic bouquet for her 7.5 km sprint in the Women’s
Biathlon February 16, in Cesana San Sicario, Italy.
Photo: Rudi Blaha, for AP
Gold, silver, bronze—medals commemorate. But flower glorify.
At the Winter Olympics, now underway in Torino, all the champions bow to receive their prizes, accept bunches of flowers, stand attentively for the winner’s national anthem, and then, at last, salute the crowd by holding up their bouquets. It’s the crowning moment of the games.
At these Olympics we’ve noticed that the flowers are elegant, tasteful and a bit understated, just as one would expect from Italian designers. Further, the winners’ bouquets feature flower varieties that Piemonte growers have been assiduously hybridizing for well over a hundred years. Some 200 growers from 96 towns in the region supplied the beautiful camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and other blooms for the Torino Olympics. The flower ceremony thus celebrates not only bobsledders and ice dancers but florists and farmers too.
Castle and garden Isola Bella, Italy
Photo: Priyain Milan
We would have thought the subalpine air a bit nippy for such successful flower production, but we were wrong. “Mild and temperate climate, lack of persistent fog, too hot summers or prolonged intense cold” make this region ideal for “acidophiles” (acid-lovers) like azaleas, the very plants that rarely make one lap around the calendar in our own limey neighborhood.
As well, this beautiful lake region has for centuries been a favorite of aristocratic types, who built sumptuous gardens and hired skilled horticulturists who could perfect varieties to live happily in this part of the world. Flower growers here have been “in training” a long time for the Torino Olympics.
Thanks to Mauro Gentile of the Commune de Torino. Mauro informed us that Lago Maggiore Fiori is in charge of arranging flowers for the international games. It’s a commission worthy of a medal or two.
In addition to the 3520 bouquets for winning athletes, Lake Maggiore Flowers designs and supplies “5,000 bowls for the reception desks located in the Olympic Family hospitality areas; 120 centrepieces for the buffet areas; 550 floral arrangements for guests and authorities attending the games” and more. There are seventy florists working on the event.
The Bahamian team won the Women’s 4 x 100-metre relay (and some marvelous pink flowers) at Sydney’s Olympic Games, September 2000.
Behind the Scenes
The Italian designers have featured winter camellias, pink, white, and red. (These are the heavenly flowers that Texas gardener Pete Walicek said were “too pretty to smell.”) But in contrast with many other Olympics, the bouquets of 2006 are primarily green. Consider the contrast with Salt Lake City, Utah, (Winter Olympics 2002) whose flowers hollered American style with primary colors: yellow sunflowers, yellow roses, a few spots of red and delphiniums royal blue.
Just for fun, we offer a few more Olympic flowers, from Sydney’s games, dominated by something exotic and pink (readers, please help), and of course the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, where flowers brilliantly surrendered pride of place to the winners’ classical laurel leaf crowns.
The Italians won the 2006 Men’s Cross Country 4x10k relay, raising their flowers to salute the crowd, as snow fell on Pragelato Plan.
Photo: Anja Niedringhaus, for AP
Initially, we were a bit disappointed that the Torino bouquets were so subdued, but as the days have passed, the winners claimed their honors, we finally see it. These clusters of deep green, dashed with red and white, are the colors of the Italian flag. They also look crisp and elegant against theatres of ice and backdrops of white mountains.
To the growers and florists of Northern Italy, and all the winners, Congratulazioni!
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Philosopher Keith Howes, taking a fresh view of cinematic history, finds an “unbroken daisy chain” that reaches from Hamlet to Brokeback Mountain. Amazing, Keith! Thank you.
Drew Barrymore presents E.T. with a pot of flowers
Have you noticed that a flower, or rather a family of flowers, has followed cinema from its humble beginnings as a fairground attraction through to its current computer generated/DVD/multiplex splendour? There is actually an unbroken “daisy chain” linking one of our most pervasive flower families with our celluloid reel‚ life. I call it CinemaAsteraceae.
CinemaAsteraceae is simple:
Movies tell a story, create moods, dramatically underscore actions and feelings. Flowers tell a story, create moods, dramatically underscore actions and feelings.
Someone hands you a single rose. How do you feel? What thoughts, feelings, memories, scents does it conjure up for you?
Flowers illustrated moving pictures long before cinema as we know it began in 1896. From the 16th century onwards, people marveled at magick lanterns and kinescopic devices. It was a universal language.
The giving and receiving of flowers was a language, too - in the Arab world certainly, and also in the European. When Ophelia gave out her flowers in Hamlet each one was a message for herself (‘mad’ and therefore in the enviable position of being able to speak truthfully) or for the other characters.
Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960)
starring Doris Day and David Niven
“There’s a daisy!” she says before giving one to her brother. And it is while picking daisies and other wild flowers that Ophelia falls into her watery grave. In Shakespeare’s time daisies meant premature death, and of course daisies were scattered on graves in order that death would quickly bring forth new life. “Pushing up daisies….”
Through the most popular art of the 20th century (still going strong, thanks to video and DVD), daisies and their relatives hint, underline, sharpen the focus and often “tell” the essential story through the scripts, locations, set decorations and costumes of films, from the cheapest and simplest to the most expensive and opulent.
Daisies will be up there on Oscar night, though no one will see them, accompanying the performances of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain, Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand in North Country, Reece Witherspoon and Joaquim Phoenix in Walk the Line and adding extra dimension to Spielberg’s Munich.
Spielberg, in particular, is a great devotee of daisies; he created one of the most obviously daisied films of recent decades, E.T., starring Drew Barrymore, his goddaughter. (Her movies ALWAYS have daisies in them because she loves daisies, is known as ‘Daisy.’) Others actors who co-starred with flowers in classic, key scenes include Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Hedy Lamarr, Judy Garland, Clark Gable, and Humphrey Bogart.
Humphrey Bogart!!? Just watch a DVD or good video print of Casablanca and LOOK.
Bogart’s Rick changes from a hard-boiled cynic to a tearful, broken-hearted, betrayed and abandoned lover…and daisies, real or design-patterned, indicate this change. One of the key scenes in the film, in American cinema and in many people’s private cinemas, includes daisies symbolic and actual. When you watch Casablanca, listen out for “As Time Goes By” and start carefully viewing until Bogart says “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Julie Harris and James Dean
fall in love in a field of flowers
East of Eden (1955)
The great thing about CinemaAsteraceae is that it demands almost nothing of you. As long as you know roughly what a daisy looks like (it’s not a carnation) and are flexible enough to extend your gaze to include dahlias, sunflowers, asters, zinnias, cornflowers, dandelions, fleabane (plus the occasional endive or lettuce) then all you have to do is press the “Start” button and watch.
If the film was made before 2003 you have about a 1/3 chance of seeing CinemaAsteraceae; if the movie was made after that date, well, EVERY film is CinemaAsteraceae from chick flicks (In Her Shoes, Rumor Has It...) to guy crash bang wallops (Jarhead, Syriana), from epics (Narnia, Lord of the Rings, King Kong) to arthouse (Joyeux Noel, Goodnight and Good Luck). It makes not one bit of difference if the film was made in Hollywood or Harare: daisies are universal, ubiquitous and play a role in our deeper understanding of human psychology.
In The Wizard of Oz, listen out for “We aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.” Then the daisies will appear.
And in Citizen Kane look for Kane’s chairback in the confrontation scene between one of the world’s most powerful men and his second wife.
Keir Dullea lulls H.A.L. to sleep: “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do…”
2001, a Space Odyssey (1968)
And in 2001 when Dave Bowman starts disconnecting H.A.L.
And in The Passion of the Christ when the central and universal message of the film is conveyed in one moment, involving a daisy symbol that goes back many centuries.
When you are tuned into CinemaAsteraceae you get two films for the price of one: the film as intended by the makers, carefully structured so that one detail will not distract from the others; and the CinAst version, which concentrates on one floral object in order to illuminate other aspects of the film (Munich) or to signal certain core elements to the story (Walk the Line) or to act as connective tissue to a film’s time line or time span (Brokeback Mountain) or to make an ironic point which is at the heart of the whole film (Jarhead) or to comment on the warring elements in a leading character and their resolution (Syriana).
The point is not that there are daisies in each of these films (that’s just coincidental window-dressing) but why they appear in each particular scene with each particular character.
CinemaAsteraceae brings the human realms of art and technology across all film genres (yes, Michael Moore’s two documentaries have daisies in key positions) and all countries and all religious beliefs and all emotional and sexual preferences in rough alignment with members of the plant kingdom, a kingdom upon which we humans almost totally rely for life.
The human and daisy realms have been in communication for ages. Now in 21st century films, the dialogue is getting stronger and stronger. You ain’t seen nothing yet!
Hear Keith Howes’ lecture this Wednesday, in Sydney, Australia.
The Sunflower (1970)
with Sophia Loren
The Secret Language of the Screen
from The Sheik & Casablanca to
The Da Vinci Code & Superman Returns
Lecture by Keith Howes
WEDNESDAY, 22 FEBRUARY 2006 * 2.30pm
THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
Second Floor, 484 Kent St. near crn Bathurst St,
Tel 02-9267 6955
Suggested Donation towards Expenses - Non-Members: $7, Concessions $3
Friday, February 17, 2006
Pollen is the “arrowhead” of plant archeology. From traces of meadowsweet pollen, a scientist is reconstructing the ancient funeral rites of Wales.
Pollen of meadowsweet (Filpendula ulmaria)
Image: Uppsala University
Could something as seemingly delicate as flower pollen withstand the pummeling of four thousand years?
Yes, says archaeologist Astrid Caseldine. Not only that, the location and condition of pollen casings offer clues to the cultures, even the emotions, of prehistoric people.
Caseldine was part of the research team that excavated a 4000-year-old Welsh burial mound. The scholars concluded that as today mourners send floral wreaths and arrangements to funerals, meadowsweet flowers were given as tributes in these ancient obsequies.
We were baffled and intrigued by the study and asked Astrid Caseldine, of University of Wales Lampeter, for further detail, which she has generously provided. She clarified that meadowsweet has two botanical names: “Spiraea ulmaria equals Filpendula ulmaria” though the latter is more commonly used in the U.K.
Astrid writes, “Pollen or at least the outer coat of pollen grains is extremely durable (the internal contents do not survive so the pollen is not viable) but you do have to have suitable conditions for it to survive. The ideal conditions are waterlogged soils and acid soils (preferably both) or very dry conditions, i.e. conditions which prevent fungal and other microbial activity.” In peat bogs, pollen grains can last thousands of years; “This is the reason we can reconstruct vegetation changes since the last glaciation, and can therefore contribute to the debate about climate change,” she explains.
Caseldine said that at Fan Foel (the Welsh excavation), “Conditions were sufficiently acid for the pollen to survive.”
But what about those meadowsweet flowers? How did the archaeologists conclude that the flowers had been brought as a tribute rather than just having grown wild at the site? There are quite a number of reasons, it turns out.
First, Caseldine explains that she found high concentrations of meadowsweet pollen (15%) in the actual cremation deposit; meadowsweet count was much lower (2%) at one spot nearby and otherwise practically non-existent.
Excavating the cist
at Fan Foel
Photo: Cambria Archaeology
Caseldine said there was no evidence that the pollen had been burned; it appears that the body was cremated, the fresh flowers then placed with the remains. Further, she writes, “The site is an exposed summit at 781 metres above sea-level (above the height at which meadowsweet is found at today in Britain - so far as I know).” In other words, there’s strong evidence that this was a human flower project; somebody, not the wind, toted the meadowsweet here.
She adds, “The presence of immature as well as mature pollen perhaps provides further evidence for the presence of flowers.” It appears that on the day of the funeral 4000 years ago, someone brought a bouquet of meadowsweet that included flowers both in bud and in full bloom, just as a bunch of tribute flowers would be today.
We’re enormously grateful to Astrid Caseldine for this inside view of palaeoecology and her explanation of one more way that flowers fill out the history of humankind.
For yet more on meadowsweet pollen as a key to palaeoecology, check out this site. And here are some images of meadowsweet and other pollens from Uppsala University. This is a fascinating site that, in small part, describes how pollen has been used to understand the history of the Florida Everglades (talk about “waterlogged soils!”).
May we venture into palaeosociology? We spotted this detailed botanical description of Filpendula ulmaria, not entirely complimentary: “The flowers are 5-6mm in diameter, dense and cream in colour, usually have five petals and have a very sickly-sweet scent.”
Consider the preponderance of lilies at funerals today. Astrid, we’d add this heavy fragrance to your argument—that meadowsweet was indeed a funeral tribute flower in prehistoric Britain. Grief seems to want a domineering sweetness.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Flush after Valentine’s Day, flower shops look enticing to thieves.
Two flower shops, two crime stories, two days after Valentine’s—a luscious, harrowing holiday for florists. The bad news first:
A store on Chicago’s Northwest side was broken into early Feb. 15th. Thieves emptied the register and cracked the safe, taking off with an estimated $15,000 from Beu’s Flowers and Gifts. As of the Tribune’s press time, no arrests had been made.
Receipts are extraordinarily stout around Valentines Day, and florists extraordinarily busy and fatigued, a scene ripe for security risk.
Bill, our hero
Photo: South Manchester Reporter
In South Manchester, England, two “balaclava-wearing” burglars boldly entered Collins florist on Valentine’s Day, demanding money. The four women working there shouted for help and to their rescue leaped Bill, “an Alsatian cross,” what we generalizingly, and respectfully, call in the American South “a German police dog.” Carol Dunki Jacobs, the shop owner, explained, “Before they could get anywhere near, Bill attacked one of them and chased them out of the shop. He was at one of the lad’s legs and they ran off screaming.”
Congrats to Bill, and our sympathy to the folks at Beu’s, Chicago.