Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Monday, March 27, 2006

A Bouquet of Flames

The Commonwealth Games have ended but the fiery image of John Jones’  flowers won’t be extinguished.

imageThe victory bouquet

presented at the Commonwealth Games

Melbourne, Australia,

March 2006

Photo: Melbourne 2006

The Olympics begin when the ceremonial torch enters the stadium and lights a towering bonfire - to burn for the duration of the games.

The recent Commonwealth Games in Melbourne stole some of that Olympic fire for its marvelous victory bouquets. Thank you, Bron, our new correspondent in Australia, for this hot tip!

Bron sent along this story from Melbourne’s The Age, about Australian florist John Jones’ spectacular design. Its combination of Australian natives like billy buttons, speargrass and emu grass with other tropicals provides every medalist with a torch—scorching yellows and reds, with licking dark green flames.

imageWinners of the rhythmic gymnastics event (l-r):

Kimberly Mason (bronze) of Australia,

Alexandra Michel Orlando (gold) of Canada,

Durratun Nashihin Rosli (silver) of Malaysia

Photo: David Callow, for Reuters

“South Australian florist Dennis Radford helped adapt Mr. Jones’ design to Games specifications, which included a ban on sharp edges and noxious plants.

“‘They reduced it — as if it was too big and cumbersome it might knock somebody out when they throw it into the crowd,’ Mr. Jones said.”

Perhaps a new audience-participation sport should be added to the competition!


Florist Emma McIntyre brandishes a victory bouquet at Interflora

headquarters in Prahran, Australia.

Photo: Ken Irwin, for The Age

Interflora provided the flowers for the Commonwealth Games, and 35 florists from all over Australia put together the 1500 bouquets, each arrangement requiring an hour’s labor. The bouquets, as well as honoring the winning athletes, draw attention to Australian floral aesthetics—bold and, as the Age puts it, “funky.” They also introduce the non-tropical world to such wonders as craspedia (a.k.a. “chicken balls”) and heliconia, the botanical “torch” of Venezuela and Honduras.

“Whether foreign athletes can take (their flowers) home will depend on varying quarantine regulations. Some bouquets will need to have fumigation and irradiation treatments.”

Again, our appreciation to Bron. The games closed Sunday, but you’ve opened our eyes to Australian floral design.


Posted by Julie on 03/27 at 11:36 AM
Culture & SocietyFloristsSecular CustomsPermalink

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Predicting Sakura

Two Japanese weather services vie to specify when the cherry blossoms will open.


Early cherry blossom (March 15), Japan

Photo: Media Tinker

The Japanese sense of natural beauty (as Masashi Yamaguchi recently discussed right here) is keen and refined. Its most famous manifestation comes each spring with Hanami, the viewing of cherry blossoms across the islands. The two-day bloom is fittingly seen as a national miracle; with ardor and rigor the Japanese pour into parks and gardens, renewing the old rituals of looking, drinking, feasting, and singing—once “Aristocrats Only”—with newfangled accessories like plastic tarpaulins and digitals cameras.

Sakura blooms at Nature’s whim, and that indeterminacy seems only to whet the Japanese insistence on precision. Mari Yamaguchi, for AP, describes how two groups of Japanese meteorologists are fervently competing to pinpoint bloom-times across the nation.

“Our mission is so important I don’t have time to enjoy the flowers when we spot them,” said a fretful Eishin Murakata of Japan’s Meteorological Agency. Last year, the “The Met Office” blew it—predicting the cherry bloom four days too early. Yamaguchi writes that this inaccuracy caused “outrage” across Japan and emboldened sky-reading rivals. The strongest is Weather News. Its sakura site is dazzling (if a bit hard for English-speaking visitors to comprehend). Yamaguchi notes that it “gives real-time cherry blossom condition reports, so visitors can click on an area and find out if it’s time to pack a picnic basket—a service the Meteorological Agency does not provide.”

Japan’s Meteorological Agency has some impressive graphics too, a detailed, dated and updated chart of the sakura “front” as it moves northward.

imageTakashi Nakamura, director of Japan’s Meteorological Agency, describes whiz-bang improvements in forecasting cherry blooms.

Photo: Katsumi Kasahara, for AP

According to Get Hiroshima, the Met Office began its cherry blossom forecasts about 50 years ago; upstart Weather News has been at it only four years. This blogger gives a better sense of why—in addition to core fastidiousness—the Japanese would hanker for such precision about their trees.

“One bento maker sells about 5000 hanami bentos on a good day during the short season. People like this are hoping for a later cherry blossom season, after the thousands of workers who have to move to new locations in the annual tenkin job transfer migration have settled in, and can turn their thoughts to getting wasted under cherry trees, and spending some cash in the process.”

An article from Xinhua notes that some travel agents even offer “sakura insurance,” lest the best-laid plans don’t coincide with peak blossom times.

imageSakura schedule, from the “Met Office”

Image: Japan Meteorological Agency

So when WILL the sakura bloom? “There was a discrepancy of no less than 10 days between blossoming dates predicted by the two organizations. The Meteorological Agency predicted the flowers would begin to bloom (3/20), while Weather News said it would happen on March 31.” Check out both the Met Office and Weather News maps, above, for your location; then make your best guess and snag your bento accordingly.

If you’re less enchanted with flowers than with money, you’ll hope that the Met Office is on target this year. We understand that early sakura blooms “tend to coincide with economic gains.”

(Stateside, Washington, D.C.‘s cherry blossom festival began yesterday. Get a move on: Peak blooms today through Tuesday.)

Amid all the jockeying to time the cherry bloom right, the Japanese may be in denial about a dangerous mold“witches broom.” The nation’s Flower Association discovered late last year that this disease has infected cherry trees in “18 of the nation’s 47 prefectures” and could wipe out Japan’s beloved sakura within 10 years! The mold “slowly devours cherry trees by first taking away their ability to produce flowers, Kyodo News Agency reported.” 

The Flower Association has recommended removing the lesions from infected trees before the problem becomes rampant. Talk about “get a move on…”

Posted by Julie on 03/26 at 11:56 AM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsTravelPermalink

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Flùir Na H-Alba

Should the hymn of rugby—‘Flower of Scotland’—become the “national” anthem?

imageBadge of the Scottish Rugby Assoc.

Photo: Proudly Scottish

Wins in swimming, boxing and bowls, among other sports, have sent Scottish athletes triumpantly to the podium at Melbourne’s Commonwealth Games this month. But many fans voiced dismay as their gold medalists were bathed in the strains of ‘Scotland the Brave.’

“To many Scots, ‘Scotland The Brave’ belongs in black and white reruns of The White Heather Club” (Scotland’s answer to the Lawrence Welk Show). There’s popular rumbling and now talk even among the Scottish political leadership that perhaps ‘Flower of Scotland’ (‘Flùir na h-Alba’ in Gaelic) should be made the official national anthem instead.

(‘God Save the Queen’ is really the national anthem, but Scots reasonably want their own theme song.)

‘Flower of Scotland’ doesn’t refer to the thistle, but to the soldiers of King Robert I (the Bruce), who crushed the English forces 700 years ago at the Battle of Bannockburn. This seems a worldwide metaphor—young men sent to war become flowers, whether the martyred red tulips of Iran, the poppies of World War I, or the more general blooms mourned in “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

Flower of Scotland” is actually a fairly recent tune, written by Roy Williamson of The Corries. It begins—

O Flower of Scotland,

When will we see your like again

That fought and died for

Your wee bit hill and glen.

And stood against him,

Proud Edward’s army, 

And sent him homeward

Tae think again.

...“Prince Edward” being King Edward I of England.

imageGordon Buloch and John Smit

Scotland v. S. Africa

Nov. 2005

Photo: Rugby News

From the historic battlefield, these militant lyrics have been redirected to the contemporary playing field. “The song is a particular favourite of Scottish national rugby union team fans, who first adopted it for the Lions tour of South Africa in 1974. The last two lines of each verse are generally sung with particular ferocity, especially before games against England.” The Scottish Football Association also opens its games with ‘Flower of Scotland.’

For those who have never seen rugby, we delightedly post these highlights of a recent Scotland-Italy match. It’s the primal game: no equipment, a lot of young men high on hormonal thistle and one testicle-shaped ball. Take it away, guys! (Actually, women play, too.)

We’re all for rugby and flowers but must ask, does ‘Flower of Scotland’ really make a good national anthem? Jack McConnell, first minister, has expressed some doubt. “Flower Of Scotland works at Murrayfield,” the rugby stadium,  “where it is very stirring and it lifts the crowd, lifts the team and I’m sure, to some extent intimidates the opposition,” McConnell said. He added that some have suggested Auld Lang Syne, “but Auld Lang Syne is a song for the end of an evening rather than the beginning of the evening.” McConnell’s personal favorite is Highland Cathedral.

It looks as if the whole matter will likely come before the Scottish Parliament though perhaps a scrum could better settle it.

Meanwhile, the Daily Record is holding a public opinion poll—a kind of cerebral scrum—on the matter. (We don’t think you need be Scottish to vote, either.)

Before casting your e-ballot, though, you might want to listen to the front-runners here, all played on the bagpipes by Roy Espiritu.

Highland Cathedral

Flower of Scotland


Scotland the Brave, which gets our wholehearted vote. It’s a rousing, familiar and original tune.

imageScotland fan at the Rugby World Cup

Townsville, Australia

Photo: BBC

Much as we wanted to vote for the “Flower,” we just couldn’t after learning “the third last note,” of ‘Flower of Scotland’ “is a flattened seventh, unplayable by bagpipes as the note is not within the bagpipe scale. In order to hit the correct note, a hole on the chanter has to be half-covered which is technically very difficult to achieve accurately and not within the normal conventions of bagpipe fingering.”

For the sake of rugby, thistles, and all things Scottish, let’s pick a song that abides by “the normal conventions of bagpipe fingering.”

Posted by Julie on 03/25 at 12:23 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyPoliticsSecular CustomsPermalink

Friday, March 24, 2006

Thai Flowers on the Campaign Trail

Political strife in Thailand plays out in a battle of flowers bestowals.


Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of Thailand’s Democrat Party, was

decked with flowers in Bangkok yesterday.

Photo: Sakchai Lalit, for AP

Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra receives a few pretty red roses on a campaign stop in Chang Mai. Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva accepts a lovely garland of purple orchids in Bangkok. Thaksin wears some floral pom-poms as he greets supporters. Abhisit dons two floral leis and takes questions from reporters.

imagePrime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra receives flowers from children, March 21, campaigning in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Photo: AP

Okay, the race is on. Thaksin receives a bouquet from an elephant. And Abhisit needs three hands and two additional heads to manage the gobs of floral gifts, as anti-Thaksin protestors burn the prime minister in effigy in the capital.

The leadership of Thailand is clearly in dispute. The Parliament has been dissolved, and Thaksin has called for a “snap” election April 2. Meanwhile, three major media organizations want elections postponed and three opposition parties want no elections at all. They’re petitioning the King of Thailand to appoint a new prime minister himself.

We don’t pretend to fathom the complexities of Thai politics. Yikes. We have learned that Thaksin’s the biggest mega-capitalist leader since Italy’s Berlusconi; he’s cracked down on methamphetamines in a big way; rural Thailand is seeing some economic progress at last; and he just slipped a monster business deal through a federal loophole in January, making himself and his family zillionaires.

What we can hope to follow is the floral dimension of campaigning. And that in itself has been dazzlingly competitive. Many years ago, “Thaksin’s father, Lert Shinawatra, expanded beyond the family’s traditional silk business and opened a coffee shop, grew oranges and winter flowers in Chiang Mai’s San Kamphaeng district.” But Thaksin moved over into the far more lucrative business of mobile phones and made a fortune.

imageAbhisit Vejjajiva receives flowers

at a rally in Phathum Thani Mar. 20

Photo:  Chaiwat Subprasom, for Reuters

However today, florally speaking, he’s at a distinct disadvantage. His supporters are, for the most part, poor and rural, while Abhisit appeals to Bangkok’s young, upper crust. Abhisit’s critics argue that “he has relied primarily on his looks to further his career in Thai politics” —looks marvelously enhanced, we might note, by marigold garlands. Abhisit seems to have gained even greater floral advantage by aligning himself with Thailand’s king, thus commanding the symbolic advantage of yellow flowers associated with the monarch. Yellow is so very flattering! veritably glimmering under TV lights. Further, the anti-Thaksin forces have wisely chosen flower necklaces for their candidate over single stems or bouquets: “the better to see you as-prime-minister with, my dear.”

Political rallies have clogged the streets of Bangkok. There’s evidence, too, that the strife over governance has increased domestic violence around the nation. Flowers, typically considered calming and feminine, have amped the excitement and the acrimony, too, in this very public conflict of man and man.

Posted by Julie on 03/24 at 02:06 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyPoliticsSecular CustomsPermalink
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