Human Flower Project
Monday, November 13, 2006
Go ‘Caoling’ in November
The hills of northeastern Taiwan are shining with awn flowers, and the hikers have arrived.
Hikers on the Caoling Historic Trail, Taiwan
Photo: Chuanhsien Lin
In Taiwan, fall has its glory—a counterpart to cherry blossom time. This month is awn flower season, when the Miscanthus erupts into soft sparklers of bloom. The combination of natural wonder and promotional inventiveness has enticed residents of this hike-happy island to the Caoling Historic Trail. A path built of local sandstone, it winds through the mountain valleys of northeastern Taiwan.
“Until the early 20th century, the Tsaoling trail was the only passage from Taipei City to the northeastern county of Yilan, with bandits often appearing along the trek to attack travelers.” Today, the government office that oversees the region has arranged for docent “bandits” to surprise hikers with quiz questions (we kid you not) en route.
In the interest of boosting tourism and jollity, Taiwan like other nations appears to have gone festival mad, with localities making public parties out of cormorants, bluefish tuna, skydiving, and “even salt.” (We would be delighted, by the way, to attend a Salt celebration anywhere in the world.) There are a few competing awn flower spots, too.
Autumn Awn (Chio Mang)
Photo: Mesh Wu
Our new friend, photographer Mesh Wu has sent along these recent photos of grass blooming in Yangmingshan National Park. Mesh writes, “In Taiwan, we have a term ‘autumn awn,’ because many mountains are always full of these plants every autumn. If you are interested, the first character is autumn (read as chio) and the second one is awn (read as mang) in Chinese.”
Thank you, Mesh!
And here are loads more photos of the Caoling Trail taken by Chuanhsien Lin. It looks as if the hike takes 3-4 hours, just about right for us piker-hikers. Along the way there are some lovely stone carvings dating from the Qing Dynasty.
Note (11/20): Chuanhsien Lin kindly sent along a link to photos of this year’s Caoling trail. Chuanhsien writes, “It was also crowded with many hikers there. But it’s a little pity that the weather was not so good, and we had light rain several times.” Looks fair and lovely from here.
It seems to us that only in East Asia would it be possible to suggest flowering grass as a sightseeing destination. To those who can’t make it to Taiwan for awn blossom time but share this refined sensibility, may we recommend the films of Terrence Malick, the most grass-enchanted of directors.
Culture & Society • Gardening & Landscape • Secular Customs • Travel • Permalink
Saturday, November 11, 2006
A white poppy? None at all? The Veterans Day flower greets 2006.
Marshal Ferdinand Foch
head of Allied Forces, WWI
Hotel des Invalides, Paris
Photo: Bill Bishop
An English broadcaster and Canadian pacifists have come under verbal attack for daring to buck the tradition of the Remembrance Poppy.
In 1918, war secretary Moina Michael, inspired by John McRae’s poem about wildflowers blooming in the battlefields of Flanders, donned a red poppy to remember veterans who had died. She spread the red poppy custom, which took hold across much of Europe, Canada, and the U.S. Traditionally, the red poppies appear on November 11, when the World War I armistice was reached, though in the U.S. they “bloom” on Memorial Day also.
But this year British newsman Jon Snow refused to wear the poppy during his Channel 4 broadcast, saying that “he does not like making any ‘kind of statement’ while on air.” Snow alleges that people of many causes hound him to wear their various insignia on television and that he has refused them all. Pressured to make an exception for the Remembrance Poppy, Jon complains of an “unpleasant breed of poppy fascism.”
Jon, you might study up a bit on your political terminology. That’s not “fascism.” Rather it’s what Emile Durkheim called “a social fact.”
Durkheim defined social facts as “types of behaviour and thinking external to the individual,” which are imposed upon us all, as members of society. They aren’t just take-it-or-leave-it customs, but possess “a compelling and coercive power….
“Undoubtedly when I conform to them of my own free will, this coercion is not felt or felt hardly at all, since it is unnecessary. Nonetheless it is intrinsically a characteristic of these facts; the proof of this is that it asserts itself as soon as I try to resist. If I attempt to violate the rules of law they react against me so as to forestall my action, if there is still time.”
The outcry against Snow’s refusal is proof that the red poppy is such a “social fact” of life in England. Jon, it’s still November 11 there. In other words, there is still time.
Patti Hartnagel chooses a white poppy
Photo: (John Lucas, for Edmonton Journal
In Canada, a women’s group is quietly supporting the white poppy as a peace emblem. “It’s a time when everybody’s thinking of war and we want to think of peace,” said Halifax resident Carolyn Green. “We want people to try to recognize the fact that war is not a solution.” The white poppy custom actually dates back to 1933, initiated by the Women’s Cooperative Guild, but has gained momentum this year.
Not surprisingly, veterans groups in Canada have spoken out against the white poppy, and Ralph Klein, premier of Alberta, has said he’ll only wear the red. However, Tim Goddard, whose daughter, Capt. Nichola Goddard died in Afghanistan in May, approves. “In Afghanistan, in many other conflict zones its not just soldiers who are killed, it’s not just Canadians who are killed,” Goddard told reporters. “This time, obviously we’re remembering Nichola and the other 41 soldiers we’ve lost in Afghanistan, the one we’ve lost in Lebanon this summer. Peacekeepers or peacemakers, they’re all worthy of our respect.”
The Women’s Cooperative Guild states it never intended the white poppy as an insult to those who died in battle. Surely not. But, as Durkheim revealed, to trespass against a “social fact”—as the red poppy has become, in Canada and England, if not so much in the U.S.—is to inflict an insult’s sting.
(Special greetings today to Kathy Schiflett, forever the Provost of Dyad U.)
Friday, November 10, 2006
Agave americana—Divided We Stand
Set out with political chagrin, two century plants spread the good news.
Lisa Orr receives her victory Agave
November 10, 2006, Austin, TX
Photo: Julie Ardery
November 3, 2004, it seemed to some of us the U.S. had gone to hell. In defeat, we went out to the nursery, found two mean-looking Agave americanas and planted them right out on the curb. Spiny succulent as protest.
Two years later and the midterm election votes counted (well, most of them—since somebody voted under our name ???, our ballot Tuesday was “provisional”???), things look different. Those two Agave americanas have sprouted about twenty more. So today we dug up several and delivered them to some of the political activists in our neighborhood: Katie, Marla and Jeff, Carl, Lisa and Matt. These are folks who do more than gripe and garden when things get tough.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Eunuchs Go Calling on Tax Defaulters
In flowers, jewels and saris, the hijras collect with success.
The city of Patna hired a resplendent group of local
eunuchs to do its dirty work
Photo: Indranil Mukherjee for AFP
It’s a step up from the sex jobs many of India’s hijras (eunuchs) resort to: They were hired by the city of Patna this week to collect overdue taxes from local shopkeepers. In “their usual makeup and sari,” and floral garlands, “clapping and gyrating to dhol beats,” the hijras literally sang those collections in, Rs 4.25 lakh worth ($9557 USD) in one day. “You know, despite our routine efforts in the past, the number of defaulters kept rising,” said one city official, in defense of the measure. Some business people seemed amused as they paid up, other less so. “‘This is very objectionable,’ M. Khan angrily said and added when the eunuchs arrived at his shop, the customers slipped out.”
In India the Hijras are considered neither male nor female but a third sex. Though their community (numbering perhaps as many as 500,000 people) has a 4000 year old history in India (in some Islamic societies they held special privileges), the hijras have been marginalized over the past 200 years. Since they are considered “unemployable” in much of the country, many resort to sex work.
In recent years, they have been organizing in defense of their rights within Indian society. “The Indian eunuchs complain that though there are shelters for underprivileged children, women and senior citizens,… eunuchs are neglected and kept outside the society. They are neither allowed in the social activities (places of worship, workplaces, entertainment avenues) nor are they admitted in educational institutions.” In March 2000, 40 year old Shabnam Mausi became the first hijra to be elected to the Indian Parliament.
The Patna tax-collection strategy was, in fact, an extension of an older Indian ritual in which hijras show up “uninvited at wedding parties and insist on getting generous cash donations. Traditional belief holds that their presence protects against evil. ” This time, the hijras were paid a wage and turned their collections over to the city. Delinquent shopkeepers were, one might say, “protected” against city fines.