Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Drinking Chrysanthemum

For the meek, the prejudiced and the overheated…


A cuppa chrys in Shanghai, 2005

Photo: No Such Thing as a Clear Blue Sky

Flower plans are being laid now for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and once more chrysanthemums are embroiled in controversy.

Roses and mums, both emblems of this city, have already been chosen as key flowers for the games, though “in recent years, a debate has arisen over the suitability of the Chrysanthemum as one of Beijing’s signature flowers due to its widespread use as a funeral flower in the West,” China Daily reports.

“Supporters of the flower argue that it received high praise in ancient Chinese literature and if you gave someone a single Chrysanthemum, it meant you viewed the person as honest. Even so, Chinese diplomatic officials now no longer consider a gift of a Chrysanthemum appropriate for visiting foreign guests.”

In our view, “foreign guests” everywhere should cede to the flower customs of the lands they visit, and if that rule can mean shedding chrysanthemum bigotry, all the better.

The chrysanthemum is not just enjoyed but honored and frequently imbibed in China and Taiwan. Ag scientists say of Chinese wines  “there are six different kinds…that are said to have healthful properties”; among them, chrysanthemum is considered beneficial for everyone, especially those who are a bit on the timid side:  “the chrysanthemum drink aims to increase brazenness” (but so will muscatel…).

imageChrysanthemum in the can, a picker-upper

Photo: CT Food

Chrysanthemum tea is a favorite, too, both hot and cold. This blogger reports that, during a recent bout of illness, two friends delivered chrysanthemum tea to speed recovery. Which came first, the art or the medicine? In any case, chrysanthemum has a long literary history in China. Those who think flowers are girly (and who think that’s undesireable) should note that “rarely is the chrysanthemum compared with women - it is more often associated with independent, proud, noble, willful and tough men, such as Qu Yuan and Tao Yuanming.”

In a film called Chrysanthemum Tea (2000) the beverage begets love between a railroad worker and a teacher. “Brazenness”? Maybe it’s just anti-inhibitive and, on some, that looks brazen.

Lest this all sound esoteric, our correspondent Mesh Wu from Taipei writes otherwise. “In Taiwan, every (24-hour) convenience store sells this drink.” Instead of a Diet Dr. Pepper (doink), coulda had a Chrysanthemum tea! In Chinese medicine it’s considered cooling, just the thing for a sore throat or the end of a rancorous day.

For those who maintain a dislike for chrysanthemums (and who recognize that’s undesireable), we pass a cup and suggest working from the inside out.

Posted by Julie on 11/26 at 02:31 PM
CookingCulture & SocietyMedicinePermalink

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Chypre by the Dozen

Francois Coty’s concoction endures on a million pulse points.


Two intimate friends from the same fragrance family

Photo: Julie Ardery

The first perfume we remember was Ma Griffe (“My Signature”), our mother’s favorite through the late ‘50s and ‘60s. It was green and a little bit sharp, less like dreaming on a couch stuffed with rose petals than walking in an olive grove and biting down on a sliver of lemon rind. Our own first perfume (not counting Ambush, the herd-fragrance of junior high school) was Dioressence. It too delivered a bite, but spicier. When Dioressence disappeared from the shelves for several years and came back as a dud, we switched to Miss Dior. Our new favorite is an old Guerlain: Mitsouko. Again, there’s that pungent, wake up and wonder feeling, slightly musty and not-so-sweet.

All these fragrances, we’ve since learned, are classified as chypres, “based on oakmoss, ciste-labdanum, patchouli and bergamot.” The name is French for Cyprus, and one delight of these perfumes is that they are reminiscent of the herbs and wild plants of a Mediterranean island, tingly and dry.

imageFrancois Coty, who created the original Chypre

Photo: Histoire de Francois Coty

Chypre was also the name of the perfume Francois Coty created in 1917 from this combination of scents. When the public fell in love with his perfume, other houses scrambled to concoct something similar. Mitsouko, from 1919, is sometimes classed a fruity-chypre, and contains peach, rose and, we think, a dash of pepper. Others, like Miss Dior, with jasmine and gardenia, are more flowery.

imageCistus Ladanifer, an ingredient in many chypre perfumes

Photo: Paghat’s Garden

According to the the International Perfume Museum in Grasse, these sharper, mossier scents began a new era. Here was a change not just of style but of sociology: “While perfumes remain elitist and limited in distribution right up to the First World War, Coty’s ‘Chypre’ breaks with tradition in 1917 by proposing the first perfume for the masses which will encounter an exceptional public reception.” This family of fragrances dominated perfumes until about 1950, when new synthentic ingredients (think Chanel No. 5) swerved the industry in yet another new direction.

Fondness for particular scents or types of scents is mysterious—one of the last experiences on earth that cannot be captured on a cell-phone camera. This piece from the Observer (UK) is entertaining and instructive too. It makes clear why in sampling perfumes one has to be patient, spritzing a little on, then waiting a half hour or more to let the middle and base notes assert themselves. This site gives a good basic explanation of fragrance families, and this one is downright encyclopedic. It classifies 149 perfumes as chypres.

Femme, Fendi, Ysatis…so many fragrances, so little time!

Posted by Julie on 11/22 at 08:18 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietySecular CustomsPermalink

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Cops & Flowers

Stories from Greece, South Africa, and the U.S. suggest that flowers and law enforcement don’t mix.

imageImage: Government

of Thailand

Billy clubs, safety whistles, mace, and holsters, yes. But flowers, no—they don’t come to mind when we think of policing.

And three recent stories indicate that boys (and girls) with shiny badges had best stay clear of anything floral while on the job. In Cape Town, a couple has rebuffed a bouquet—the peace offering from local police. Allegedly, police came banging on the door in the middle of the night, were given entry, and then proceeded to harass the couple, demanding the whereabouts of “Bernard.”

“I told them two men by the name of Bernard had lived there before we became the new homeowners,” said one of the residents. “But they would not understand. They were rude and forced us to put our hands on a machine,” apparently a “Morphe Touche” machine, used to collect fingerprints.

Police offered an apology, R2 000 (to repair damaged burglar bars), and flowers, but the couple refused to make-up. In South Africa, as in many other places, giving and accepting flowers indicate that a hostile social relation is simmering down, and this pair (rather understandably) prefers to stay on Hot St.. They’ve filed a formal complaint against the department.

In Portland, Oregon, a sheriff’s deputy has resigned and pled guilty to a charge of harassment. He allegedly stopped several women drivers, then asked them to “lift up their shirts, unzip their pants and unhook their bras so he could look for a flower tattoo,” claiming he was looking for a tattooed suspect. One of the women pressed charges. When did we stop id-ing by names, drivers’ license numbers and photos? “Officer, my face is a flower. Does it look like your suspect?”

And in Thessaloniki, Greece,  police are blaming a political protestor’s injuries on a flower pot. Last Friday, students marched in the city to mark the 33rd anniversary of a bloody uprising against Greece’s then-dictatorship. Something sent Avgoustinos Dimitriou to the hospital. Several faculty members of the local university say undercover police beat Dimitriou; “The police said that the 24-year-old Cypriot national sustained his injuries when he tripped and fell against a scooter and a large flower pot.”

An editorial by Pantelis Boukalas in today’s Kathimerini notes: “There has always been a problem with flower pots in this country, particularly in Thessaloniki: They tend to take on a life of their own and do not obey rules set by those who place them on sidewalks or balconies…. Let it be said that a hostile motorcycle parked nearby came to the flower pot’s aid in tripping up the hapless student.” Boukalas points out that video footage (shades of Rodney King) has vindicated the flower pot.

Perhaps our friends in law enforcement would do well to refrain from human flower projects till after hours.

Posted by Julie on 11/21 at 12:37 PM
PoliticsSecular CustomsPermalink

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Two Miles of Brush Flowers

Young people in Romania set a new record with a floral mural.


Strolling among panels of painted flowers

in Bucharest, Romania, November 18

Photo:  Bogdan Cristel, for Reuters

Students of Nicolae Tonitza High School in Bucharest, the Romanian capital, bore down with paint brushes yesterday at Baneasa Airport, putting 200 meters’ worth of final touches on an immense mural. The finished painting measured 3,464 meters long (two miles and then some) and qualifies as “the longest painting painted by children,” according to the Guinness World Record keepers. The title had been held by a children’s group from the United Arab Emirates.

The Romanian mural is floral, the theme selected by UNICEF official Wajidha Haris. “I chose flowers since they are an international symbol of children,” said Haris. Are they? We hadn’t realized this.

They certainly seem to be so in Romania. We’ve been reading about Casa Florilor—Flower House—in Lazu. Set up in association with the medical center of Baylor University, it’s a residence for children with HIV/AIDS.

And there’s an interesting reference in this 19th century essay about country life, written by Carmen Sylvia—the pen name of Romanian Queen Elizabeth. Describing customs of folk decoration, she wrote that peasant women “dip their hands in colors, red and blue, and stamp them on the window and door casings, the five fingers thus taking the place of the acanthus leaf…. When there is in the house a marriageable girl, flowers are painted on the wall, but should the maid have made a misstep, the lads go and blot the flowers out.”

Here, as in many wedding ceremonies, flowers represent childhood’s virginity, but as for flowers being a universal expression of children, we haven’t seen much evidence of that. Perhaps our readers will weigh in with help on this topic. ARE flowers “an international symbol” of children, or of peace, or of something else?


Posted by Julie on 11/19 at 10:14 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietySecular CustomsPermalink
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