Human Flower Project
Saturday, December 30, 2006
Rose of Jericho—For Openers
The Resurrection Plant breathes life into the dead of winter.
Before: Odontospermum pygmaeum after years in a brown bag
Photos: Julie Ardery
Several winters ago at the turn of the year, we visited the shrine of Don Pedrito, famed folk healer of the Texas-Mexican border, down near Falfurrias. At the tiny gift shop next to the curandero’s shrine, we spotted what looked like a ball of dry, dead moss. What’s this?
“Rose of Jericho,” we were told, a plant that comes back to life, bringing good health and fortune. Sold to the gringa from Austin.
We brought this weird knot of vegetation home in a paper bag, and it sat on a shelf up high, untouched, until last week. This Christmas we would be traveling and couldn’t stand the thought of getting a tree and decorating it only to abandon it for the holidays. Then we spotted the old brown bag, took it down, and pulled out the Rose of Jericho. Maybe it could provide a miracle of Christmas greenery.
After: Two days in warm water—Ta-da!
Submerged in a bowl of lukewarm water, over the next few hours and days it “bloomed.” The dry fist opened wide, turning a dark olive. Amazing. We changed the bowl-water each day to keep our “rose” fresh, and on the morning we left town splashed some of the healing water all four wheels of the car we’d be driving 2500 miles. We left the splayed out Rose of Jericho on a couple of paper towels to dry out as we’d been told to do, and returned—safely and happily—a week later, finding it brown and balled up again.
The name Rose of Jericho is used for several plants with these same magical behaviors: “Anastatica hierochuntica of the family Cruciferae (mustard)” and Odontospermum pygmaeum, “a member of the family Asteraceae (aster).” Ours appears to be Odontospermum pygmaeum or Selaginella lepidophylla.
An article from Garden and Forest (1892) says Resurrection Plants were brought to Europe from Asia Minor in the Middle Ages. “Many specimens were brought home by the Crusaders, and so highly were they prized, for semi-religious reasons, that they were often represented in the paintings on old shields which still exist in France.” (We quite like the idea of “semi-religious” and would describe the Human Flower Project as such.)
A semi-philosophical account of Rose of Jericho is of interest, too:
“For long periods, these ‘roses’ live in desert regions, growing and reproducing as any other plant until the environment no longer supports an adequate existence. When this time comes, they lose moisture, retract their roots from the soil and allow the desert winds to carry them across the desert, until one day they arrive in a place where they can continue to grow and spread. You could say they feel their way through this process, as they don’t necessarily remain in the first place they stop, but feel into the nature of the place to see if it is adequate to enhance growth. There they may stay, and grow, or indeed they may move again many times. But at all times, they feel, and trust to the movement that surrounds them.” Balled up, rolling, or in the flow.
A sales site from the UK considers the plant Mexican, claiming that Rose of Jericho has been “known since antiquity by its Nahuatl name Texochitl yamanqui and also as Flor de piedra or Doradilla. In Yucatan it is called Muchkok.” And this source refers to Selaginella lepidophylla as the Resurrection Plant, with a tale of the baby Jesus and Mother Mary. (Here’s a botanical look at it.)
Clearly, there are a number of wild things with this capacity for rebirth, a quality that has inspired knights and looters, voodoo priests and botanists alike. German-speakers seem especially keen on Anastatica hierochuntica. If our stills don’t thrill, check out this wonderfully choppy video of the Rose Anastacia opening.
After-after: Redried and ready for the next miracle-assignment
We weren’t the first to make Resurrection Plant part of a Christmas celebration and/but we intend to perpetuate the custom after this year’s “semi-religious” trial. A writer from Holland contends the plant “is said never to die, and thus being kept in families for over generations.”
To all of you, may the New Year bring generations of faith, experimentation, wonder.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
The President and the Godfather
Floral tributes honoring James Brown and Gerald Ford both say “big shot.”
Rev. Al Sharpton remembered The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, during a memorial and viewing Thursday at New York’s Apollo Theatre.
Photo: Kathy Willens, for AP
Saying R.I.P. to a V.I.P. demands flowers to the max. But the looks of “maximizing” rightly depend on culture, ethnicity, and social role.
Today’s news photos tell the story, with images of floral tributes to performer and musical pioneer James Brown, who died Christmas Day, and to former U.S. president Gerald Ford, who died December 26.
Gerald Ford’s official presidential portrait received a white rose tribute and was draped with black at the White House.
Photo: Gerald Herbert, for AP
In Washington, D.C., a black sash was hung across the top of Ford’s portrait in the Cross Hall of the White House; “In memorium” below, a silver vase filled with four dozen white roses and a few airy ferns stood on a marble-topped table. One source said white roses are “Mrs. Ford’s favorite flower,” but we doubt that explanation. Rather, this is how high-church Episcopalians mourn in public.
For James Brown, thousands of fans gathered at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem to pay their respects. At either end of Brown’s open casket (Ford’s will be closed) were two large arrangements, also of white flowers, but they were drowned out by a stunning floral placard nearby. GOD FATHER had been spelled out in what appear to be red carnations against a wall of white Gerberas, the whole arrangement edged with palms and red ribbons. This is the floral equivalent of a marquee—huge, explicit—the perfect memorial for the author of “Say It Loud.”
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
flau-e(r) or flaue(r)?
A pronunciation conundrum made more confusing by Mick and Maybelle.
The Carter Family:
Convincing one syllablers
Does flower have one syllable or two?
This burning issue has been raised once again, this time in the Malaysia Star by May Nozawa.
“I was taught to pronounce the word ‘flour” as ‘flar.’ Almost everyone around me in Malaysia pronounces it as ‘flar’ too. But when I checked my Oxford Dictionary, it says it should be pronounced the same way as we pronounce ‘flower.’ It doesn’t mention ‘flar’ at all. Is ‘flar’ a correct pronunciation?”
The paper’s expert, Fadzilah Amin, offers an extended non-answer (including a brief discussion of schwa), and wisely confuses the matter further by noting “There is also an alternative pronunciation of ‘flower,’ indicated by the 20-volume OED, which is exactly like the second pronunciation of ‘flour’!”
Right-o, May. Here in the American South, we also pronounce flower as “flar,” especially when picking guitar. The most renowned “flar’ was recorded by the Carter Family in 1928. Make sure you listen to “The Wildwood Flower” all the way to the end.
Oh, he taught me to love him and called me his flower
That was blooming to cheer him through life’s dreary hour
Oh, I long to see him and regret the dark hour
He’s gone and neglected this pale wildwood flower.
Maybelle’s guitar between the verses cues us for a one syllable word: flar (well, maybe one and a half syllables.)
We find that “flowers” plural, as in Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” usually comes out as two syllables, “flau-urs” not “flars” (Pete, a Yankee, definitely takes two beats). But with the plural, also, there’s a lot of inconsistency, even within the same song,
Take me down, little Susie, take me down.
I know you think you’re the queen of the underground.
And you can send me dead flowers (2 syllables) every morning,
Send me dead flowers (1 syllable) by the US mail,
Say it with dead flowers (2 syllables) at my wedding
And I wont forget to put roses on your grave….
(Dead Flowers: Mick Jagger/Keith Richards)
For further, quite earnest discussion of the matter, see this online forum and this one, where non-native English speakers, Aussies, and royal-watchers all chime in. As ever, your regionalisms—twang-twang—are welcome here.
Surely, you DID listen to “The Wildwood Flower.”
Saturday, December 23, 2006
A Gift Bouquet of Flour
Peace on earth, and good bread to all people.
Bill Bishop with his first loaf of No Knead Bread
Photo: Julie Ardery
Wish we could send all our beloved readers flowers this Christmas. Here’s the next best thing: a bread recipe that will restore your faith in human culture.
Mark Bittman of the New York Times broke the story last month, an ecstatic article that had us cranking up the oven to 450 degrees. Bittman passed along an amazing recipe for No Knead Bread from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. We haven’t bought a loaf of bread since. Actually, this is the most valuable thing we learned all year. Not saying much? Well, just try it before you say so.
Our first loaf didn’t rise too much but it was chewy and delicious, with shatteringly crunchy crust. There’s only one trick to the recipe: willingness to let things hang for a long, long time, since the dough needs just to sit there for about 18 hours on the first rise, three more for the second. In other words, this is the ideal undertaking for a couple of writers. It’s more fun than waiting to hear back from an editor and smells a whole lot better than watching paint dry.
So here you go. In lieu of flowers: flour. Happy holidays to all, and bon appetit. As we aspire to be in 2007, this recipe is very forgiving.
Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
(Human Flower Project recommends King Arthur bread flour)
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (we have upped to 2 tsp.)
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 1/2 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, (we’ve been going 18) at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for 2-3 hours (we’ve been going 3 hours). When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.