Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Would You Like to Sit on a Lotus?

The throne of Lakshmi and Buddha is now available for your tush, too.


Dream Bag

Photo: HDK

Could this be the ultimate in parental pandering?

First we thought so, after seeing the Dream Bag,  a multi-pillowed bloom. “Close it into a bud and let it blossom when or wherever you want, either inside or outdoors. Made from foam filled polyester, beaver nylon and is easy to bring with you.” Designers Ulrika E. Engberg and Kasper Medin note they are, “Looking for (a) producer!” (Preferably one just downstream from large quantities of “beaver nylon.”)

imageGanesh and his consort on a lotus

Image: Exotic India

The Dream Bag is today’s bean bag chair, simple and schleppable, yet—as the 21st century demands—spiritual. It’s modeled on the lotus, seat of divinities. In Hinduism, Vishnu and Ganesh, Lakshmi and Saraswati are all depicted on lotus blossoms.  Brahma sits on a super-lotus, its stem growing from Vishnu’s navel. (As for Dream Bag, umbilicus not included.)

We were surprised to find the Egyptian god Horus also seated on a lotus, as in this ivory plaque from the 8th Century B.C.

But it was The Buddha who made floral furniture famous. Why?

This interesting essay explains: “Whatever symbolic thrust Buddhism attached to lotus, its real glorification began with Puranas,” religious texts from the first century A.D. In these writings the lotus seat, with its many petals, “multiplied a god’s magnificence and divine aura,” made manifest in “fertility, prosperity, fruition, and riches.” We would add beauty!

“Lotus had the divine birth - as an element of Lord Vishnu’s body; integral part of his consort Lakshmi; multiplication of Shiva’s seed; or inhabitant of heaven sent to the earth to incarnate as a flower.” To be seated on the lotus throne, an emblem both of “manliness” and “tenderness,”  was to be sittin’ spiritually pretty.


Image: Nexus

All these religious associations made the Dream Bag seem an affront at first—like a playscape of Calvary or facsimile Muslim prayer rug for your powder room. But as he so often does, Joseph Campbell changed our thinking. This terrific essay looks at the underlying meaning of yoga’s lotus position (no furniture required). Campbell reminds us that chakra #1, which makes contact with your Dream Bag, Bean Bag, sectional sofa or whatever, is the humble place we all start from. Everybody’s butt “is known as muladhara (“root base”) and identified as the motivating center of that simple, primal holding to life which is of infancy and early childhood.”

So what could make more sense than a toddler seated on a sack shaped like a lotus flower? These little tykes can’t be expected to assume the lotus position all on their own.  They’re too busy getting a handle on eating and excreting, those basic “precondition(s) of all animal life, which can exist only by consuming lives” (and perhaps designer furniture at a later date).

Good luck to Ulrika Engberg and Kasper Medin in finding a backer for this ingenious backside accessory.

Posted by Julie on 03/22 at 04:18 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyReligious RitualsPermalink

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Uneasy Hyacinth - Year 1386

Today’s Persian New Year sprouts festivity and anxiety.


A Tehran flower shop stocked for the Norooz, March 2005

Photo: Mr. Behi, Impatient Pixels

With the equinox,  3:37 a.m. Tehran time, all who claim a Persian heritage mark the New Year with old customs. Youngsters jump ritual fires and elders set the haft seen table, its seven ceremonial objects including sombol – hyacinth flower—the olfactory equivalent of a high-pitched siren.  It’s spring!

Across Iran, the homeland of Norooz, this particular New Year arrives with anxieties: the threat of an international economic crackdown. Golnaz Esfandiari writes for Payvand’s Iran News, “many are concerned that the UN will adopt economic sanctions against Iran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.”

One source told the reporter, “People are worried about sanctions and the very bad economic situation in Iran because everything has become expensive. I think the price of fuel will also increase and then the [prices of other things] are going to increase even more. If there will be sanctions and factories will shut down, then it would be horrible.”

Esfandiari adds, ominously, “Some in Iran also say they fear a U.S. attack despite Washington’s denials of any such plans.”

Seems to us that the Norooz, with its many expressions of hope and life, could melt these diplomatic clouds. Even now, representatives of ten countries where the Persian New Year is observed (among them, Afghanistan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan) are working to petition the U.N.’s World Intangible Cultures division for the Norooz to be recognized as part of our shared global heritage. They will gather in Tehran next month to finish their dossier. May this effort flower!

imageFrom Flower (2004)

By Shahram Entekhabi

There is a clear sense that Iranians feel misunderstood, even embattled this spring. See this odd video entitled Flower (2004) by Shahram Entekhabi, commentary from an Iranian expatriate living in Germany.

We also pass along a strong essay from Ali Mostofi standing up for the people of Iran. ”Iranians are not to be ‘feared,’” he writes in response to an editorial by William Cox. “You seem to be totally oblivious of the Iranian Spirit that has motivated a peaceful union amongst the Iranian people, and the various ethnic groups for thousand years. It was the very essence of the Iranian Spirit as enshrined in our Holy Book The Zend Avesta, that has keep Iran for so long. Iranian Peace was Cosmological. We were the first to unite the world along Cosmological Principles, and our Empires are a testimony to that. Pax Iranica was based on Nowrooz.”

imageHaft Seen

Noruz 2007

Oakland, CA, USA

Photo: Cyrus Farivar

Mostofi also stresses “We have close to four million very rich, very well educated Iranians outside Iran, who love Iran, and will not allow their country be plundered by aliens from within or without, because we have not forgotten the Spirit of Nowrooz.”

Indeed, the Persian New Year is being celebrated in many parts of the U.S. today. We attended a glorious occasion in 2003 right here in Austin.

Here are several more fascinating pieces on Norouz


No Ruz



—many spellings for springtime, a manifold creation.

Posted by Julie on 03/21 at 02:25 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyPoliticsSecular CustomsPermalink

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tuba, Faluba, Whattevvah

Wherever coconut trees and wine drinkers co-exist, there’s a quick intoxicating beverage.


Master Navigator Mau Piailug, seated at right, receives

visiting sailors (in leis) at his island home on Satawal

Photo: Gary Kubota, for the Star Bulletin

On January 23, two double-hulled canoes left Hawai’i on a voyage through Polynesia and Japan. They’re sailing for adventure (natch) but foremost their trip honors a man named Mau Piailug, resident of the tiny Pacific island of Satawal.

Mau took one of these boats, the Hokule‘a, on its maiden voyage, to Tahiti in 1976. In the decades since, “he shared his voyaging and navigation traditions with young Hawaiians eager to learn about how their ancestors sailed the long sea roads of Polynesia without navigational instruments. …His teachings have inspired communities in Hawai‘i and Polynesia to build more than a dozen deep-sea voyaging canoes.”

The newer canoe on this trip, the Alingano Maisu, was built in Hawai’i and is being delivered to the great navigator as a gift.

The Hawaiian sailors reached Satawal last Wednesday and there enjoyed five days of Satawalese hospitality and cuisine. Gary Kubota of the Star Bulletin is on board the Hokule‘a (what an assignment!) and reports, “The crews spent an extra day on Satawal at Piailug’s request to be at a family celebration at his home, where they received a buffet of island food including fish, breadfruit, taro and coconut milk. Several crew members were invited by some people to also drink faluba, an alcoholic beverage made from the flower of the coconut tree.”

imageCoconut flowers

Photo: Jim Conrad

This is where the ceremonial sea voyage becomes a Human Flower Project, too. We’ve since learned that this beverage is popular wherever coconut trees grow. It seems to go by the name faluba also in Fiji and on the Ifaluk atoll (where it ”occasionally is still used as payment for labor”).  But coconut flower wine goes by many other names: tuba in the Philippines, kallu in southern India, poyo in Sierra Leone.

In coconut country, the drink is ubiquitous because, like sun tea, it’s a cinch to make. As the flowers emerge, somebody with strong thighs shimmies up the tree and cuts the bud, leaving a gourd or some other receptacle to catch the fresh sap. Done.

“Palm sap begins fermenting immediately after collection due to natural yeasts in the air. Within two hours, fermentation yields an aromatic wine of up to 4% alcohol content, mildly intoxicating and sweet. The wine may be allowed to ferment longer, up to a day, to yield a stronger, more sour and acidic taste, which some people prefer. Longer fermentation produces vinegar instead of stronger wine.”

According to wiki, there are roadside bars for palm flower wine in the Congo (in Houston, these establishments are called “ice houses” and serve beer). Southern India has its “toddy shops,” which appear intermittently to close down and reopen at the discretion of local authorities. Here’s a piece about the hard lot of toddy makers in the Maldives.

While we’re on the subject of flower wines, here’s a brief guide to making them from Nicholas Morcinek. He claims that just about any benign flower, free of herbicides/pesticides, should do, dandelion, red clover, rose and rosemary being time-tested. Here’s a recipe for gorse flower wine. Please check with an extension agent before experimenting, though, as some flowers are surely poisonous. (And the mere suggestion of rosemary wine is, in our view, a powerful inducement to sobriety).

imageThe Hokule’a (right) and Maisu near Pulap, heading to Satawal

Photo: Mike Taylor, Captain, Kama Hele

We should also note that the crews departed from Satawal yesterday wearing leis. You can follow the continuing voyage of the Hokule’a on this blog and (wow!)  via M. Shintani’s tracking map.

The crews expect to be sailing for many more weeks, winding up, if all goes as planned, June 9 in Yokohama, Japan.

Posted by Julie on 03/20 at 04:12 PM
CookingCulture & SocietyTravelPermalink

Monday, March 19, 2007

Lullingstone Castle: Save the Homeplace

A plant hunter, kidnapped in Panama, returns home to build a garden out of gratitude.

imageTom Hart Dyke

Photo: Kent News

With a name like Tom Hart Dyke you have to be a Brit, one destined for romantic adventure and, like all proper Englishmen, a garden.

Hart Dyke’s saga will be aired tonight and for the next five Mondays on the BBC (too bad we don’t have a satellite dish!). And we do mean saga. A globe-trotting botanist, Tom was kidnapped while hunting for rare orchids in Panama in 2000. A guerilla group held Hart Dyke and his traveling companion Paul Winder prisoner for nine months.

“After being told they would be shot in the head and then cut up into pieces, the friends were put back in separate huts at the mountain camp. Mr Winder spent the afternoon praying, but to stay sane Mr. Hart Dyke dreamt up the idea for his World Garden, as he wanted to leave a legacy behind him.”

Like the foxhole prayers made by many folk artists, Hart Dyke’s creative pledge has become reality. He was released, returned to his family estate in Kent, and with help from neighbor and garden designer Adam S. Bailey, has set about building flower-bed “continents” for some 10,000 plants from across the world. Already, the garden has produced the first Silver Princess Eucalyptus Caesia flowers ever to bloom in England.

imageThe World Garden— in progress

Photo: Lullingstone Castle

Plumping this heroic story into an outright fairy tale, Hart Dyke’s garden may also save the ancestral home. Lullingstone Castle (you didn’t think we were talking about a ‘70s ranch-style did you?) has belonged to his family for 20 generations, about 500 years. It’s “one of England’s oldest family-owned estates.” But don’t let a couple of old turrets deceive you. Castle upkeep happens to be quite expensive these days. “Lullingstone ...was opened to the public in 1950 - attracting 50,000 visitors during its heyday - but this number had fallen to just 2,000 by 2002.”

The place has been “on the verge of bankruptcy. Unless the current Hart Dyke family can dramatically turn things around, they may be the last generation of their family to live at Lullingstone.”

Horrors!! Step right up, pay your admission, and save the homeplace. Hart Dyke believes that enough visitors will come through the turnstile at the World Garden for Lullingstone to stay in the family. If a handsome and valiant young botanist “survivor,” a castle, heritage and 10,000 plants can’t get tour buses rolling to Eynsford, Master Tom will at least have made good on his promise.

The World Garden will open officially this April 1st (closed Good Friday, and Mondays-Tuesdays).

Posted by Julie on 03/19 at 05:52 PM
Art & MediaGardening & LandscapeTravelPermalink
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