Human Flower Project
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Old computers live again. Just add soil.
Tatung Einstein, pushing up daisies
Photo: Zyra’s Website
Where have all the typewriters gone? And where have all the old computers gone? We remember hauling an early so-called portable computer on the plane to Washington, D.C. for a research trip years ago. It was of course summer in the city, and though the machine and its carrying case weren’t so large, they could nearly separate your shoulder. How “convenient”! We limped around the capitol for three days with a grip on what could have been Davy Jones’s locker, with Davy’s corpse inside.
The ghost of Davy lives on…. Taking up half the precious closet space in our house are old computers, an old printer or two, and even one Royal typewriter, with a pocked black and red ribbon. We might nobly offer them to a public elementary school except of course the schools’ equipment is several generations better than what we’re tapping on right now.
So, many thanks to Zyra and her astounding website. Here we have found the answer to our conundrum about how to handle old word processing equipment: She writes:
“In the early days of home computers there was a computer known as the Tatung Einstein. It was like a Z80 version of the BBC Micro. This particular Tatung Einstein had seen better days and was cunningly converted into a FLOWER POT. Placed strategically in the sunshine it already looked quite surrealist with plants growing out of it, but then the scene was improved even more when this CAT decided it would be a nice soft warm place to sleep. Cats have a knowledge of computers to the extent that they recognise them as worth sleeping on, a computer giving off plenty of heat even when indoors…”
Dave and Jenny’s Mac-Planter
Photo: via Apartment Therapy
Excited to have come upon Zyra’s computer-to-planter, we found another, this one a Mac (catless). We commend this excellent bit of retrofitting to anyone, but it seems especially well suited for the legions of garden bloggers who, we imagine, share both our fondness for interesting containers (most computers even have a hole or two in the bottom, for good drainage) and our lack of closet space.
We also commend to all Zyra’s amazing website. A polymath, she raises interesting questions: “What would tea taste like if it were brewed in a hot water bottle?” for example. There is a wealth of information on folding bicycles, the elimination of child poverty, and five star hotels in Dublin. We especially like her essay on location discrimination. Zyra argues that websites can never truly be local.
“Even sites that are about a particular place are of interest to people from far afield,” she writes. “The site http://www.zyra.org.uk is an example of a site that ‘tries to encompass the entire world.’” Zyra, thank you for your solution to the old computer problem. Consider us encompassed.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Palm Ash: Sacred Recycling
James Wandersee and Renee Clary follow an Ash Wednesday rite back to its greenery and living root. Here are fascinating details and a strong new pair of concepts for understanding culture: “essence” and “fidelity.”
Wandersee’s and Clary’s decade of work on “plant blindness” was recently featured in the New York Times, though bafflingly they were never mentioned (much like introducing the public to this neat idea called “gravity” without a nod to Isaac Newton). Blindness takes many forms.
As always, thanks for opening our eyes, Jim and Renee.
By James H. Wandersee and Renee M. Clary
EarthScholars™ Research Group
For many Christian denominations, the ashes used in ceremonies on Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) are traditionally made by burning the remains of living palm fronds blessed on Palm Sunday of the previous year—a spiritual foreshadowing and ecological recycling that most church members may never have recognized.
Making palm ashes
Saint Luke Catholic Church, Virginia Beach, VA
Photo: Hampton Roads
Palms are one of the best-known and longest-cultivated flowering plant families. Palms’ tiny white flowers, appearing in clusters called inflorescences, often go unnoticed; it is their leaves (a.k.a., fronds) and palm food products (coconut, dates) that attract and fascinate people. The plants in the Bible story are likely date palms. They are associated with Palm Sunday because of the biblical account of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem five days before his crucifixion. The living green fronds strewn in Jesus’ path to honor his entrance as the Messiah were also a prelude to his death—hence the later ceremonial use of palm ashes.
The ashes are used to mark a cross on the foreheads of the faithful in Ash Wednesday church services, an outward sign of intended spiritual reflection, mourning, and repentance during the season of Lent. Because palm ash alone does not adhere well to the human forehead, olive oil or anointing oil is often mixed with the ashes to allow the pastor or priest’s thumb to make the mark.
It takes only 4 ounces of palm ash to imprint 1,000 foreheads with the sign of the cross (Commercial ash comes from ovens that incinerate the fronds).
Historically, males had the palm ashes sprinkled on their heads, while women had the mark of the cross drawn with ashes on their foreheads by the thumb of the clergy. Over, time, the ritual first used with women came to be used with men as well.
Ash Wednesday Service in Queensland, Australia
In many churches today, attendance at Ash Wednesday services equals or exceeds that on Christmas and Easter—showing that church-goers value this tradition highly. Since Ash Wednesday falls on a weekday, many people go to work or school that day with ashes on their foreheads. It’s commonplace for those unfamiliar with this plant-based tradition to make the well-intended remark: “Excuse me, but there’s dirt on your face.”
This 12th-century tradition’s cyclic visual metaphor is rich and profound, yet few churches make their own palm ashes anymore. Although some claim this tradition was abandoned due to today’s more stringent fire safety and air quality rules, most church leaders will admit that the convenience of purchasing uniformly fine palm ash is the underlying reason. Many churches buy ashes from church supply houses, which in turn buy from palm ash makers in Texas and Florida. Nearly all the palm ashes used in U.S. churches on Ash Wednesday come from palms other than the biblical date palm.
Approximately 308 million palm fronds are used each year on Palm Sunday in the U.S. For churches that observe this custom, a congregation of 1,500 members will order about 700 fronds for Palm Sunday services. In countries where palm fronds cannot be easily obtained, branches of olive, box elder, spruce and willow trees are used on Palm Sunday in place of palm plants or leaves. In Slovenia, butara (bundles of evergreen sprigs/branches and colorful ribbons are arranged vertically on a central pole or sticks) are used in place of palms. Some churches in the U.S. and abroad use individual, woven crosses of dried palm; others hold that strips of palm, or sprigs and branches of natural woody foliage are equally if not more suitable. Still others are unaware that the palm-like plants they use on Palm Sunday are not true palms at all—such as the Sago Palm, which is not a flowering plant, but a cycad!
Harvesting Eco-Palms in Mexico
Today, an increasing number of U.S. churches celebrate a sustainable Palm Sunday by only using “eco-palms”— fronds that are judiciously harvested by indigenous communities in Mexico and Central America so as to promote palm forest sustainability and maintain critical habitats — rebating 5 cents per palm frond back to the villages for vital social services.
In 2007, churches in every state bought a total of more than 300,000 eco-palm fronds to celebrate Palm Sunday. Although these palms, too, are not the biblical date palms, but native palms, they do meet the criteria of access, convenience, and sustainability. Plant-based traditions DO change. It’s just that, often, we either don’t know the original tradition well enough to notice its changing, or we value essence more than fidelity.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Sant Jordi: Double Whammy
Catalonia’s patron saint, honored April 23, adds a literary layer to Valentine’s romance.
Roses packaged for sale, April 23, 2004
with Catalonia’s patron Sant Jordi, Barcelona, Spain
Photo: Jenny Edwards
Consumption is the new piety. Would-be saints won’t be caught dead drinking the wrong kind of coffee, wearing a pelt, or driving a full-size automobile. While the era of indulgences may be over, sanctimonious indulgence has filled the void.
In Barcelona today, and in other parts of Catalonia, local patron Sant Jordi (known elsewhere as St. George) receives his due primarily through a tit-for-tat tradition of gifts. Men shop for roses, giving them to their ladies a la Valentine’s Day, and women reciprocate by buying their fellows books. Las Ramblas, one of the liveliest promenades in the world on just an ordinary day, becomes a puzzle of bookracks and flower pails. Wait till U.S. marketers realize that, had they only settled on a different holiday for lovers, they’d be doubling their sales.
We think of St. George astride a horse, plunging his lance down the throat of a dragon (How dull of us not to have seen this as foreplay!). Though the original St. George was likely born in current day Turkey, the Catalans transposed his story to the local town of Montblanc. According to legend a stinky lizard threatened the city and could only be kept at bay with daily human sacrifices. Eventually, the local princess was to take her turn at martyrdom, but before she was eaten, chivalrous George appeared and slew the beast.
A book for you, a rose for me (Kev and Nate)
Diada de Sant Jordi
Photo: Borderline/Cruzando Fronteras
What does all this have to do with shopping and exchanging gifts? Well, a rosebush was said to have “sprouted from the dragon’s blood,” and not missing a beat, Sant Jordi “plucked the prettiest blossom for the princess.” One source claims the giving of roses on April 23 has been going on “since the Middle Ages to honor chivalry and romantic love,” though we’ve not been able to find any early reference to the custom. Nor have we seen art historical renderings of Saint George with a rose, or a princess, for that matter. We had, honestly, considered him more a super-exterminator than a lover. And books? “In 1923, the lovers’ fest merged with International Book Day to mark the anniversary of the all-but-simultaneous April 23, 1616 deaths of Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare.”
We welcome further insight into the history of this intriguing biblio-floral tradition. What could be more delightful than a gift-swap of roses and books? It’s our guess that new life flowed into Diada de Sant Jordi thanks to the combined forces of Catalan nationalism and savvy marketing. Either one is a good match for a dragon.
Culture & Society • Cut-Flower Trade • Religious Rituals • Secular Customs • Permalink
Saturday, April 21, 2007
30 Pounds of Paradise
Los Angeles blows its cool for a night—and a Bonne Vivante wins the Headdress Ball.
“Birds of Paradise,” designed by Gerry Gregg
2nd Runner Up, Las Floristas Headdress Ball
Beverly Hills, CA (April 20, 2007)
Photo: Scott Acevedo
Back! back! all you purveyors of minimalism! Simple-lifers, get a life!…
And witness 2007’s Las Floristas Headdress Ball. Thanks to Richard Seekins and Scott Acevedo of The Flower Place in Fountain Valley, CA, here’s a runway-side seat from last night’s exuberant charity fund-raiser in Beverly Hills. Scott was the evening’s emcee, and with 20+ years’ involvement in the event brightened the night with anecdotal glitter.
The theme for this year’s ball—“Ticket to Paradise”—inspired elephant heads, angels, and crested blackbirds. But wouldn’t you know it, the Sweepstakes Winner, entitled “Bonne Vivante Living the Good Life” featured a pretty girl shaking up cocktails.
Linda Nies as ‘Cinderella’
design by Richard Seekins and Scott Acevedo
winner of Las Floristas Headdress Ball, 1996
Photo: Scott Acevedo
Each year, members of Las Floristas, an all-volunteer organization that raises money for children’s charities, contact the hottest florists in Southern California and plot their costumes. Richard explains, “From the design of the headdress, the colors are picked and the dress is decided on and the music selected. We do a complete package of the colors of the headdress, the ball gown and the music so it all coordinates.” He and Scott have learned what does best under the glare of stage lighting: “Dark colors like lavenders turn gray, dark reds are flat, greens turn black, and pale yellows and peach wash out.” But look what becomes of silvery blue, their design-choice for a “Cinderella” that won the Sweepstakes and People’s Choice prizes several years ago.
Richard kindly sent along some photographs of Linda Nies wearing the winning headdress he and Scott created in 1996 (“The Magic of Walt Disney”) as well as shots of this tour de force in the making. Using a fiberglass helmet, aluminum tubing and window screen, they made the armature. Richard explains, “It took the petals of 400 white carnations and 12 bunches of glads to do the flower petaling to cover the frame.” In the 24 hours before the ball itself, they added “100 white cattleyea orchids, 400 stephanotis blossoms, the flowers from 100 stems of white dendrobium orchids and 100 white phalenopsis orchids.” Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo!
Linda Nies gets in practice
with the frame for her 1996 headdress
Photo: Scott Acevedo
Las Floristas Headdress Ball was clearly born in an earlier L.A., one with studio moguls, hunger for glamour and “high society.” This is the party where you could have seen Marilyn Hilton or settled in for a black-tie tribute to Bob Hope. It used to be, says Richard, that designers who hoped to take part would have to earn their way in through a “centerpiece competition,” but no more. The florists who pour weeks into these feats of costuming are gradually backing away, and the area’s float-decorators (think Tournament of Roses) comprise more and more of the designers. As recently as the 1990s, Seekins says, there would be some 700 guests at the ball, but that’s dwindled to about half.
The group supports Rancho Los Amigos Children’s Rehabilitation Center in Downey, CA. Las Floristas’ fundraising, through the ball and other efforts, has created clinics there for children with birth defects, for burn victims and for paraplegic children. For more on Las Floristas, plus some photos of past headdress balls, please check out our post from April 15.
“Today, people don’t have the same desire to participate,” Seekins says. Wealthy L.A. ladies of decades past had both time and “money to burn.” They volunteered in greater numbers for charities like Las Floristas. As women put in 40 hour workweeks now, there’s less time to be fitted for a 30 pound headdress and beaded evening gown or to practice being “a mannequin.”
The Parade, “Ticket to Paradise”
Las Floristas Headdress Ball
Beverly Hills, CA (April 20, 2007)
Photo: Scott Acevedo
And practice is a good idea. It takes two people just to hoist these headpieces into place and then rig them into a corset so the weight won’t fall on the model’s lovely neck. “When you get 30 pounds on your hips, things do not move like they used to,” Richard says. It’s “like giving birth to quadruplets!”
We suppose that stylish L.A. is resuming its cool, putting back on its dark glasses, its slimming black attire. But for a few hours, Hollywood’s old glitz Genie was out of the bottle last night. Congratulations to all who entered, all who petaled, and all who attended this outrageous event.