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Monday, August 06, 2007

Nepal Sings of ‘One Garland’


Out with the old king’s anthem, in with a new—and floral— national song.


image

Loose flowers for garland making

Kathmandu, Nepal

Photo: Dey Alexander

“From hundreds of flowers, we are one Nepali garland.

Sovereign, we reach from the Mechi to Mahakali….”

So begins the new national anthem of Nepal. It was adopted this past week and replaces 19th century verses that praised the monarchy (the old tune sounded oddly like a Methodist hymn.)

Nepal’s new floral song is the latest outgrowth of a major political uprising in spring 2006, opposing King Gyanendra. Nineteen people died in the revolt. Three months ago, the newly constituted House of Representatives in Nepal declared the old anthem “null and void” and announced a competition for another national song.

From among over 1200 entries, the “Task Team” chose 34 year old Byakul Maila’s lyrics. This poet, born in the small town of Hilepani, “actively participated in the April Movement.” News stories from around the world all point out that his poem is, in the words of one paper, “king-free.”

“The snub comes as the king’s future hangs in the balance after fiercely republican Maoists ended their ‘people’s war’ last year and entered government. ‘The old national anthem which praised feudalism has been killed,’ Prithvi Subba Gurung, Nepal’s Minister for Culture and Tourism, said at the launch of the national anthem.” (You know people mean business when they describe a song as being “killed.”)

For Nepal, where the people traditionally garland their beloved leaders (as well as guests, brides, and deities), the image of an immense strand of flowers is, we think, both beautiful and apt for a fresh democracy. Since the uprising last spring, the king has lost most of his authority. “His future will be decided after a crucial poll in November to elect a body that will rewrite the country’s constitution and determine the fate of Gyanendra and his 238-year-old Shah dynasty.”

Some say the new song echoes Nepalese folk music; another source calls it a “G-minor scale with undertones of jazz.” (Nobody has said anything about Methodist hymns.) You can listen to the new anthem here. Here are the lyrics in full: Everybody sing!


Posted by Julie on 08/06 at 03:11 PM
Art & MediaPoliticsPermalink

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Trouble Brewing in the Trees of Brazil


Too-early flowering of the coffee trees in Brazil threatens the java crop of 2008—and jobs.


image

Brazil’s coffee-scented postage stamp, 2001

(its smell was supposed to last 5 years)

Image: Law Coffee



As we sit up, sip and gain consciousness, we read bad news from Brazil, the biggest coffee-bean producer in the world. “About 20 percent to 30 percent of the coffee trees in the south of Minas Gerais, Brazil’s biggest coffee-producing region, are flowering a month early.” The trees were tricked into bloom by weeks of inordinately heavy rains and now will have to develop buds and beans during one of the driest seasons of the year. Joaquim Goulart, head agronomist at the huge regional coffee cooperative Cooxupe, told Bloomburg,  “It could badly hinder the next harvest.’’ Production is expected to drop by about a third.

imageCoffee tree with flowers, buds, beans and cherries

Photo: M&M Kona Coffee

We’ve never seen or smelled coffee flowers, but they look quite a bit like jasmine, and some say they smell as sweet and strong. This Panamanian grower compares the fragrance to orange blossoms. Senegal’s poet-president Leopold Senghor alluded to them in a love poem: “Naett, her name has the sugared whiteness of coffee trees in flower….

A Hawaiian website says it takes seven to nine months for a coffee flower to become a pickable bean. “The flowers form glomerules, or little tufts made up of 8 to 15 elements, at the base of the leaves. They produce the same number of berries, commonly known as cherries because of their colour. The flowers last only a few hours and wilt as soon as fertilisation has taken place: however, others quickly replace them. As a result, it is not uncommon to find leaves, flowers and berries on the tree at the same time! One tree can produce over 30,000 flowers in a year.”

A surprising fact via wiki: coffee growers continually must battle the problem of too many flowers, “as coffee plants tend to produce too many berries; this can lead to an inferior harvest and even damage yield in the following years as the plant will favor the ripening of berries to the detriment of its own health.” So pruning sounds like a non-stop job.

imageCoffee buyers in Brazil

sniff the crust on cups

Photo: Sweet Maria’s

Speaking of jobs, we understand that more than 5 million Brazilians are employed in the coffee trade. How will the early bloom affect them? We don’t know. But we have read that tighening supplies, in Vietnam as well as Brazil, are making coffee investors happy and rich.

“June 21st begins winter in Brazil and the time of year when speculators often buy coffee calls in hopes of a Brazilian freeze driving up coffee prices.” The opposition between the fortunes of producers/workers and the fortunes of investors is pretty bald here. How ‘bout a little Marxism with your coffee?



Posted by Julie on 08/04 at 12:16 PM
Culture & SocietyCut-Flower TradePermalink

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Shapla: Wild, Curried, Currency


The water lily crops up everywhere in Bangladesh, from coinage to kitchens to haors.


image

The permanent lagoons of Bangladesh

Image: Bangladesh Water Development Board



As the Inuit have many names for “snow,” the people of Bangladesh see within their wetlands “beels,”  “haors” and “baors.” All are varieties of lagoons in this, one of the richest marshland environments of the world. The national flower, known as shapla, is of course aquatic, the beautiful wild white water lily, Nymphaea pubescens.

imageA family gathers shapla

to sell near Dhaka

Photo: Rafiqur Rahman, for Reuters

We were drawn to this flower after seeing Rafiqur Rahman photograph of a couple, baby in tow, gathering shapla “to sell at Madartake on the outskirts of Dhaka.” The buds are closed and the lilies’ long stems have been perfectly coiled and arrayed in the bottom of a shallow boat. We’re not sure whether the flowers will be market and used as ornaments or as food, for we understand that in Bangladesh “rural people consume (shapla) as curry. Children are also fond of eating the stem and the fruit even green.” Further, we understand that in some villages, streetside vendors serve food on the shapla’s thick pads, a smart alternative to paper or plastic plates.

image1 taka note

Image: Squadron 402



An open lily floating between two sheaves of rice is the national emblem and appears both on coins (the poisha) and on paper currency (the taka). In downtown Dhaka’s banking district, the sculpture Shapla Chatwar blooms perpetually (perhaps analogous to the snorting bull statue on Wall Street in New York City).

While the shapla may have been singled out as emblem of Bangladesh, this nation of “haors” and “baors” is home to 300,000 more wild plants. Clearly, the beautiful Nymphaea pubescens will never lack human or floral company.

image

A lagoon with shapla blossoms

Photo: Banglapedia



Posted by Julie on 08/01 at 08:21 PM
Culture & SocietyEcologyGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsPermalink
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