Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Friday, April 18, 2008

In Iris Society, ‘It’s What You Like’

Dishwater blondes, clowns and upturned beards, the American Iris Society has seen it all.


Members of the American Iris Society, in Austin, Texas

for their annual meeting, toured the mammoth iris bed

at the Natural Gardener on April 17, 2008

Photo: Human Flower Project

Peachy, icy, frilly – and then there’s the one that looks like a grimy t-shirt.

Iris fanciers must be the most broadminded of all floral enthusiasts, because there’s a greater range among the flowers they breed, grow and travel cross country to see than any flower–type we know.

You orchid people may take issue. But who has seen a two-tone brown orchid? Who’s bred one the color of rag and named it “Ugly Duckling”? We saw Ugly Duckling and many fairer species with our own eyes yesterday, tagging along with the experts as the American Iris Society descended on Austin for its annual weeklong convention.

Miracles of azure, crystal puffs and mongrels in several shades of tinkle-yellow…what a range of color! Shapes too. We saw iris blooms delicate as meringues and others like smashed pinwheels, enough to make a small child cry. Much to their credit, the iris people seem to enjoy them all. Here was one the color of a puddle. “You either like it or you don’t,” Jim Morris of St. Louis told me. “I like it.”

imageJim Morris of St. Louis, an iris grower since childhood and veteran of many meetings—thus the badges—took notes on the flowers Thursday; the year’s winning iris will be announced Sunday, April 20

Photo: Human Flower Project

There have been lectures, judges training sessions, and classes for the 430 participants, but the highlight, as at every iris convention, has been the garden visits, seven in all. Thursday, April 17, the group bussed west of the city to the Natural Gardener, one of Austin’s premier nurseries, to check out the 800-plus varieties that have been grown in the big full-sun bed made just for them.

Convention locales are decided at least two years in advance. That way, breeders can send their rhizomes ahead to be planted and get established so that by meeting time, if all goes well, they’ll be in full, healthy flower.

Some of the irises had “bloomed out” before the AIS members arrived. Other plants were still a just few green blades, but scores more were performing well. Jim Morris, who’s raised irises since childhood, was taking careful notes, as were many others. On Sunday evening, all the convention-goers will cast ballots for the best flowers they’ve seen this week.


Augustine, a bearded iris (non-space age) bred by O. Schick, 2005

Photo: Human Flower Project

Barbara Sautner, president of the Iris Society of Minnesota, explained that judges look for “branching, bud count, and growth.” (To our surprise and chagrin, fragrance doesn’t matter.) Sautner, and many others, too, lingered by an unnamed seedling, AM0010550-3, bred by Anton Mego of Slovakia. These are new varieties that have yet to be introduced to the market. “They want to see if we like it,” said Patricia Wurtele, of Ramona, California. From all the eye-bugging and finger-pointing, Mego’s tall purple, yellow and red iris is a winner, and for a $15 registration fee, will get a name. Since this lilting three-tone iris had thrived here in Texas, how about “Jimmie Dale Gilmore”?


A successful seedling, as yet unnamed, from Slovakian hybridizer Anton Mego

Photo: Human Flower Project

Sautner said that several of the nation’s biggest iris companies are located near Portland; Schreiner is in Oregon today, though it began in the 1920s in Minnesota. “They started bringing in iris from France and the Mediterranean that couldn’t survive our winters,” she explained. So the big hybridizers eventually moved west.

We’d never thought of Central Texas as iris land (not like back in Kentucky). Skimpy white “flags” are among the earliest flowers here in Austin, often blooming in mid-February and spent a week later. We have some pretty, but also frail, passalong purples that flower in March. And our neighbors David and Wendy Todd have many tall Louisiana iris, bright yellow, now blooming around their pond.

But the huge bearded hybrids these iris experts most admire are Bouvier des Flandres compared with our local fidos. There are double scoops of sorbet – like the aptly named Trinotostare. And the iris socialites appear to be especially taken with “space age” varieties. These irises, Richard Wurtele told us, were introduced over the past ten years and bred with weird beards. Rather than hanging down, a little bristle down the center of the iris “fall,” these beards are flexed into “horns, spoons and flounces.”


Hybridizer Jack Worel talks to Jean Morris and Barbara Sautner about

his Silver Creek iris, which has taken to Central Texas beautifully

Photo: Human Flower Project

Jack Worel, from Osseo, Minnesota, said that hybridizing iris is fairly easy (Note: Jack may be at a genetic advantage—his great aunt Elsie Peterson was one of the first iris judges in the U.S.). On Thursday his Silver Creek, a white iris with a deep orange beard, drew a crowd. “Wow, what a clump!” exclaimed Jean Morris of Baldwin, Missouri, as she scribbled in a notebook. Jack said that Silver Creek is the offspring of Michelle Taylor, another white iris, and Shirley M,  pink with a blue beard. Loaded with cigar like buds and rippling blooms, it seems to like it here in Austin.


A “space age” iris with upturned beard and plicata (speckles)

Photo: Human Flower Project

After encountering Worel’s beautiful white iris, as well as Hurry Up Sun, Augustine, and Full Figured, we will have to give bearded iris a try. Patricia Wurtele says these spectacular hybrids aren’t hard to grow, so long as they’re shallowly planted and receive a half day of sun. They do like water (a problem here) and good drainage. “And they’re hungry flowers,” she says, recommending alfalfa pellets to enrich the soil.

But just because a hybridizer can concoct an iris with a red, spoon-shaped beard that sticks two inches in the air, does anyone want one? Apparently so. “It’s what you like,“ Jim Morris says serenely. We like Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

Posted by Julie on 04/18 at 01:01 PM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsTravelPermalink

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Kim Il Sung: Orchids & Embalming

Nothing’s too good for the former leader of North Korea, or his corpse.


Magenta orchids fill Pyongyang, North Korea,

for Kim Il Sung’s birthday and the new year, April 15

Photo: Gao Haorong, for Xinhua

Given the hostile silence between the U.S. and North Korea, it only makes sense that April 15th—the dreaded filing deadline for taxes here—is the jolliest day of the year there.

It’s the birthday of Kim Il Sung, who was North Korea’s leader from 1948 until 1994. Nearly half a century long, his reign (a more fitting word than “administration”) includes what’s known on this side of the Pacific as The Korean War, which we understand has never formally been declared over by the U.S. We assume this diplo-lunacy is observed in North Korea, too.

Kim Il Sung’s birthday has been called “the North Korean equivalent of Christmas Day,” but it’s also New Year’s Day. His son and successor, Kim Jong Il, had the calendar changed to honor his father and start the year off April 15th.


The 2007 celebration of Kim Il Sung’s birthday, Pyongyang

Photo: Marc in North Korea

In Pyongyang, the capitol, official celebration has been ongoing for about a week. You can tell because magenta orchids have been amassed in the city’s public spaces. There are indoor hillocks of them, and pots filed in rows before giant paintings of the former leader, depicted lolling on the grass in suit and tie as smiling throngs surround him.

The holiday flower is a species of dendrobium orchid named for Kim Il Sung in 1965, on a visit to Indonesia. President Sukarno was showing the North Korean leader around Bogor Botanical Garden, when Kim admired this garish bloom. It was a new orchid, as yet unnamed, bred by one of the garden botanists (still unnamed). The story goes that Sukarno spontaneously honored the North Korean Leader by naming the purple flower for him.

Ever since, “Kimilsungia,” as the orchid is known, has symbolized the president. And with huge displays in April, it’s as if his ghost drapes Pyongyang like a heavy purple robe. We’ve never seen these New Year’s displays in person, but the photographs are intriguing. We see a huge outline of the North Korean nation, right down to the 38th parallel, packed with orchids. Many displays combine propagandist landscape paintings—the grinning Kim Il Sung flanked by 2-D flowers—and masses of live blossoming plants, creating diorama effects that are, in our view, quite marvelous.


Live orchids and painted ones honoring Kim Il Sung, 2007

Photo: Marc in North Korea

We understand that this year’s festivities had to be scaled back a bit due to the sorry state of the North Korean economy (our two nations do share a few things), though apparently, the cultivation of KimIlsungia remains a top national priority even in hard times. “Despite the shortage of electricity, the greenhouses of Kimilsungia are always well taken of. During the famine and energy crisis of the late 1990’s, KCNA carried reports about how patriotic citizens asked the state energy bureaus to shut down their home heating systems during winter so that there is enough electric power for the glories of Kimilsungia.”

In the U.S. expenditure on flowers is routinely flouted as evidence of wastefulness. Politicians who spend freely on flowers or on their personal adornment are held up for ridicule.  But the North Koreans see things from a different angle. To mark the new year, the NK News Agency has announced with pride that $800,000 (USD) is being spent annually to preserve Kim Il Sung’s body, “the 9th eternally-preserved corpse among the former socialist countries’ leaders.” See for yourself, at the Mt. Keumsoo Memorial Palace; year round, there must surely be purple orchids near the mummy case. Kim Il Sung has been dead 14 years.

And to think John Edwards was shamed for a $300 haircut!

Posted by Julie on 04/16 at 04:17 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyGardening & LandscapePoliticsSecular CustomsPermalink

Monday, April 14, 2008

Mullickghat Rises from Its Ashes

Sandy Ao takes us to Kolkata’s huge flower market, destroyed by fire Friday night, back in business by Saturday.


The shops of more than two hundred flower sellers

burned Friday night in Kolkata, India

Photo: Sandy Ao

Fire broke out Friday night, April 11, at the immense Mullickghat flower market in Kolkata, India.  Eighteen fire engines were called to the scene along the Hoogly River, as blazes swept down Strand Road, charring more than 200 – nearly all – of the market’s flowers stalls.

The fire destroyed the 125-year Mullickghat just before the Bengali New Year, a huge floral occasion. For decades the largest flower market in all Asia (though now surpassed by the sales center in Delhi ), Mullickghat both served local customers in this city of 13 million people and exported the region’s tuberoses, marigolds, gladioli and scores more varieties to Europe, the Middle East and Asia.


Boys survey the remains of the market on April 12

Photo: Sandy Ao

Merinews reported Saturday, “About 2,000 flower growers from the districts visited the market daily to sell their produce”—a number that doubled around major festivals and during India’s wedding season, which is now beginning.  “The livelihood of 25,000 people has been affected.”

The Thai Indian interviewed Ramesh Kundu,  a flower seller whose place of business was wiped out. “Each one of us has suffered a loss of minimum Rs.80,000 (roughly $2000 USD). With Bengali New Year on April 14 we had stocked four times more flowers than usual. Now this fire has turned us into beggars.”

Sandy Ao, who alerted us to the tragedy, has posted an amazing album of her photographs and a moving account of many experiences in the market on her weblog. She also generously shared many photographs and thoughts with us.

“The fire was around the Lady’s bathing ghat,” Sandy writes. “One cannot stop imagining that it is a case of arson; that’s what I heard people in the market hissing about.” Newspaper accounts confirm that many in Kolkata suspect the fire was set intentionally. The Statesman reports charges that the ruling party may have arranged to have Mullickghat destroyed to make way for an immense, modern (and expensive) structure that’s been on the drawing board for years.

Sudhangshu Sil, the local member of Parliament, was quick to announce: “The greatest consolation is (that) in February the Calcutta Municipal Corporation sanctioned the plan for a three-storey building with basement here, which will rehabilitate the 5,000 flower traders and be India’s first flower auction centre.”

imageFlower vendors make do after Friday’s fire in Kolkata

Photo: Sandy Ao

Sandy Ao says that arson fires tend to be Kolkata’s prelude to “improvement” projects; considering the horrors undertaken in the U.S., the razing of whole downtown neighborhoods, in the name of “urban renewal,” why should we be surprised?

Planners of the new flower complex say that it will include cold storage, facilities for sorting, grading and packaging flowers, laboratories for extracting flower oil, and lodgings. As proposed, the air-conditioned complex would be a far cry from the century-old street market. Centered around the Lady Ghat near the river’s Howrah Bridge, Mullickghat has been a traditional open-air venue. Before the fire there were more than two hundred small structures for vendors, but according to Sandy, many hundreds more flower sellers strung garlands and sold their calotropis and roses from bags and baskets below the bridge, along Strand Road and all around the edges.

“The official report was that Mullickghat had been completely gutted,” Sandy writes.  “Actually there are 265 odd shops/stalls as recorded in the Mullickghat Society book, each paying Rs.130/-per month as rent to be recorded as legal flower dealers here,
 whereas the other groups of flower dealers who do not own any stalls/shops pay Rs.7/- each per day to the society. 
And these groups are the backbone of Mullickghat.
 I should say 95% of the thousand flower sellers are made up of these groups.”

Is affection for the old open-air market and grief at the idea its replacement by modern facilities all stupid romanticism? It’s easy to relish the excitement of this place at a remove, through Sandy’s images, but what about withstanding the rainy season here, or enduring summer days, as roses wilt through the afternoon? Maybe the new flower complex would be better for everyone.


One of the Mullickghat flower shop owners who lost his business in the fire

Photo: Sandy Ao

“I got some feedback from some of the young Kolkatans,” Sandy writes, “They too express their skepticism about this new modern flower market in Mullickghat. You know, we have had so many such plans and projects. All took off the ground with grandeur, but all resulted in flop projects. In our point of view, this has become a golden opportunity for the greedy officials/politicians to dig their fingers into this goldmine.” She asks, 
“Who will rent the shops in this new facility?  Who will need such facility?
 Who will manage it?”

Even if public funds really are all diverted to the new building, Sandy offers some reasons why it isn’t needed – or even wanted – here.

“Most of the flowers they deal in at this market are related to some religious purposes.
 (Remember, each of the gods/goddesses has no less than 108 names!  In fact, with only 365 days a year, it’s hard to hold all the pujas and the rituals!) The flowers required for all these gods/goddesses are local products. Who will need cold storage for marigolds, tuberoses, tulsi, hibiscus, bael leaves, roses, sunflowers, cockscomb, daisies, jasmine,  magnolia, lotus… all of which are hardy?” she asks. “Besides, most of these flowers get sold off within 24 hours!”


Doling out marigold and jasmine flowers after the fire

Photo: Sandy Ao

Exports from Mullickghat have been suspended for the next week, but there does appear to be a heavy trade in exported flowers, in addition to the strong local market Sandy describes. Perhaps it’s this more international end of the Kolkata flower trade that the new building is designed to serve.

Sandy raises questions about the operation of such a facility, if plans move ahead. “How will it be managed? as we are incapable of managing anything where strict discipline is required!
 We must remember, the Bengalis believe they are the image of Lord Shiva, who is the creator and the destroyer… But never the preserver!!!

 We have had many projects which ended being some monsters/eye-sores of Kolkata.”

If it is ultimately built, will the new market be a success? Our friend doubts it.

“At this moment we are having daily power-cuts —that, too, in 38.8C weather conditions. The real summer is yet to come. Where will the electricity come from to facilitate the cold storage?
 Nuclear energy? Not a chance, for our Left Party is not going to accept the Central Government’s signing the Nuclear Treaty.
 I can already see how this modern flower market is going to take shape in this summer heat: Then we’ll see the magic of Mullickghat’s flower power!”

The morning after the fire, Sandy took her camera to the market she’s photographed many times before. 
“A few of the stall owners simply sat there speechless. One of them, the supplier, told me his loss is unaccountable. Above all they lost the good season to do business within these two days; for Monday is the Bengali New Year. I too became speechless. I smelled burnt wood in the midst of the roses. I guess this smell will stay with me for a long time.

“Nothing seemed to be right, for the weather was very humid, dull and hot. 
But I was having hope in my heart that Mullickghat is not completely destroyed.
 And when I saw the crowd near the footbridge, my spirit lifted up!” Sandy said there were even more shoppers than on an ordinary Saturday. 
”I told myself ‘Good!  Mullickghat is still standing strong. I guess we Indian are the survivors.’”


Back in the business of lotus buds and marigolds, April 12, 2008

Photo: Sandy Ao

The Kolkata newspaper also reported that by Saturday, scores of the vendors were doing buisiness, their fresh marigolds and tuberoses arrayed on the ashes.

“People of this country have seen how many civilizations come and go,” Sandy writes. “Everything has its present, future and its past. In due course, Mullickghat will have a modern building for selling flowers, but the people will still put up their usual stalls around the building and sell their fresh marigolds, roses, calotropis, tuberoses, magnolia, bael leaves…like what they have been doing for the last 125 years.
 Those who want to rent a shop in the modern market can go ahead and rent a shop there. The other 95% of flower sellers will carry on doing their flower business in the normal way that they are doing now. It may not be exactly same like before, but it will not vanish either. If the government tries to stop them, they will use the mass-power to fight for their right. After all, in Kolkata we are very much aware of the effects of the mass-power! Otherwise Kolkata would not be known as the city of bandhs/strikes!!”


Religious observances go on Saturday, April 12, in Kolkata

with floral offerings to Shiva at the temple by the Mullickghat market

Photo: Sandy Ao

The city’s forensic experts have concluded that Mullickghat’s fire began when a fuel canister ignited at the Lady Ghat. Local officials say that the flower sellers – those with shops, anyway—will be compensated for their losses, and promise that the modern Mullickghat building, long delayed, will proceed.

But Sandy writes about the present:
”I see devotees still crowding the nearby temple offering the flowers to the gods with the same faith in their faces….And today I saw how they made beautiful calotropis garlands for Shiva to welcome the New Year.”

Posted by Julie on 04/14 at 08:31 PM
Culture & SocietyCut-Flower TradeFloristsPoliticsReligious RitualsPermalink

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Twickenham, or London ‘Recovered’

Unfolding a map of London, John Levett sets out for an old bastion of privilege; crossing a bridge, here are magnolias, a common, a view. Thank you, John.


Mogg’s postal district and cabfare map of London

Image: Emonson Family History

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

I was almost born in London but not quite. My mother’s labour came too early for that so I was diverted elsewhere but we arrived there some six years later. I grew up in the fiercely middle class suburb of Bromley. My mother ran a small grocer’s shop and was visited at yearly intervals by the freeholder to see what needed doing to the property then did nothing. For the post-war British middle class, time was going to have to stand still at some point and it was in the early 1950s that time came to an end for those of a certain age in Bromley for whom the Coronation year of 1953 was possibly ‘the last best time.’

I came to this thought from having discovered a cousin. I write ‘discovered’ but should, maybe, describe her as ‘recovered.’ I lost contact with what remained of my extended family in the mid-‘90s for reasons it would take a book to explain and another to describe what led me to seek them out; my cousin and her husband were the only ones I once knew who were still living. They were of a generation born at the start of the ‘Long Weekend’ of the 1930s who came to maturity in the early 50s and would now be enjoying the fruits, benefits and cookies of non-compulsory activity — life with the kids, safaris (didn’t those go out with Grace Kelly, Clark Gable and Mogambo?), walks across Indian beaches, watching the sun go down on Ayers Rock. They won’t be doing any of that; my cousin has a degenerative neurological condition and the only treatment is to make the decline easier than it might otherwise be. But describing her as ‘recovered’ is still appropriate.

I’m not getting here into a palaver about the resilience of the human spirit or the beauty of the inner self; knowing you’re degenerating and losing contact with all the facility you once had isn’t uplifting—not for you nor anyone around you. This was the time you looked forward to; promises you made to yourself and each other; something deserving after the toil and toeing the line. Not to be. I started visiting my cousin regularly, catching up on both our lives and the trip-ups in both. Our pasts are always there but this past also had something concrete.

imageFenced tree, Ham

Photo: John Levett

As a result of the various deaths in the family my cousin had become the ‘keeper of the family archive’—the snaps of a century. There’s too much to tell here so I’ll cut to the chase. The family had become Londoners in the second half of the nineteenth century, coming down the fifty or so miles from Suffolk and setting up their stall in south London near Greenwich before spreading throughout Kent. Looking through the family albums and reflecting on the scattering of the seeding family a quaint thought came to me—how little of London I’d known outside its south-east boundary and its arterial roads into its centre. I noticed how I’d always travelled into London by the same routes and out the other side by a similarly familiar trail. Throughout my growing-up years I’d clung to the safe—same buses, same trains; same clubs, same pubs; same bookshops, same record stores—never touching another point on the London boundary.

Last Thursday I took out a map of London and found out where I’d never been. There was a lot of it. I looked west along the course of the Thames—Barnes and Chiswick; Richmond and Twickenham; Brentford and Hounslow; then north through Harrow, Ruislip, Northwood; south even to Wimbledon and Kingston. I’d never had any cause it seems. I could attach associations—Battle of Britain fighter squadrons, sport, horses, births and deaths —but no compulsive need to trip off there. So I chose. Twickenham would do.


Dutch House, Twinckenham

Photo: John Levett

The moment I chose I knew why I’d never been there. Twickenham is home to the English Rugby Union and throughout my growing years rugby was associated with the class enemy, chinless wonders, hooray harrys, unearned privilege, family advantage and not the sport of the sons and daughters of toil and soil. It’s changed; they’re now as unremittingly bourgeois as the rest of western Europe. I trooped down from Cambridge and caught the 11.50 out of Waterloo. Another first; I’d never taken a mainline train from there before. (Footnote: John Schlesinger made a film of Waterloo station early in his career, Terminus 1960.) I passed through Clapham Junction and made a note that I’d never been there either. Thence to the suburbs.

imageSt. Alban’s Church, Twickenham

Photo: John Levett

Twickenham promised nothing. Like every suburb, town, city in this increasingly dis-United Kingdom it’s got the full complement of corporations in the High street (with the singular exception, as far as I could see, of Woolworth. Whatever happened to them? I used to spend an afternoon in Woolworth as a kid just looking at stuff). I took off for the nearest available Thames bridge some two miles away.

As I walked I began to warm to the place. Much of the housing development was post 1880s and was in great debt to the early patriarchs of Modernism—Voysey, Webb, Townsend. It tails off into early 1900s pattern-book eclecticism but there are enough features on enough houses to stop for. As I closed on Teddington lock I stopped at St. Alban’s church. It was begun during the high point of mid-Victorian self-confidence and opened to the prayerful in 1899, curtailed its activity when the subscriptions dropped off and fell into disrepair. Like many similar parish enterprises it now serves as an arts centre. I crossed the Thames into Ham.


Ham Common

Photo: John Levett

Now I knew that ‘Ham’ had something to do with a bend in the river and that didn’t take much working out but beside that I knew nothing. So I asked. Ham is on the southern boundary of Richmond Park which is deemed to be a Royal park which means that some Royal stole the land from the peasantry who held it in common. That Royal was Charles I who clearly paid heavily for the theft. Needless to say the payment didn’t involve handing back the land. Some common land was left; cunningly named Ham Common and a fine spot it is. Having walked around the backside of Ham and getting the impression it was all 1920s social housing with the inevitable mock Tudor affairs, Ham Common was a joy. I sat down and got all this info chatting with Alfred who had come here after demob from the last war. (No doubt there will shortly be a generation, if it hasn’t already arrived, for whom the term ‘the last war’ will mean no more than ‘the last war before the present one’ and each indistinguishable from any other.)

Alfred married Bettie and moved into Bettie’s family home because it was just off the Common and Bettie wasn’t moving because they’d never get anything as lovely. Bettie’s parents died within the decade and they had the place to themselves and their own family. Bettie knew a thing or two.

From Alfred I got the history—the Common, Richmond Park, Ham House, the ferry across the Thames, his family, other families, that house over there, the murder there, the plane crash. It was the warmest day of the year so far so sitting around was fine.

imageMagnolia, blooming in Ham

Photo: John Levett

When Alf took off so did I. Walking the back streets. You could make a forest from the number of magnolias in bloom. I often think that should I have space one day for one plant only then the magnolia it should be. I’ve never cared about the flowering season of anything I’ve ever planted (my rose garden has largely been and gone by high summer) and the lift to the spirit that magnolias bring is special.

I walked past Ham House towards the Thames and chose to walk the bank to Richmond. Not that there was much choice. My London means a bridge available whenever needed; not a walk of a mile or paying the ferryman.

One feature of the London A-Z is that it has no contours so I was surprised by Richmond Hill rising some couple of hundred metres from the Thames and a view straight through to the southern Weald. It’s not Table Mountain nor the view from Machu Picchu but I’d never seen it before; never seen this view of the Thames other than the one passing Charing Cross; never knew London was this tall; never felt the surprise of a city new to me. I may seem small beer but I thought once I knew it all. Then a few more pennies dropped. The habits of my early years I’d taken with me through decades. Always took the same route to school; always got off at the same bus stop, never one stage before or one after; strolled from this place to that, looked in the same store windows; it seemed to me that I still do. I realized it was the same with my cycle rides; anti-clockwise out of Cambridge whichever point of the compass I was aiming for hence I always get the same scenery at right and left.


View of the Thames from Richmond Hill

Photo: John Levett

It may seem strange that something that is someone else’s daily grind gives a heart a leap. But then it should; there should be wonder in small things; there should be daily discovery; there should be looking up; there should be a daily new horizon. Sitting on the top of Richmond Hill I hoped that the Richmondians took joy too as I do walking along the Backs. It’s often forgotten that people pay good money to visit what we see as our own back garden. Two days ago I found a small booklet on Cambridge architecture contemporary in 1960 on a market stall. I was struck by how much I’d never noticed; bold-for-its-moment design, bold-for-any-age innovation that had now been blended by its generic successors. Yesterday I started a walk wide-eyed and camera-laden looking for this stuff. The stuff I was looking for is not King’s College Chapel nor Wren’s Trinity Library which means it’s no doubt continually under threat; 1960s concrete is not beloved, hospital architecture disappears with changing demands, pupils outgrow schools, shopping arcades fall with the styles they sell. But there is a remarkable volume of seen-as-disposable building that I’d never noticed, never seen as more than purely functional (which maybe accounts for its success and continuation). It seems that in twenty-first century fashion I’d easily cast off easily-acquired, soon-too-familiar views. I’ve begun to rethink, review two favourite cities. Fun for all the family.

Posted by Julie on 04/12 at 11:26 AM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeTravelPermalink
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