Human Flower Project
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Kecak: Invented Tradition
A wordless film of global wonders includes an astonishing Balinese dance. What’s hibiscus doing here?
Kecak performers, with hibiscus behind the ear, in Bali
At our beloved downtown brocade-walls and bad-velveteen-seats movie theater – the Paramount – we caught the late show of Baraka. This is Ron Fricke’s 1992 cinematic shriek, shot in 70 mm – a God’s eye view of flaming oilfields in Kuwait, drowsy Japanese monkeys, Rio slums, flamingo herds ad magnificum.
Many have written that the wordless film glorifies the natural world and condemns humankind’s waste and cruelty. That’s not how we saw it. Instead, Baraka, with its immense vistas and bellowing soundtrack, strikes us as a testament of power —both human and non-human. It witnesses that the forces of culture are as resounding as volcanoes and waterfalls.
Surely the strongest scene of the film is the three minute performance of kecak, a Balinese art that, to the uninitiated, is compelling and bizarre. (The youtube clip is lively but not much like seeing and hearing this interlude in the dark on the big screen.)
The Balinese “Monkey chant,” as it’s often translated into English, takes place in a circular open-air stage and includes “upwards of 60 men dressed only in sarongs, each with a red hibiscus planted behind his ear.” Following a choral leader with throbbing motions and clacking sounds, they (purportedly) re-enact a tale from the Hindu Ramayama.
Honestly, we couldn’t follow any storyline, but as post-modern entertainment, so much the better: Kecak is one big “Wow!” The strength and the shallowness too of Fricke’s majestic film is that lacking any context, the glorious imagery and booming audio become strangely flat. At the end of 90 minutes, we’ve been stuffed with beggers and eclipses, cigarette factories and throngs at Mecca, snow-capped peaks and Tokyo subways. It’s a sensory pig-out but, eliding any understanding, Baraka is guilty of the same mindless excesses it wants to damn.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Bon Pka Prap in Lieu of a Car Wash
A Cambodian tradition makes the act of cash collection decorous and beautiful.
Floral and cash arrangements, a Khmer charitable custom
Wat Khmer Metta, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Vanna So
As a fund raiser, it sure beats a car wash or bake sale.
Till today, we’d never heard of Bon Pka Prak, the Cambodian money flower ceremony. Many thanks to Cindy Liese of the Elyria, Ohio, Chronicle for her announcement:
“A community of Buddhists celebrated the opening of a new temple on the city’s north side with food, music, meditation and the joyous ‘Money Flower’ procession Saturday night.” Liese reports, “Families carried offerings of money in flower arrangements as they circled the temple, which is decorated with colorful panels depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha.”
The event at the Watt Buddhavacanarama in Elyria seems to have been part grand opening, part every-member-canvass, and a human flower project, too. From what we’ve been able to learn this afternoon, the Bon Pka Prak is a floral custom that people of Khmer heritage—Cambodian Buddhists, in particular—often observe when money needs to be raised for a good cause.
Culture & Society • Religious Rituals • Secular Customs • Permalink
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
A Chick with Urushiol
Jerry Leiber’s songs were so catchy they made you itch.
“She comes on like a rose
And everybody knows
She’ll get you in Dutch
You can look but you’d better not touch….”
Lyricist Jerry Leiber died Monday, age 78, leaving behind indelible pop songs like “Hound Dog” and “On Broadway” – the kind that won’t turn you loose.
A favorite of ours is “Poison Ivy,” sung by the Coasters in 1959. At 6 years old, we found it tremendously witty to compare a nasty girl to the three-leaved weed. Only later did we get it, that the song was about a lady with the clap.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Glimmer Twins of the Western Slope
Talk about a dream hike in the Rockies…two expert mountain plantsmen meet at last, and lead the way to Pike’s Peak.
A “bun” of Phlox condensata
growing at Colorado’s Cumberland Pass
Photo: Allen Bush
By Allen Bush
Eighty-two % of Colorado’s population lives on the Front Range megalopolis—north and south of Denver—but, if you’ve got a shred of interest in alpine flowers, curiosity will lead you west across the Continental Divide to hidden treasures on the Western Slope. Two gifted gardeners first met here over the July 4th weekend: one a Western Sloper by birth, the other a Western Sloper by the grace of god. (Pardon the variation on the Southern USA car bumper sticker.)
Panayoti Kelaidis is the pride of Oak Creek. Kirk Alexander is the best-kept secret in Carbondale. Lucky is anyone who has the good fortune to travel for a few days with them, the very best talent the Colorado Rockies have to offer.
Their meeting place, with an arresting view of snow capped Mount Sopris, was the spectacular hand-built home and garden that Kirk Alexander shares with his wife, Sue. They live in the hills above the Roaring Fork River, a tributary of the Colorado near Carbondale.