Monday, 28 April 2014

How To Fall In Love With A Flower

"Do you know a novel where someone falls in love with a flower?"
Husband, sitting with me on our balcony, blinks with his eyes. "Sorry?" "I asked: do you know..."
"I understood that well - but that's a strange question. No. No, I don't know any," says the literary scholar. "Why?" 
As I am too embarrassed to confess the real reason, I mumble: "Well, I have found two already. And if we count the Blue Flower of the Romantic Period, as it is presented in 'Heinrich von Ofterdingen' by Novalis, I have even three. Or, thinking of Tulipmania: four." 
Of course there are many definitions of 'Love'.
Passionate love: it exists defenitely also concerning flowers - think of Carolus Clusius, who started in Vienna to cultivate tulips since 1574 - and then the Tulipomania broke loose.
You might argue that this is not real love but only the attempt to get something into one's possession, (and later using tulips only as a sort of share to maximise wealth and thus leading to the big crash in 1637).
But what is love? I've seen people 'loving' others just that way - jealous people who wanted to "keep" their love, thus suffocating them, taking away the air by overprotecting their loved one, giving no chance of development - but love grows only in freedom, that is what I believe.
Beside crushes like Tulipomania there are the examples in literature.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry shows us the impressive love of 'The Little Prince' for his rose on his tiny planet. (A lot of people will turn their eyes up: yes, yes, I know the quote of "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly" is overused, but in the taming of the fox we get a wonderful explanation what love is.

"What does that mean-- 'tame'?"
"It is an act too often neglected," said the fox. "It means to establish ties."
"'To establish ties'?"
"Just that," said the fox. "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hu ndred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world..."
"I am beginning to understand," said the little prince. "There is a flower... I think that she has tamed me..."
"It is possible," said the fox. "On the Earth one sees all sorts of things."
The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.
"Please-- tame me!" he said.
"I want to, very much," the little prince replied. "But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand."
"One only understands the things that one tames," said the fox. "Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more . If you want a friend, tame me..."
"What must I do, to tame you?" asked the little prince.
"You must be very patient," replied the fox. "First you will sit down at a little distance from me-- like that-- in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day..."
The next day the little prince came back.
"It would have been better to come back at the same hour," said the fox. "If, for example, you come at four o'clock in the afternoon, then at three o'clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o'clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you... One must observe the proper rites..."
"What is a rite?" asked the little prince.
"Those also are actions too often neglected," said the fox. "They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all."
So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near--
"Ah," said the fox, "I shall cry."
"It is your own fault," said the little prince. "I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you..."
"Yes, that is so," said the fox.
"But now you are going to cry!" said the little prince.
"Yes, that is so," said the fox.
"Then it has done you no good at all!"
"It has done me good," said the fox, "because of the color of the wheat fields." And then he added:
"Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret."
The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.
"You are not at all like my rose," he said. "As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world."
And the roses were very much embarassed.
"You are beautiful, but you are empty," he went on. "One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you-- the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose."

I took this wonderful translation from 
Now, this post is too long already. I'll tell you of the other examples next times: Colette and Novalis, (which I have to translate on my own).
And if you found others: I'm deeply interested!

Monday, 7 April 2014

"Be like the sweet violet - humble, modest and pure..."

Britta Huegel

In the 'language of flowers' or floriography, which especially the Victorian Ladies stylised as an art, (who could resist a tussie-mussie, a 'talking bouquet'?), the little violet meant "Hidden love makes happy" or "Nothing is so sweet as secret love." (Now, if you read my last post on berlinletters, you might ask yourself why I am running after the scent through tout Berlin - but No!)
Having managed a big garden for a long time, I was always sceptic reading about "the modest violet". In my garden they behaved quite immodest and unhumble, acting like those tiny little helpless women some men so easily fall for... (a convincing exemplary you find in the hilarious book "Mrs.Fytton's Country Life" by Mavis Cheek) :

Which perhaps, (...) was her (Angela Fytton's) second big mistake. 
For just at that precise moment, in a small, smart restaurant at 's-Gravenhage, a pretty little woman, attending a conference on Europe and dentistry, and wearing too-high heels, slipped and fell at the feet of a tall golden-haired man, who bent to help her up and who insisted (as she brushed the pretty little tears from her eyes, and shook her pretty little curls into place, and whose dainty vulnerability was written all over her round little figure and quivering little mouth, and who kept drawing her skirt hem above her sweetly roundes knee and rubbing it to show that she was being brave), who absolutely insisted, that she should join him and his colleague, David, at their table and have a drink until she was calm again. Which same David it was who wrinkled and nudged him and said, much later, 'What's The Harm?' 
Blue skies, on the whole, are never to be trusted further than you can see them.  

Violets neither.
They are worshippers of Kleistogan = "Secret marriage" - (the new model for the militant single?) -  meaning autogamy. (What a sacrifice of fun!) Violets use a sort of catapult to throw their seeds far, and they add flesh to each seed, which ants are wild about, thus shlepping them to all places.
Violets helped poor ugly Vulcanus, son of Jupiter: when Venus didn't want to answer his courtship, he garlanded himself with violets - and she surrendered. (I think it couldn't have been only the violets - maybe he was a Bel Laid, or had some animal-like charme...) In Renaissance it was part of the Christian canon, modesty, but also the wish that Christendom might spread like the violets, see as above... In 19th century (and these insights I owe to the marvellous book 'Symbolik der Pflanzen' by Marianne Beuchert), the followers of Napoleon wore violets - and he swore to be back from Elba when the violets would start to flower. As you know, Joséphine de Beauharnais threw a bouquet of violets at the young general Napoleon the first evening they met...
There are 400 different breeds of violets, and many of them have a beautiful fragrance (but each sort a different one - so you could not mistake the 'Königin Charlotte' (which grows on my balcony) with 'Viola Jooi'.
And another cliché has to be killed: violets don't prefer 'dark and moist' habitats - they thrive in sun and light!
Our powerfully eloquent breeder of herbaceous perennials, Karl Foerster (1874-1970), remarked: "Spring gardens without sweet violets are ridiculous, but very common", and thundered: "Throw out of your sunny garden corner the heinous common snowberry and thuja occidentalis!" - though not many listened over the years, I think. Most people prefer a thuja, praised as "tree of life" (boring forever) over three weeks (a year!) of real ecstasy - of "waves of cool, warm and hot fragrances of violets", promised by Karl.
If you plant them right - in drifts.