Monday, December 27, 2010

Orchid Hunting in the Western Ghats

We have been orchid hunting in the Western Ghats. I should really leave it at that. We went to Kerala, Southern India just before Christmas because that is the season for the flowering of Vanda wightii - a Vanda not seen in Western greenhouses, and not recorded in the wild for a hundred years. We also needed to check on the range of Vanda tessellata -we have the smaller northern Vanda tessellata in the greenhouse and the much bigger Sri Lanka version. These from Travancore were betwixt and between.

I had planned to stay back at the hotel with The Hindu Times and CNN. I've read enough old accounts of orchid hunting: "Despite the terrain we only lost one man..." But orchid hunting in the Western Ghats turned out to be a lot less strenuous than Christmas shopping. It involved an SUV on loan from the Trivandrum Botanical Gardens, with driver, and Indian colleagues with my sense of humor. Sorry, America, only those who have been through the British school system and the old caste system of the English can, deep down, be on the same wavelength.

We were hunting orchids along the roads because that is where the oldest trees are: not chopped down but left for shade, not jungled up but separate, receiving their share of sunlight. And it's only on the oldest trees, Dr. Motes says, seventy-five years or more, that orchids have time to grow and can find that crusty old bark they love.

Kerala is the most populous state in India. True, whenever we stopped under a particularly old tree on those country roads, there was always a house and garden nearby where we could negotiate for a bamboo pole, be observed by grinning groups of school children walking home or locals on crowded buses charging by, their elbows jutting out of windowless sides.

We did not lose one man on those trips; we did find a Dr. Motes, more than happy, as he saw these Vanda species in the wild. And I was more than happy to just slide into my SUV seat to go hunting orchids in the Western Ghats.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

India ate my homework

Home from two weeks in India. Back in BC (before computers) that would explain silence but with laptops and wi fi (a whole line in Abu Dhabi airport) it's no longer an excuse.
But pounding away on greasy metal keys? Now the closest the big old desk computer. And pounding along later, one is less likely to announce I'm at the airport! OMG need coffee!

So Toronto to Trivandrum, Southern India on Etihad, the Emirates airline. (Cheap joke: "Jihad" airlines?Ha Ha!) Maybe had is a verb or noun, just meaning a journey... and ji is the nasty bit. Ask the handsome young Arab attendant who bashfully explains Etihad is Arabic but a made up word. Like those Japanese car names.
ANYWAY, Etihad, economy class, is the way to fly: foot rest, individual movie screen, real earphones, printed menus with choices! (Not everyone needs to eat mutton) AND free drinks. Scotch, wine - and the smiling attendants return unbidden to refill your good-sized glass with no hint of disapproval. My advice to strict Moslem parents: book your children and wives on American Airlines where the head sets cost, the drinks cost, the glasses are small and the attendants hide behind the curtain in business class to avoid refills.

Watched a great Indian movie, "Three Idiots." Students at Imperial College of Engineering, pressure to succeed. The young flight attendant said it was made in response to the great number of student suicides. Note: Read later in The Hindu Times it's the biggest grossing movie ever.
Nearly asleep: changed categories to Arabia. The young gardener is falling in love with the rich young daughter who lives on what looks like a golf course and goes riding in jodphurs with a little scarf at the neck just so. They hold hands passionately in the shrubbery; no kissing. Years ago I hitchhiked down to Florence with two Egyptian girls I met at a youth hostel in Venice. Safinaz said for an Arab girl to kiss a man is like sleeping with someone. She was a journalist- sat up at night in the hostels writing her articles: First Egyptian girls ever to hitch hike! Forget how she got her material back to Cairo. Sent me a magazine. There we are, thumbs out, by the side of an Italian road. Said she told her readers how surprised she was to find she could be friends with an English girl. (We have ended the Suez crisis! she announced.)

OK. Trivandrum, Kerala, three in the morning. Hundreds of people waiting, dark faces, flashing smiles like it was midday. Down the darkened streets but could see hammers and sickles painted on walls and fences. Yeah, Toto we're not in the US anymore.

Monday, November 15, 2010


For play, young children need two boxes. When they are really small they need a box with three stones in it. Then it will rattle. And a somewhat clean box is best because they are going to gnaw on it when they are teething. When children start to run around they need something more. That's when parents need to go to ToysRUs, to the back entrance and ask for one of the large boxes that The Princesses Castle came in or The Big Plastic Slide.

That's it; dump the plastic castle and keep the box. In a big cardboard box you can serve tea, plot war, hide from the enemy. You can cut windows and doors or slits for arrows. You can't carve your will on plastic or if you do your Mum and Dad will be angry and worry you'll grow up to be a vandal.
Another thing: I was hanging up the washing the other morning and spread a King-sized sheet across the two laundry lines to dry. And there it was- the secret tent- the shadowy sides moving mysteriously in the breeze. So go green, employ the latest sophisticated solar technology,(hanging out your clothes in the Florida sunshine) and give your child an extra, organic hide out.

Not everyone has the space for a tree and a dog or a laundry line but everyone with a child must find room for the big cardboard box.

Friday, November 12, 2010

We need trees more than birds do

Coral Gables: the City Beautiful. What's the difference between Coral Gables and the rest of us? Trees. The whole place is like the Brazilian rain forest. Yes, there are million zillion dollar homes crouching behind those tree trunks and leafy branches but it's the trees, stupid.

When we moved into our place the first thing we did was plant trees- well, actually, the first thing we did was plant selected seeds of live oaks and gumbo limbo and satin leafs into big old baked bean cans and, bless the South Florida climate, in a year or two they had left their cans behind.

But the point is, you can sit on a crate, you can eat off a piece of plywood (cover with a clean, bright cloth!) and later on you can buy your fancy Italian leather couch and table that seats eight in an afternoon but you can't wake up one morning and say I'm going to be surrounded by leafy branching trees this evening; where's my wallet! It doesn't work like that. (Well, the very rich and impatient can truck in instant trees complete with scaffolding and irrigation and good luck with that.) But the Brazilian rain forest or the gentle beech woods of southern England or just your shady corner were not built in a day - though I suppose our Creationist friends would beg to differ.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Does this blog make me look fat?

I'd given up on the election: it was the Rally. And the vital thing about the Rally was the numbers. As Napoleon said of the Pope:How many divisions does he have?
Well, this Pope has numbers. Doing the wave at the Rally to Restore Sanity was a great way to emphasize the sheer number-ness of it all; all those arms, raised up, two at a time, all the way down the Mall.

Now I can face Tuesday. Though I am still extremely peeved and mystified as to why my powerful letter to The Miami Herald, concerning the electoral process, did not make the cut. Mystified because it had the winning ingredient: it was short.

Having total copyright control etc, I am going to print it here: even more shorter, it might have made a good Rally sign.
Buying Elections the Old-fashioned Way
Why don't we go back to the buying of elections the old-fashioned way? All those millions of dollars spent hiring ad men and political back-room boys...Let Scott, Rove and the others really do something for the unemployed. Maybe not the Oprah-level of a car for everyone - but a new washing machine or TV, or at least a gift voucher for Macys for the ladies and a quart of Jim Beam on election day as you ride to the polls. Cut out the middle men and we might get something out of this election!

Note: I have never forgotten a picture in The Herald some years ago, of a Mexican politician addressing a rural crowd, while behind him, like a Sunday choir, stood a semi circle of gleaming white washing machines.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

In Praise of the T shirt

Chanel may have started the clean, uncluttered look but Chanel always meant suits with little chains, and braid doggedly making its way round every collar and cuff and pocket, announcing "I'm Chanel. Who are you?"
Well, I'm the one over here in the classic T shirt, the real clean, uncluttered look that makes even tailored shirts look fussy.

A well-fitting T shirt, like a good education, can take you anywhere, especially in South Florida. But acquiring the right one, like a good education, can be tough. Even the best ones, after a few washings, have a tendency to droop. (Hint: treat your T shirts like silk - wash only on the Delicates cycle.) But the problem of droop has been mostly cured by the "...and 5 percent spandex" formula.

This essential garment, in fact, has started to be taken seriously not just as a way to tell the world to Save the Whales or Join the Marines or visit Jimmy's Bike Shop but something that can accompany you to lunch, and maybe with a lower neckline, fine for dinner.

But this unfortunately has led to the tarting up of the T shirt. From ruffles and lacy bits to flower and fruit prints, to sequins and beads and puffy sleeves. And finally the classic neckline has taken a dive down to the area usually reserved for the name of your team or your favorite soda. This gathered up concentration on the bust has created a slutty Empire line look, best described as Jane Austen meets Old Navy.

We purists can only intensify our hunt for the classy version. But even a cheap T shirt, if brand new, will take you through an event so always have one in your drawer. And even a cheap one will do fine if you check your colors carefully. No Crayola colors, please. Of course, there's alway black, though Christian Dior did say: Never wear cheap black. Easy for him. White is great. And if only one could find charcoal or midnight blue! The men get all the best colors. A rich velvety brown, of course; the essential olive, and oatmeal -mushroom -khaki, whatever you call that color and always sidestep the cliches. Not pink but salmon, not baby blue (No!) but ice blue and a delicate amethyst or turquoise. And watch out with navy. My advice? Never. Only exception if you are actually on a boat. Even when brand new, a navy T shirt looks too much like Dade Correctional Institute or the Parks Department.

Naysayers may counter: How dull! But what makes the T shirt a perfect canvas for prints of your new baby or favorite candidate, is what makes it the perfect background for your beads, your pendant or pearls, that Italian silk scarf and your fancy gold or silver with pashima for a dinner out. You can load a T shirt up with everything but the kitchen sink and you will still look cool. In fact, you will have achieved that goal that so often eludes the eager or worried dresser, especially in hot and steamy South Florida; you will never get that hit right to the stomach, as you enter a party or special event, that Oh oh! because you will never ever look as if you tried too hard.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A few Do's and Don'ts of Orchid Care

It is always a good idea to talk to your orchids. This means, unless you have some very odd physical quirks, that you will be looking at them. And when you're looking at them, you will see
how they are doing. But don't wait till the second glass of Chardonnay in the twilight, when any minor problems may be hard to register.
And talking to your orchids does not mean addressing the assembled plants like someone at Toyota. As any good CEO will tell you, each operative blossoms when afforded individual attention.

If you think something is wrong with your orchid, Do Not Panic.
Most orchids die from worry. Not their worrying, yours. Because we always seem to be talking about keeping orchids warm enough, they are thought of more like patients than plants, or like hot house divas, ready any moment to get consumptive and dramatically expire.
Orchids are tough: think old boots not primroses. You could lose them in a land fill and most of them would emerge, if you dug around long enough, a little creased up, but still alive.
Which brings us to:

Never throw away an orchid because it looks dead.
Orchids are not like the Monty Python parrot. They can look like they're pushing up the daisies, they can look stiff as a board but hang on! Many look dead on purpose, like some dendrobiums, or play dead. (Many vandas I have known). They need:

Tough Love
Certain dendrobiums need to be ignored, for 3 months when they go into dead parrot mode. Some orchids apparently wither and die. But hold on to that crusty old stem or clump of roots. Hang it up, high and dry. And, often, after you've totally forgotten it, you may see tiny green buds emerging- signs of life.

This tough love also can work with a lush plant that refuses to bloom. It preens around, all green and happy but you didn't pay good money for that. A head of lettuce can do that. Take it out of its cosy spot- hang it up next to your wizzened stems. Ignore it. Shock it. And the final move: put that orchid in your Wilma.

Every orchid house needs a Wilma section. Hurricane Wilma wrecked one of our orchid houses, old shade cloth still hanging overhead, tilting benches. That's where we started to put ugly, dried out, near death plants or leggy orchids that had never bloomed. Ones with too much mite damage, ones I couldn't quite bring myself to throw away -Wilma was the back of the fridge.

And after a few months I would wonder: why had we put such healthy looking plants out there?And how come so many were blooming? Some bits and pieces had died away but most, falling out of broken pots and old baskets,were happily tangling up with new roots and climbing over each other like toddlers, open to whatever nature gave them: rain when it rained, bright hard sun. No extra help at all.
It's a reminder- (see under Don't Panic)- orchids are survivors. They have been surviving all over the world without the bloom boosters, the fancy fertilizers and sprays, the stakes and tidy pots.
I think they'll be around when we've all gone but that makes them sound too much like cockroaches. Just think old boots.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Joining the Party

I'm a tea-partyer.
I want my country back. I want my life back. I want my world back.
No, I'm not unsettled by black people, women people (You betcha!) Hispanic people or gay people finally starting to nudge the great white male to one side.

For me, it's the whole tech world owned by young people, the younger the better.
The old joke is no longer a joke: "This is so simple a child of five can operate it!" "OK. Find me a child of five."

That's why I'm adrift, like a tea-partyer in a three cornered hat.
For example: We agree I should put pictures in my blog, among these old woven, tweedy paragraphs. We did it with the Singapore Orchid Show, (see below.) But that was when my daughter was here. She may not be the child of five but she still retains all the legendary skills of that toddler. And now she's gone with the slogan of today's youth: "It's easy!"

And I want to snap my twenty-four pictures, take the roll into Walgreens or Publix, put it in an envelope and come back in a week to decide which were the good ones. There they were, in your hand. Get copies for Christmas.
Hopeless to tell me you can't get them into your computer that way. As a tea-partyer I'm not strong on logic.

After all, without my magic typewriter (the computer) I could never have knocked Orchid Territory into shape. How did I trudge through all those drafts on my Yugoslav stuff and Kosova Kosovo? OMG! The Smith Corona, the carbons. And right in the middle of the page a typo- and do you go with the white out that makes it worse and once more you rip out the paper...

So. Not much logic. The Tea Party would understand: "No Socialized Medicine!" but "Leave my Social Security alone!"
I loathe and fear the newfangled picture-making but don't touch my Word Perfect - OMG, Microsoft Word!

NB Actually, my daughter (Alice) did not say "It's easy" but "Give it a go, Mum!" which was much nicer but didn't fit. So to keep up with my self-image of fair and balanced, I must admit this mis-speak.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Random thoughts on Malaysia

Across the Singapore Straits and into a Malaysian bus station: right away bubblegum, Wrigleys and Turkish lavs, what the Singapore airport calls "squat pans."
When I smell the sharp smell of stale pee, I'm home - it says the old Peoples Republic of Yugoslavia, like nothing else.

Something else reminds me. The waiters, taxi drivers, shop keepers, all insisting as they always had in Tito's patchwork Yugoslavia: "We are one -( Indian, Chinese, Malay, Hindu, Moslem, Buddhist, Christian-) no problem!" "There is no problem here."

In the capital, Kuala Lumpur, we stayed in the Citin for thirty dollars, the street market so close to the hotel steps that Dr. Motes would say "Shall we go in through the handbags or the dresses?"
Close by, was the grand, modern Indian mosque, the muezzin's balcony level with our window. We heard the call to prayer in Malaysia, officially Moslem, everywhere, most clearly at dawn and dusk. But nowhere such a voice, not the high, plaintive call but a passionate, deep voice, halting almost to a sob, on the edge, then plunging forward.

"Wow, think of doing that five times a day!"say I, giving rise to another of those eye-rolling family moments -Dr. Motes informing me: "It's a recording!"
I'd been remembering the imams climbing up the steps of the little mosques in the small towns of Kosovo.

Malaysia retains its colonial buildings, many echoing Westminster and the great old "cathedrals of steam" like Paddington Station. Many a night I've pounded down the platform under those soaring, sooty girders, just before midnight, getting the last train home -the cheap day return! In Malaysia, the mini Paddingtons are built in the Indian style and shine in the sun like white pavilions.

The Federation of Malaya, "belonged" to us, the Brits, till 1963. My older brother, a shy suburban lad, was sent to the jungles of Malaya during his two years of national service, to fight "the Communist insurgency," our mini-Vietnam. So we had airmails from Malaya, and postcards of the beaches of Penang where the soldiers went on leave. There were movies too, back then: seas of dark palms, lying in wait, the plucky tea and rubber plantations, the alien fruits, the heat and sweat.

Everyone apologizes for the heat. But we are from Florida! we say. Hey, we don't even have air conditioning! The straight-backed waiters, the hotel staff in their uniforms and white gloves, look puzzled: they must have misunderstood.
Yes, we know the fruits, the different palms! Living in South Florida links us not only to all things Latin but to Africa, Asia, the old Empire, the old imperial world of bananas and coconuts.

My brother is old style too. His only experience of life outside the UK is as a soldier: Germany and then Malaya. If he came to stay he would recognize a lot from his tropical days in the Durham Light Infantry. But he still has some kind of infection from the jungles of Malaya and says he can't take the heat.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Still no gum in Singapore

"Well, don't bring like a whole box.." our Singaporean friend said. "Just enough for your own personal use."
So chewing gum was still frowned upon. We flew Cathay airlines to Singapore. Economy class but printed menus, (four choices for dinner!) complimentary wine in those generous little tumblers, and great choice on the music channels, including the Korean Music Box, Malay Hits, Thai Mix, Philippine Sound Wave, Mandarin Zone, Chinese All Time Hits and Mumbai Beat.

I knew Singapore had long since lost the old Imperial cobwebs though all the taxi drivers asked; "-Where you from, Sah?" The clipped Sah! taking me back to old wartime movies.

Singapore has always sounded like a clean, cold, Asian New York - nowhere to go but up - but there are trees everywhere and the trees grow up with the buildings, six or seven storeys high, and so elegantly pruned they are a delight to contemplate. The Singapore Orchid Show was part of the Singapore Garden Festival, organised, like the whole of Singapore it seems, by the the Parks Department. (motto: "Let's make Singapore our Garden.") The city is all over green, and at night, lights up like a classy Las Vegas.

And like Las Vegas, well ordered. Prostitution is legal. There are recycling bins in the hotel rooms, and a notice propped up on the breakfast buffet at the Grand Pacific: Additional charge for food wastage.' (The fine according to the number of grams left on your plate.)

That's my kind of nanny state. Plant trees or else! And clean your plate!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Singapore Orchid Show, the next one

I'm having nightmares. It's when I start thinking about the next Singapore Orchid Show. And putting in an exhibit. Two garden chairs and a bird bath is all you need -
that's Aunt Charlotte's philosophy in Orchid Territory.("What's the show called this time? "Orchids from Paradise?"... Could be "Orchids From Hell." You put in what you've got.")But it's not just a question of Singapore being half the world away and what you can fit into the overhead bins. It's that the Singapore Orchid Show of 2010, so elegant, artistic, bright and beautiful is considered just a rehearsal for next year, the World Orchid Conference. The WOC is held every three or four years, the Olympics of the orchid world, the orchid World Cup. And we, Motes Orchids, will be taking part. And that means putting in an exhibit. We will be defending our title, Dr Motes jokes. In France, at Dijon, two WOCs ago, we swept the board for vandas. At the last WOC we were not invited, even though it was held here in Miami. Ah! Politics, politics! - What? See me after church.

So anyway, just getting fancy with ferns and hammering sheet moss on to the sides of old milk
crates is not going to do it. In Singapore, you are faced with elegant orchid displays, right off, in the airport. One of our Singaporean friends suggests - a Florida theme... Pink flamingos? Dr. Motes, of course, like Aunt Charlotte, dismisses exhibits as window dressing - that is, he doesn't like doing them.

I will be the one.

So here I am. Here it is, the end of July, and even though we've been snipping buds off because we're closed for the summer, Motes' orchids are still blooming their hearts out. And I'm starting to plead "Save it for November, guys! Not this November but the next..."
This November I'll be checking what's in bloom, what's in season, trying to get an idea of what I'll have to work with next November.... but then it all depends on the weather, on snails, let alone a hurricane. If I think about this anymore, I won't get a decent night's sleep between now and November 2011.

I must remember Aunt Charlotte's,"You put in what you've got!" After all, I invented the woman. And in fact, we pride ourselves on just that: only putting in our own orchids. No borrowing, no buying to add to an exhibit. And, for me, the one good thing to come out of observing the current Singapore show, is to see that no-one else has our kinds of hybrids, our vandas and ascocendas.

"See? Told you," said Dr. Motes, an old hand at the international orchid scene. As he says, he's the one doing the most breeding with certain neglected Vanda species: "No-one else was interested." So there's that. And I must remember the sad little Vanda I saw, right in the front of one exhibit, in Singapore. At Motes Orchids we wouldn't have thought it worth more than 12.50 US dollars on a good day. So there's that. But still, hardly enough for a good night's sleep.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Fourth of July. Sort of.

The wheels have fallen off my blog. It's all just "I" "I" and I'm sick of it - Maybe it was better in the old days with "One." It has come to one's attention... One often has the feeling....

One wanted to get something down for the Fourth of July- one tried to get away from oneself and go for something like :The Ten Step Program To Becoming American but that quickly turned nasty. For example:

Divide the world into where you can safely go on vacation or where you can bomb.

Do not master another language, that tells everyone your parents are just off the boat or over the wall.

OK so one tried another Fourth of July theme: Ten Ways To Know One Has Become An American:

I. When one says "We," and it no longer refer to one's country of origin. In this one's case, England and the English, unless it's really personal. i e "We always played Tiddleywinks on Tuesdays.'

2. One yelled for Team USA though that's partly because England SUCKED.

3. One can invite 60 people for the Fourth of July and prepare almost no food or drink.

We always have a big Fourth of July party and once an old friend was staying with us from Serbia. I spent the morning dusting and tidying and Draga was a great help but she was becoming more and more agitated. I was busy getting six months worth of fluff out from behind the furniture, cursing the chairs for having so many rungs. About three thirty we did put a ham in the oven,(Our motto: let's see if our Jewish, Moslem and Veggie friends really love us for ourselves alone.) We had some chips at the ready sitting on my newly de-cluttered and polished table. We had some beer.
Draga could stand it no longer. "Sixty people! Mary! Sixty people! And you have nothing!""
"Oh, some people won't come."
Draga asked where the flour was. Draga made a big loaf of bread. (For the English it's not a real meal without potatoes, for Serbians, without bread.) We placed the bread, warm from the oven, in the middle of my newly polished, empty table. Draga's hands were still clapped to her cheeks in the familiar Serbian gesture of dismay and despair. It was five o clock. We persuaded her to go have a shower. When she came back her bread was already surrounded by food, by "covered dishes," salsa and salads, with brownies and flan and a row of wine bottles to the side.

One could remark, as one did in the Second World War and after, on the remarkable generosity of the American people.
Remember the story of Jesus feeding the thousands with three loaves and two fishes? If that crowd had been American he wouldn't have needed a miracle. He'd just have said: "Hey, it's a party. Everyone just bring something."

One is now quite excited to be off to Singapore with the esteemed Dr. Motes who has been invited to be one of the judges at the 2010 Singapore Orchid Show.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

North Carolina road trip

Four North Carolina orchid societies in four days: if this is Tuesday, it must be Durham! Lovely people, they bought every one of my Orchid Territory's (forty) and almost ten Kosova Kosovo's. So let's hear it for North Carolina. But there was not so much time to ramble round the back roads, and noting details got a bit slap dash:
"Cat Hospital" but "Canine Academy." Young tobacco plants like Boston lettuce. New Zealand scored 92nd minute v Slovakia. On small bldg: "US Post Office" and "Homemade Ice Cream."

We have become frivolous. We read fewer historic markers: Colonel Dobson Jobson who commanded the first something, something was born here..." and more shop fronts and backsides of vehicles. Behind a gravel truck: "Stay back - Not responsible for broken windshields." On the door of a feed store: "Yes, the cat can go out." In the front were chickens: "Birds sold as is. No refunds no returns. Items relating to chicken health are in the store."

Then there are the gas stations. I saw another first: Do Drop In -though Dr. Motes said it was commonplace. All are new to me: Stop and Go, Stop and Shop, Chat and Chew, Pic and Go. One I could not believe when I first hit the US: Piggly Wiggly.

And hair dressers and barber shops: Upper Cuts, The Chopping Block. Dr. Motes observes that barbers and hairdressers have to be good talkers, so maybe that's it.

Everywhere I look I see great names for bands: "Seamless gutters" - can't beat that for a punk group. And Dusty Treasures - obviously country, maybe an old cowboy.

All this started years ago. I was on a double decker bus going to the other end of Reading for my first elocution lesson. Down below on a shop front, I saw Tibbles Bakery. There was an older man sitting next to me on the bus and he looked down at me with a gentle smile - She likes the name Tibbles and she's writing it down!

I can still remember the overwhelming mortification. I was just seven, that's when the elocution (speech) lessons began. So that's when all this started. And now it's seamless gutters and the same old thrill, sitting next to Dr. Motes now, who's doing the driving but still keeping an eye open too. It was Dr. Motes who caught "Hooker St, Business Park."

Monday, May 31, 2010

Turning The Page

I went to a writers' conference last summer, only my second one. I'd signed up because an old friend would be there, one of the organizers, and because Dr. Motes was going fishing in Canada and so I thought well, two can play at that game.

The conference offered bracing advice on Using The Internet, and Publishing Do's and Don'ts. (Mostly Don't) And I opted for Short Story Writing in the morning (a promise of discipline - keeping things short!). But that left afternoons: Childrens' Fiction, Gender and Something Studies or Poetry, so I signed up for The First Page.
Because one can always learn more: how to be more like Elmore Leonard, for example. (He of Get Shorty and Out of Sight and now one of the geniuses behind FX's Justified.) One of his latest rules, apparently: No adverbs!
(Really? But then watch this: "She whispered softly.." "He shouted loudly.." "He ran quickly.." "He cursed angrily.." Your chosen verb is grown up; it can be let out all by itself.)

And every writer wants to find out the trick to speeding up and getting that great first page. If we could get even one dollar for every day spent on our First Pages, we'd all be living in the lap of luxury.

So there I was with about thirty others, having handed in all our First Pages and they were read in turn and each time the question was asked: "Would you, as publisher, agent or simple reader...Turn The Page?
Each time however bizarre, dull or embarrassing the First Page, at least half the class was in favor and raised their hands.
I had no new First Page but was quite proud of Orchid Territory's. Maybe because it was the last First Page, our instructor read it in a dull, weary monotone. And then the head was raised: "Well?"
No-one stirred- The question was re-phrased: "How many of you would NOT turn the page?"
Every hand shot up. People turned to each other and rolled their eyes. Did Orchid Territory really need a British accent? A British sensibility? (ie Are these people morons?) Are we really divided by a common language?

I'd always thought a lot of my very first line: "The dead pig jiggled behind Mark, sliding to and fro on a piece of bloodstained cardboard." Fetching the pig on Christmas Eve, in the old Volvo. There was something about the words cardboard and bloodstained, together. I'd fallen in love with those two words, allowed myself to be carried away. But even bloodstained didn't sway the crowd.

Yes, why would you turn the page? The pig was dead- nothing more to find out about the pig. Mark had only just arrived - the young Hugh Grant- the innocent in the South Florida orchid scene. There would be intrigue and conspiracy and finally cops and special agents but for the first page?
Would the group like: "Little did Mark know as he rattled along with the pig that in the dark days to come.."Not really. Later on he would think of the busty blond at The Rat and Parrot, but not on the first page. He'd fret over the lovely Rachel, fall afoul of the evil Regina..but not on the first page!
No, I should have begun just two pages on, with the second chapter- when Aunt Charlotte appears, announcing loudly over the menacing whine of her wheel chair, "You forgot the gin!"

Yes, Aunt Charlotte, with the occasional forbidden adverb, she would have done it. She would have got at least one or two hands up.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Orchid Territory, comical, economical

Redland is over - the Redland International Orchid Festival - the big one - as in "After Redland I'll wash the dogs, clean the ceiling fans. After Redland I'll walk 30 minutes every day...write dynamite blogs.." And now it is after Redland, well after Redland. And here we are.

Well, Redland was a great success and Dr. Motes' Florida Orchid Growing, Month by Month, now considered the bible for South Florida growers, continues to fly off the shelves. And now there is Florida Vanda Growing Month by Month...

Me? I sold about half a dozen Orchid Territories. The South Florida Comic Orchid Novel. OK, so I was busy selling orchids not buttonholing passers by, most of whom anyway, had the glazed look of the orchidist let loose among a million orchids all for sale.

And it was not so much that I had competition from Florida Orchid Growing and the new Vanda book but I had competition from myself. It seemed every warm, humorous, intelligent, orchid loving literate person passing by already had Orchid Territory.

In fact, most people stopped by not to buy Orchid Territory but to tell me how much they enjoyed it. One wonderful young woman reported: "As soon as I finished it I just started to read it again!" And she's not the first one to say that. Bet they never said that about War and Peace.

And Brenda- Here's a shout out to Brenda!- "Had to come by and say how much I loved your book. I laughed out loud all the way through!"

Actually, according to the miserable stats on novels in this day and age, I've done quite well. Most novels, according to the Times Literary Supplement, sell less than a thousand copies. Orchid Territory has sold over two thousand. And if people weren't so clubby and sharing, then I could boost that number a great deal higher.

For example, Dennis from Maine, down for the Redland Show, came by: "Oh yes, I've read Orchid Territory- laughed! It went all round our orchid society. The members loved it."

What is wrong with this picture? It's not the economics of the thing - though it would be great to get more ten dollars each time - but it's the stats. Like basket ball, it's the stats. I need to improve my numbers. If I could add on all the orchid society free loaders, and friends of friends, I could up my numbers.

I don't help the cause. I like to joke that I'll just sign my name, (no dedication,) so if the buyer is a clean reader, no wine stains, no greasy fingers -then, Ha ha! in these tough economic times Orchid Territory can be re-gifted. ("It will be our little secret!")

Instead, I should be intoning: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be.." Because without any encouragement from me it seems people are just too generous with their property. Maybe I should up the price; instead of a mere ten dollars a copy, I should make Orchid Territory thirty-five. Then there'd be a lot more "Hey! I paid thirty-five for that! You buy your own!"

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Happy International Workers' Day!

My fellow Americans, today is May Day! International Workers' Day! Do I hear a Huh? It's just like soccer. You Americans (actually, us Americans, now I'm a citizen - Hallo Arizona!) are so cut off from the world.
Here the closest politicians can come to supporting the masses is: "I'm for the hardworking middle class!" A dynamite slogan if ever I heard one. And that's what the Democrats have to say.

Here we should have International Capitalists Day! I see them marching below the rippling red flags of individual money making liberty... Anyway, I have a fond feeling for May Day having worked in a workers' paradise (the old Peoples' Republic of Yugoslavia) for seven years. The Yugoslavs, of course, especially the Serbs, were the last ones to celebrate working. They were much better at holidays. "Mary!" I was always warned: "Only marry a Slovene!" Slovenia was up on the Austrian border and full of quiet, hardworking husbands. I was down south with the Serbians, Albanians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Turks and gypsies.

Before eight o clock classes at the Faculty of Philosophy, we would all go down to the buffet to get started with coffee and a brandy. Then again for a second brandy and coffee; "elevenses" as my dear colleague Kornel called it. Even better was the invitation from the Chemistry department- they always had the real stuff in a drawer somewhere - homemade plum brandy from someone's village.

And then, at lunch time everything stopped and didn't start again till four. But in Belgrade it was the same. Yugoslav's attitude to work came to international attention when the capital of the Peoples' Republic became the first, with much fanfare, to welcome a McDonalds. So many Belgraders lined up to apply! It was all so bright and golden and western! But after a few months Mcdonalds was having a big problem. As the employees explained to the reporters: "They want us to work!"

That is, not put on the coffee, and slip out to the market to buy the vegetables and water melon for lunch, to sit down with Politika and check the football results. McDonalds wanted four solid hours, half an hour off and then another four.

Actually, coming from England, I am shocked at the American work day myself'. I've done a lot of jobs in my time, from kitchen worker, to Ministry of Pensions, to selling at Harrods, to working on a farm and everywhere it was ten (really fifteen minutes) tea break in the morning, an hour for lunch - and the tea break in the afternoon. Here? Grab a few minutes AM and PM and just half an hour in the middle.

I should be unfurling my workers' flag and arousing the masses. Don't Tread On Me! would be a good one too. Certainly the way things are at the moment, there should be a lot of able-bodied men and women just hanging around, free to march. So perhaps, on reflection, this is not quite the right year.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Naming of children

Because "Motes" is so short we only considered names of more than two syllables for our son. The Bible seemed a good place to look -Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zachariah. I liked the sound of Obadiah. Not for a young man, but what a tombstone: "Here lies Obadiah Motes." He'd have to go West for that one. In the end we decided on Bartholomew.

But when the nurse popped in to ask me what name had been chosen, I said, "I like the name Matthew." Fine, said the nurse, that's a nice name for your son. "Oh, no, it's not his name," said I. "I just like the sound of 'Matthew'. Don't you?" It had been a long night.
We got clear after a bit that actually Bartholomew's name was going to be Bartholomew and the nurse asked me to spell it because she couldn't spell it. But neither could I. That morning there seemed to be too many 'o''s.

So Bart started off as Bartholemew and of course, became almost immediately Bart- (though he does have orchid names in both forms: Some plant or two, called "Bart" for friends and Ascocenda Bartholomew Motes for prospective bosses or mothers-in-law.)

It was easy with Alice. "Alice" was a favorite from the start, both the Wonderland bit and the fact that it was less shopworn, (enough with the Sarahs and Rachels!) and for a touch of familial piety. Alice was the name of my mother's beloved sister who died too young. But when I presented my mother with the news, she just said, "Oh, yes." And that was it.

Admittedly, we are English and my mother is the very Anglo-Saxon side, but still. I'd forgotten that when it came to naming children her attitude had always been pretty spacey.

I'd asked her why was my brother called James Harvey. Nobody anywhere in the family was or had ever been a James, let alone a Harvey- a name I'd never even heard, apart from the rabbit. And she said she couldn't remember why "James" but Harvey was the name of the village blacksmith and when the godfather hadn't turned up for the christening, they asked the blacksmith to fill in.

Then there was the question of my name. My mother, having lost her brother when he was twelve and then her beloved Alice, said she didn't believe in God. So, why, said I in my Christopher-Columbus-Age-of-Discovery-years, why was I called Mary Christine?
No-one in the family was a Mary or a Christine. "Why am I named Mother of God and Follower of Christ?"
And my mother said "Um," in the good old English way. She didn't know why.

But I'm just the same: my brother's cat was called Mittens but for the life of me I can't remember why I called my cat Sam.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Naming Orchids

I don't quite know how it started. Dr Motes and I are both English graduates, we like playing around with words. We're very competitive. He may have a Phd (English/Philosophy) but I can keep up. I have an English degree (as in from England) Upper Second Honors - back in the day when degrees were degrees. Hhrrumph, hhrrumph.

And we had fun right from the start, cocky English majors on the orchid breeding scene: you're calling your new hybrid Joe Bloggs Joy? Ha! We'll raise you Motes Jubilation! You're trotting out that old chestnut, Joe Bloggs Beauty? How about Motes Resplendent! Gotcha! And there was Hot Chestnut and Ruby Tuesday and Toledo Blue (though as Dr Motes remarks ruefully, all the others turned out pink.)

We had our spice series: Motes Nutmeg, Ginger Hot, Cinnamon: our African series...Motes Sahara, Motes Kalihari, and did we have Zanzibar? I know I was rooting for Zanzibar...

And just the word Miami was hot: Motes Miami Primrose, Miami Snowdrop, Miami Mandarin. And no Joe Bloggs Gold - let's have Motes Sunlit, Motes Gold Piece, Motes Burning Sands...
We always had a good dose of family. You can tell some of the earliest crosses: first was father's name, then mother, sister, then my mother, then Bart and Alice, the two children who keep reappearing.

And then we got into the naming of friends and dearly departed and that can be a problem. There is the naming of the orchid and the sending in of the registration to the Royal Horticultural Society at Kew, in the UK. And that name is going down in history! WOW! Wonderful! Thank-you, Thank-you! but then the flower dies on the chosen plant, the plant is put back in the midst of all the others... And then disappears or just can't be found at a minute's notice, when the recipient or a relative comes to see and we hear ourselves saying: "Oh, it's here somewhere.." like it's an Extra Large T shirt in a distant pile.

But anyway, what has turned out to be the big joke in all of this, in spite of our spice series, and Miami series, and archival family and old friends series, is that by now I am the person who has more orchids named after her than anyone else. Like I've hogged it -Me! Me! Like Imelda Marcos with shoes.

And my line is always the old wisecrack: "Well, if your husband brings you home flowers, you don't say "Thank you!" you say: "What have you been up to?" So at this rate, whatever it is that Dr. Motes has been up to, is definitely off the charts. Motes himself, he's enigmatic - he just seems intent on keeping the record. Maybe he's angling for -hey-the Guinness Book... Why not?
Motes Orchids could be right up there with the most hot dogs eaten, the tallest man...the biggest cabbage... Watch This Space.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Living the American Dream

Motes Orchids, started from the ground up, would probably not exist if our kids hadn't been healthy. For years we lived without health insurance, (Older Mum, young kids, that'll cost you!) calculating the odds, fingers crossed. One of the worst moments came when young Alice fell and cut her forehead open on an old metal tub in the backyard. Emergency room $$$$$- or scarred for life? Martin cleared the blood off and we made the choice - OK, maybe scarred for life. Well, she could always wear her hair as you say so strangely in the States, in bangs. Miraculously, it all healed up. And Motes Orchids and Alice lived on. Family values as our Republican friends would say, Family Values!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ascocenda Elizabeth Taylor

OK , Dr. Motes was in Taiwan, judging an orchid show and I was home battling the unusual cold, and then along came the Fairchild Botanical Garden Orchid Festival. So that's why the second installment of Name Dropping comes a little late.

The story goes like this: a few years ago, just before Christmas, we were asked by a Lord and Lady someone in England, to send an orchid to "a dear friend" - Elizabeth Taylor. THE Elizabeth Taylor. And we said, thank-you but we don't ship. And then we thought, well, if it comes to name-dropping, it would make a neat story..."Oh, we just shipped one of our orchids (special request) to Elizabeth Taylor, for Christmas.."

And on cue, a handsome-looking plant was discovered, with three perfect flower spikes, just ripe to burst out gloriously in time for Christmas. We hung Elizabeth Taylor's Christmas present away in the back of the greenhouse, but after a Saturday pre-Christmas sale, discovered it had disappeared - stolen.

The whole scene turned black like a silent movie: "STOLEN! " "WHAT CAN THEY DO???"
Well, it turned out that just at that very moment, one of Motes Orchids' new crosses bloomed out, an Ascocenda of such a vibrant violet it all but yelled: "I should be called Elizabeth Taylor!" (It's her eyes, their legendary color, for those who don't follow such things.) So the beautiful violet-colored Ascocenda became Ascocenda Elizabeth Taylor and was shipped out to Elizabeth Taylor, movie star, for Christmas.

And we got a little signed card back: "From the desk of Elizabeth Taylor" thanking us for "the beautiful flower," and Dr. Motes, innocent soul, says "She signed it!" and I, having spent my teenage years sending away for pictures of the stars, did what one always did on receiving the glossy portrait with the name across the corner, licked a finger and rubbed the signature. No, Elizabeth Taylor, like Gregory Peck and all the others, had not actually signed her name, not even for her very own orchid. But the blooming out of Elizabeth Taylors continued, and we have them to this day - almost none since that first, a perfect deep violet, but deep purples, light purples and some pink. And whenever we sell one, or just are standing there, looking at orchids, when an Elizabeth Taylor is in bloom, even the pink ones, we have a story to tell.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A kiss from Michelle

Probably impossible, now - apart from a few close friends and family, and the Queen and inner city children who've just lost 10lbs eating their carrots. The secret is to get in early - before the celebrity and the security.
It started with Obama's early visit to the Dade County Auditorium, back in the fall of '07, when he was still just one of seven and my idea was go see the man -pay to be up close, more fun than just writing a check. And why not take a few orchid flowers along, some of our big, fat, brilliant bling bling purples that say:"Our Time Has Come!"
We paid a hundred dollars each to sit right up close - so close that in front of us were just two rows of important people, and right in front, a sunny, perfect family, with two flaxen-haired small children being good. So when all the important people left their chairs to go meet Obama before he spoke, I gave the orchid flowers to one of the young children, to give to Barak. And when they came back to their seats, their sunny mother nodded and smiled: mission accomplished!

So when Michelle came to town in early '08, we did it again- paying to hear her speak at the Biltmore Hotel. We were just a few feet away, with our glasses of wine and cheesy fingers and three beautiful spikes of Vanda flowers. Deep purple, almost black, on white, they are an orchid that turns heads. In fact, coming into the sumptuous Biltmore it was like Pretty Woman: even the waiters and receptionists turned to look.
After Michelle spoke and before the clapping had stopped I crossed the few feet of carpet with the flowers and said I wanted to welcome her to our tropical US. I should have said "sub-tropical " but that doesn't have much swing to it. And Michelle looked down at me- (she is tall but she was up on a little dais) and said "Well, bless you!" and leant forward and gave me a kiss.
And then Dr Motes, pushing forward in the surge as she came down to meet and greet, was saying something to her and I prodded Bart forward but he said something deep and political and it was left to me to say: "Bart's going to work for Obama in New Hampshire!" and Michelle exclaimed, "Oh, bless you!" again, this time to Bart and gave him a kiss and turned to me, on that hot, sunny Florida winter's day and said: "Feed him up!"

So that's our Michelle story.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Las Vegas and the common man

So the President and Vice-President of Motes Orchids went to Las Vegas on Super Bowl weekend, invited by the Las Vegas Orchid Society, (who may be called upon to verify this for the IRS,) and lodged within walking distance of the Bellagio and Caesar's Palace. On Sunday afternoon, after a stunning power point presentation on Breeding Intergeneric Vanda Orchids, review of the plant table and the raffle, we were back in our room with the big TV settled in for the second half of the Super Bowl.

Demand for hotels had been intense, they'd said, so after the game we surged out to celebrate under the lights, car horns blaring, amid the chants and cheering crowds. After all, in Las Vegas people can just walk around with beers in their hands and monster cocktaily kind of glasses from the casinos. But Sunday evening, after the game, there was absolutely nothing. Only the same black stretch limos gliding quietly up and down the strip, people strolling by. Maybe all those visitors were just gamblers, and lost inside. It wasn't until Monday afternoon that we passed two guys lurching along the pavement, one with a Mardi Gras necklace, hoarse from yelling "Who Dat?"

I saw only one beer bottle and one fancy plastic glass stuck in a tub of greenery, the whole weekend. No trash, no voices raised in sin city. No men in dark suits along the strip, standing in the background, like they do in the casinos. Las Vegas: Adult Disneyland. I always have the feeling that inside that Mickey Mouse suit is probably Security. How would Las Vegas deal with English soccer fans? That would be a match up. Brits have cracked down hard on soccer hooligans but the talk right now is of an epidemic of alcoholism, as though the UK were Russia.

You can wander into the Bellagio, flip flops flapping over the inlaid marble, under sparkling chandeliers, among the orchids and bromeliads, to be greeted with warm smiles and absolute courtesy. No-one seems abashed or intimidated by the splendor. Apparently no one needs to get drunk to feel they're entitled or to show they don't care. Las Vegas really is for the common people.

For the English, until a few years ago, the word "common" could make you cringe; we might as well have all been Jane Austens. And how you spoke defined you. As soon as you opened your mouth, that was it. For the English it was not the color of your skin but the sound of your vowels. From My Fair Lady until Michael Caine - the first English star who could carry a movie and still talk common. He was the pioneer, England's Will Smith or Denzel Washington. (Not our Sydney Poitier - there were plenty of those - but we would never have known. For English working-class actors it was easy to practice talking proper and pass for white.) Now, talking proper, posh, sounds comic. And even the young princes deliberately sound common. But I'm not sure that's turned us into Americans, yet.

Note to orchid lovers: Las Vegas is not only the friend of the common man but the common orchid lover on a tight or nonexistent budget. Orchid society members here don't have to dumpster dive round the back of Home Depot looking for faded phals: they can commandeer the orchids from old displays in the hotels and casinos. For example, there are phaleanopsis, oncidiums and cymbidiums in beautiful displays right now at the Bellagio, part of the celebration for Chinese New Year. Time your Vegas Weekend right, and you could make out like a bandit. Orchid takeaway. And if you find you have amassed too many, you can rent what we saw moving through down town Las Vegas: a stretch limo pick-up truck. Only in America. Or maybe, only in Las Vegas.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Haitian attitudes

A Haitian accent gives me a twinge of inferiority. I don't speak French and for the English, to be reasonably educated and not know at least some French, is a little embarrassing. At least when I hear that soft French sound, whether from French or Creole, I can sling out a "merci!" and "au revoir!" at the Publix check out and get a flash of a smile, slight, conspiratorial. We are communicating elegantly over the grocery cart, in the clunking Anglo-Saxon world. I am saying you may be the poorest country around, you may be looked down upon by African Americans, but do you have a history and don't you sound good.

It was a different feeling at the old Florida City swap meet. As the rest of us bent over the heaped up weekly treasures at Carlos' "boutique" the word would go up "The Haitians are coming!" Then we grabbed whatever looked promising before the big strong women with the big boxes and sacks arrived. Back then, when it came to T shirts I was on the same economic level; over 25 cents and I thought twice. But when those ladies swung into action there was no time to think twice or you'd be left empty-handed, sure that you'd have appreciated that Liz Clairbourne more than some skinny Haitian somewhere.

In fact, the Haitian women at the swap meet were mostly defined by a certain chic - they wore a headscarf or bandanna just so, a beret or a small hat. They carried themselves erect and often with an air of looking down their noses -(so French!) And the children, especially the boys, always looked like they were dressed for church.

Many Haitians have bought orchids from us - no need to ask where are you from? Most elegant, rich, cool -French seems such an appropriate language! -And also some teachers and professionals over the years, some determined, others despairing. We hope to have a table at the Tamiami International Orchid Festival next weekend, and raise some money for Haiti, like everyone else. So they can keep those heads up, even though it means they may look down their noses at us, who were never so brave and bold in the past and never had to pay so dearly for it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Avatar and District Nine

So the Big Freeze - not so much. Almost no yellowing lower leaves on the vandas, almost no cold burn. The grass looked pretty browned off, though, and suddenly a lot of leaves are falling. But then the Fall in South Florida is the Spring: that's when the trees shed their leaves. The monstera has suffered too - those big, floppy tropical Avatar leaves withered and brown.

We went to see Avatar in 3D last week when it was still too cold to do much. I think how much more exotic it would have seemed if I were still in England. Now we have towering bamboo outside the kitchen door, big, flapping banana plants, crawling, broad predatory vines and monstera leaves rearing up along the paths. Dr. Motes thought Avatar "very botanical." I thought the colors too Disney and hunkered down expecting to be Lord of the Rings bored: how many times can these guys trudge up and down mountain paths? How stupid do trees on the move look? But three hours later I could not believe it was three hours later.

Then two nights on,we watched District Nine. And like Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, I started to see a pattern emerging.

1. The Indians are allowed to win. (Pssst! Finally!)
Well, in District Nine, only two prawn-aliens really make it out of there but the white man dies! Sort of. He becomes a battered street alien, too.
In Avatar, though many Na'vi die, they beat the white man, the military machine, in one of the most thrilling battles since old World War Two movies.

2. Both heroes are ordinary, decent guys who just follow orders.....until...they follow their better nature. (Fox - They Betray Their Own People! )

3. Both are against the merciless, corporate world. Each An Army Of One. Both "go native," the thing most feared by imperial rulers. The disabled marine in Avatar, and the South African white who is forced to go native with the prawns. In both movies the police, the army, the marines, the tough officers and their incredible machines of war explode and die and, in District Nine, the hero prawn and son not only escape to their superior mother-ship - they leave many South Africans below wondering whether they might even return and invade.

This would not have happened under the Republicans. People want their country, or at least their movies, back!
On the other hand, the Greenies and the liberals will ask: why do you always need white men to be the saviours - the great white hope, as it were?
Well, even us liberals, we have to identify with someone. Hard, at the start, to identify with a large prawn-like creature or a towering blue creation with a tail. Though, by the end of District Nine we are all rooting for Christopher the brave and smart prawn and ready to adopt his incredibly cute and smart son.

The design of the Na'vi in Avatar and the prawns in District Nine are surprisingly similar: same basic shape- tall, imposing, long-waisted, small-bottomed, very light and springy on their feet.
The Na'vi of course, are the pretty ones. Ah, those cheekbones. Everyone a Cameron Diaz. Can't beat that. On the other hand - where do those cheekbones come from? Not from the Pilgrim Fathers or The Daughters of the American Revolution. Sorry, Glenn and Rush, you've lost. You won't get your country back.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Big Freeze

The BBC ended their World News round up the other evening with pictures of frozen iguanas falling out of South Florida trees.

Suddenly hard, miserable weather and not just cold but damp - English weather. It's always said about England, (like here: "Its not the heat it's the humidity") that: "It's not the cold it's the damp." And our old Cracker house, the model for Aunt Charlotte's in Orchid Territory, reminds me too much of England in the old days. Designed to keep heat out, it does such a good job we always joke we'd be warmer down with the orchids.

When I think back over the years here, growing orchids, what is most vivid is the drama of cold and freezes, rather than hurricanes, even Andrew. The big drama in Orchid Territory is the New Year's Eve freeze: the tearing plastic, the arctic blast coming out of nowhere, out shivering at midnight under the cold hard stars, praying the pump won't fail and the plastic holds. Novels set in Florida often do great, dramatic things with storms and hurricanes hitting smashing...and they often read about as real as computer-generated disaster movies..But here's a modest word: Orchid Territory tells it like it is for orchid growers.

If you have orchids, the warm-loving ones, you feel the cold with them like a mother with a new born baby. It's the one thing that unites newcomers and the natives. When you observe a strapping mid-westerner wringing his hands over a forecast of 48 Fahrenheit, you know he's down here growing orchids and what's more, he's been celebrating the fact that he's down here growing orchids and not up in Minnesota growing orchids and has been happily, if not deliriously, draping them under trees, on fences and trellises:" Hey! I am out in my yard in December in my shorts at one with nature and it is good!"

And like us locals, he's basically unprepared, even more so. In England, it's always like that, even though we always have cold weather (any time of the year, actually.) Right now, apparently, they've run out of salt for the roads and the Prime Minister may have to resign. Years ago it was just the same: one little blizzard and out came the headlines: "Only Six Snow Ploughs for the Whole of England and Wales! All In North Yorkshire!"

Dr. Motes has sent out his Don't panic! Freeze emails. Am not sure what he's told those who've followed his advice by sticking orchids on to suitable trees with Liquid Nails. Even iguanas would have a hard job falling out of trees if they'd been stuck on with Liquid Nails. But there are always unlikely survivors, after a freeze. Some orchids put out in the grove because they refused to bloom, also, we discover, refuse to die. And on the other hand, some silly little Vanda in the shade house, in the middle of a warm and cosy row, gets a hissy fit and turns burned and brown for no reason at all.

But this time, with forecasts of maybe below freezing for two nights, then this looks like being the big one. And even our heaters and strategic watering may not be enough. And certainly when we emerge, blinking at the scene, everything outside should be mostly burned brown by the cold. So bring in what you can, or cover with sheets like the Ramada Inn. We were there two nights ago, courtesy of the Naples Orchid Society (after Martin's talk on Darwin and Survival of the Fittest) and the management had tucked sheets - some fitted, some top- all around their ornamental flower beds. ( "Beds!" -Ha!) As Martin observed: "Well, if you need sheets, then a hotel is certainly the place to find them."

The local channels will be telling us to bring in our orchids and our pets. Our two large mastiffs are in the kitchen right now, sitting there a little uneasy, like pupils told to relax in the principal's office and as far as the orchids are concerned, we can do no more. As our young hero in Orchid Territory reflects on the night of the freeze: "The plastic was tight, the water was on. Nature was on the rampage out there just taking her course, clumping down the peninsular: Termi-nature! And in an hour or two, in the dawn, they'd all see how merciless she'd been."

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Years' Eves I have known

I was watching Tennessee against Virginia Tech in the Chic-Fil-A Bowl ( great cow ads!) till Dr.Motes fell asleep and I switched to After The Thin Man on TCM, which starts with a New Year's Eve party. And it set me to wondering, as we used to say ponderously in pre-twitter days, what on earth I"d done with all the New Years' Eves in my life.

When I was growing up in England New Year's Eve was something the Scots did over the border, a rowdy Celtic fringe night of drunkeness and broken glass. Of course, when I was small the war was on, which would have dampened down the Scots, even in Glasgow, so it was blackout curtaining and quiet. Living it up with noise and lights after dark would have been a kind of Fawlty Towers scenario: "Lights out, colonel! Bloody Jerry's coming ovah!"

As a teenager I remember opening the front door at midnight out into the cold to hear the train whistles going full blast. And once I went up to London, only forty minutes away, and joined everyone in Trafalgar Square. That must have been in my early Nuclear Disarmament days when I was confident of the benevolence of crowds: lots of smiling and greetings and a man in a green kilt twirling around by himself.

Then, teaching in Yugoslavia, and taking the train up to Belgrade for New Year to be with Mirka and Duska with their new husbands and all the old friends with their husbands or serious boy friends, out to the restaurants and me not allowed to pay for myself (no husband, no boyfriend) and the glasses raised at midnight. Everyone turning to me with the fervent wish: "Here's to Mary and her happiness in the New Year!" (i.e.: Find a husband! Or at least a regular boyfriend- and stay away from those Albanians! )

Then along came Dr. Motes, and it was a New Year in Greece and up on the roof of our hostel in Athens, looking down at the city and me dancing round the tables with local Greeks showing off that I was not so English after all, but what we both remember most clearly was the Greek girl sobbing at the foot of the stairs. Her brother had just been killed in Cyprus.

And then the US: pregnant and poor, two weary horticultural workers, cold fronts and worry over orchids, toddlers and no baby sitters. We didn't have carpets or curtains and NO TV! How could you get a teenager to come with no TV? Especially in the Miami area. Maybe somewhere in Vermont or a New Age commune in New Mexico...

And then much later, the young 'uns having bonfires out back, promising to be quiet and later on, swiping beers and promising to be quiet.
And now it's college football and with Dr Motes dozing off,(still the horticultural worker!) and Tennessee losing momentum, wouldn't it be a wonderful way to start the New Year by going to bed early? Basically sober and bright-eyed? An Early Night!! A New Year present to myself.

You kidding? Let's see: It's After the Thin Man on TCM, god bless them! A sparkling, smart comedy. It's white wine and popcorn, fireworks occasionally thumping outside, cosy inside. Lucky me.