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.