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.