Tuesday, December 6, 2011

NEW Frugalism for Christmas: See Oct.12!

Frugalism For Christmas
Started in an off hand way: October 12th. ("New Blog!")
Revisited, finished, bright and shining December 6th. But apparently, the original date STANDS!

For Interested Parties, please travel back in time to the blog on October 12th for my Christmas special as I have NO idea how to reset it.

Everyone under the age of ?thirty-one is it now? roll your eyes and sigh.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Jane Austen and the Marines

With Dr. Motes having been Dr. Motes at the World Orchid Conference and now hunting orchids in Borneo, left alone at home I've pretty much gone to the dogs. I not only watched Fast and Dangerous(Pt III or IV?)) but actually recorded it, as though it were the History of Prohibition. (Note: Ladies, it's fun and there's no torture.)
But then came Netflix with Jane Eyre and we were off on the Heritage trail, land of my fathers. The great house, the starched aprons: the Bronte sisters like Jane Austen, always hit the spot. Their heroines fascinate us, like the military does. Most are basically an army of one: Honor, Duty, Sacrifice, and, unlike the fate of many in the military, it all works out wonderfully in the end.
Back in the mists of time when I was at school, we all stood up, silent when a teacher came into the class room. We all stood up, silent, when the Head Girl came in. (One year, that was me - there's a blog right there.) If we were seen in the street without our hats or berets we served a detention. We wore uniforms and ties. In fact, when Duska and Mirka, my Yugoslav penpals, came one summer term and attended assembly, as they surveyed the uniforms, the po-faced ranks belting out martial hymns, they asked: "Then you learn like us first aid and the rifle?"

So I don't think we are glorifying the military, as some fear (though can't we get rid of that creepy word Homeland?) I think it's a nostalgia for the lost world of order and formality, the world of make your bed and shine your shoes, elbows off the table and, for goodness sake, child, stand up straight.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Orchid Wifery

It seemed a good idea: three boxes under the blog: Did you find this: Interesting, Funny, Useful? Feed back! But they mostly remain empty. Apparently I am NOT Funny, NOT interesting and NOT useful. Oh really? Then you can all just blog off!

But that's not the mood that leads to Funny, Interesting or Useful blogs. "Vanda Motesiana -Who's your Daddy?" seemed popular. But that was a tricky one: Dr. Motes, orchid breeder/scholar, serious stuff. Problem is I want to be funny. Writing Orchid Territory was OK- Fiction! Though too many people seemed to think that I was hard-drinking, mean old Aunt Charlotte.
Right now, Dr. Motes is preparing to leave for Singapore, the next World Orchid Conference - invited speaker. So no joke material there, at least we hope not.

Maybe I could try a Do's and Don'ts of being an Orchid Wife? ( Note:These Don'ts in fact only apply to me.)
When accompanying the visiting speaker to San Diego, Chicago etc. DO NOT reveal as I once did that Dr. Motes' elegant suede jacket cost 50 cents at the Florida City Swap Meet. Ditto when complimented on one's necklace, silk shirt or Hermes silk scarf ("Only 25 cents but see? A little blurry. Obviously someone washed it in hot water!")
As Dr Motes reminds me, the whole point of bargains is that they don't LOOK like bargains:i e. they don't elicit the reaction: "Aha, that's a great fifty cents worth, right there on Dr Motes!"
(Though as I like to point out, especially to Dr. Motes, it was the 25 and 50 cent spending sprees of yore, that enabled Motes Orchids to spend hundreds of dollars on PVC pipe and other essentials. Back then, if that jacket had been two dollars I would probably have left it in the pile.)

DO NOT critique sleeping arrangements. These orchid-loving hosts open their houses, hearts and bedrooms to us and it is unseemly to exclaim: "Call THAT a double bed?" Once, trying to hold on to my side of a narrow, sloping mattress, I gave up and tiptoed into the neighboring room with a large crib set up for visiting grandchildren, big enough for me to curl up in desperate, 2 AM mode -but almost entangled myself in the warning device alerting parents to crib catastrophes. I pulled wires free in the dark but the next morning could not find out how to reset them. For a long time, quite a few days, I could see the next visiting grandchild getting their head caught unheeded in the bars....How could I explain why I de-activated a crib's early warning system? I didn't call. When I'm lined up outside the pearly gates that will definitely be one point I don't have a good answer for.

Of course, it's usually quite the opposite. Shown to a spacious bedroom with gleaming, antique furniture, door leading to own bathroom, fluffy towels... when the gracious hostess asks Will this do? DO NOT catch Dr. Motes' eye and laugh, while describing our little old wooden house with no AC. Just exclaim merrily, "No mint on the pillow so only three stars for you!"

Well, this may not be very Interesting, Useful or Funny, but go on, just this once, pretend.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Return of the Sixties

The Sixties are back in Wall Street and everywhere, this time with lap tops. And the classic yell at marchers, especially young ones: "Why don't you get a job?" has lost its bite. Most of the young people protesting are protesting for a job.

And that means we are at last witnessing the gut-level engagement of the young not seen since the demonstrations against the draft during Vietnam. Because the ultimate nightmare of a young person growing up in the West is not being shot at by strangers but, with no job, having to go back and live at home.

Question for the Class:
Re demos, sit ins etc- Why is the statue of Martin Luther King in the Mall, so blindingly white?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Frugalism for Christmas

How To Economize, Clothes:
This actually is an all-year hint: Work all day with something like orchids where you will wear old clothes and at the end of the day be too tired to want to change and go out.
If that doesn't work, there is Goodwill -but now that everyone's poor I think the prices have gone up and so for an extra four dollars you can get a brand new 9.99! from the clearance rail at Ross, Marshalls, etc. And don't forget sometimes Macys, for example, goes crazy breaking the 9.99 barrier and you'll get something brand new for 4.00.
OK, Christmas!
GIFTS: Goodwill and swap meets are perfect for under the Christmas tree surprises. (No-one can say I saw that china elephant in Dollar Tree) which brings us to this WARNING.
When buying vases, mugs, etc from Goodwill check first you can remove the price! Someone with a big black marker spends their day writing "1.00-" "50-" often right on the front and good luck with getting it off. Before purchase see if you can rub off the price with a bit of spit or peel off the sticker. Try not to do it where management can see you. -If apprehended state your position and the problem slowly and clearly and do not suddenly make for the door. It may only be a dollar to you but it's the whole retail price for them.

GIFTS Pt 11. Now go to Dollar Tree and check out their gift wrappings and gift bags. They have lovely stuff, all glitter and shine and only a dollar a go.

FOOD. Trying to economize? Then not just Christmas but year round, it's Cheap and Unhealthy for you.
But here's a tip from the Second World War! An English nutritionist, tasked with finding what could sustain the besieged British population when ships carrying decent food could not reach the plucky little island, tried existing for six months on a local diet providing all nutritional requirements.: You boil up potatoes, cabbage and onions.
Try that on your picky teenagers, especially at Christmas and maybe that will convince them that when you say We can't afford that! you really mean it.

And collect some really comforting quotes: one I love from an English advice column long ago:
Always get your hair done. Cut back on something less important, like the childrens' education.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Help

I've been in the States long enough to get awfully self-conscious about race, the whole black and white thing. So I tiptoed into The Help, having been told by the critics that it was a feel-good movie for white folks.
Actually, it seemed quite tough to me. Of course, almost all the white folks except for our heroine had to be vapid and mean, the black noble and stoic. But, my conservative friends, that's how it was in the good old days. If you weren't quietly noble and stoic while being black, you might well land up dead.
One thing struck me, right at the start. The first question our heroine asks the black maid, presented as the most poignant question, is: How does she feel spending her days looking after another's children, not her own?
Well, right now a multitude of mothers, Honduran, Philippine, Mexican and more, may not be looking after other folks' children, but are scrubbing their floors and cleaning their windows all to make a better life for their own children back home. Their dark-skinned, mostly pint-sized husbands and brothers are sweating away in our yards and fields, rattling along in another language, so handy for us, liberals with a conscience, because it does distance us from their problems.

If, as the comics say, Moslems are the new black, then you could say that these folk, who have been more like an accustomed grey in our lives but now face a growing anti-immigrant world, are definitely getting blacker all the time.

Monday, September 19, 2011

On the road

We were in California, (Orange County Orchid Society, Newport Harbor Orchid Society and San Gabriel Valley Orchid Society) then home with new BFF's - then OMG! Hurricane Irene! False alarm but then it was tidy up and get ready for the trip to Atlanta (the Atlanta Orchid Society.)

I should have been all a twitter all the time because tweeting is perfect for snap judgements: San Bernadino- so sad and dusty! Or did we come in the wrong end? Pasadena- elegant! Riverside - neat! Dr. Motes told the Mong guy selling long green beans in the market the Latin name. He said he(the Mong man) had been selling them man and boy- and never knew. Though that's too long for a tweet.
Georgia-Great oak trees! May they never have a hurricane.
Spanish moss - so grey and wispy. Come to Motes Orchids for plump and green sort-(gets water and fertilizer all the time.)
Lovely old leafy small towns, the best lovely old houses, always the most beautiful, always taken over by the lawyers.
The most imposing old houses always on the corners of the street-commanding two roads. Obviously before the motor car, the automobile.

Must stick to tweets. My problem is I want to be funny and there's nothing funny about nice orchid society people opening their homes to us, taking us off for meals, hey- buying our orchids- and if there were, you certainly couldn't write it down.
Well, I did write Orchid Territory, but no nice orchid people or pets/animals were harmed in its production. That's why it's a novel.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Notes on the English Summer

It seems a parody of the Arab Spring- not young people taking over the streets ready to die for freedom but English kids taking over the streets stealing and destroying stuff.

And not just kids. Is it still just education?

When I was eleven, I passed the Eleven plus exam. I went from an elementary school to a grammar school, the path to University. My brother didn't pass. He went to the school for the kids who failed. The eleven plus was finally denounced for dividing up England's kids into bright and dim at eleven years old. So what happened?

As a student I did a lot of odd jobs. I remember innocently asking a young man why he was just working in the hotel kitchen too. (I was always too timid to be a waitress.) "Why?" he said, very sarcastic, "'Cos I'm ignorent, en' I?"

Home from Yugoslavia, I taught for a while at a secondary school and immigrant center.
The racial tension arose between Asian boys and the black and white D stream who resented the Pakistani and Indian kids talking about the idea of becoming a lawyer or doctor or maybe owning their own shop.

The old constraints on English behavior are long gone, the old stuff about knowing your place. (See any old English movie.) The English have always been better at the dignity and discipline of civic rather than family life. (Who make the best queues, then?) And there was always the typical Anglo Saxon sneering at education. You went to Eton and Oxford or Cambridge, like the Prime Minister, for the connections. Long before Sarah Palin, the joke used to be that only in England would "-Oh, he's very clever," be an insult.

So far nothing has happened in Scotland or Wales. Scots and Welsh families, however poor, have always put a premium on education. Hard to be proud to be English -English now is what's left over when you take away Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

And now everyone has a chance at education. Now if you're down at the bottom you no longer have the consolation that it's the unfair world.It must be "because I'm ignorent- en' I?"

And brooding most about education means I'm a bloomin' liberal, en I?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Future of Soap

There was a time. my children, when we were told that in the Future (2K plus) there would be no more messy meals. We would start our brave new days with a pill marked"Breakfast" and go on from there to the more substantial ones labelled "Lunch" and "Dinner." Maybe the airlines would be interested, but for the rest of us now Food is bigger than ever.

I hope the same thing will happen with soap. Right now soap is disappearing, so messy! Turn it liquid and put it in a plastic pump instead! When my mother bought a bar of soap it didn't go in the bathroom it slid in between the sheets in the linen drawer. Her favorite was Yardleys Lavender. And she maintained that the bar hardened a little there, and so would last longer when used. Call me old-fashioned but sliding a cold plastic pump in among the pillow slips lacks something.

And even with soap, we are arriving at the state of No Fragrance! Some of the most expensive soaps now, do indeed take me back in time - to when my frugal grandmother cut up bricks of yellow household scrub-the-front-step soap for us to use. Apparently fragrance causes cancer - is that it? But like music and color and sunlight fragrance also creates delight and well-being and certainly an impulse to spend more than we should.

When my face cream smells like lard or olive oil it's a reminder to use olive oil. And for us who are buying pots labeled Revivify! Rejuvination! - by the time those evil fragrant fumes start to work on us, we'll be long gone. So keep the Fragrance Free for babies but let the rest of us enjoy. And no, I don't think spraying your sheets with something called Spring Delight or Pine Forest does the trick. You need the subtlety of a good soap - not the blast of public toilets.

Next: The return of the gilt-edged, leather-bound book.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Noble Savage

It was something like: "They treat us worse than Albanians" or "We might just as well be Albanians..." There they were, a couple sitting on the steps of their trailer, complaining to The Miami Herald a few years ago about being called "trailer trash." I remember the article not just because they said Albanian but because, strangely enough for ignorant trailer trash, they had their Balkan social history exactly right.

Whether it's for the Greeks, with their Grecian columns and all that stuff, or the Christian Serbs or even the Turks, fellow Moslems, Albanians have been the trailer trash of the Balkans, or worse. "Albanians? Very dirty!" That was the reaction I got when, on vacation from the Faculty of Philosophy, Pristina, I told people in Istanbul the interesting fact that I taught Albanians. I was suddenly less an English tourist than an Albanian-lover.

The irony in all this is, that of all the Balkan peoples, it is hardest to get a physical stereotype of the Albanian. Many Albanians are dark but many more look Irish or even Scots, tall and rangy with sandy hair and grey eyes. But maybe that brings us back to white trash again, to the poor whites of Appalachia who seem to have missed out on political correctness. I don't think any comedian or commentator has got fired for calling them 'inbred' or 'stupid.' I don't think they have the equivalent of the Jewish Defense League, or the NAACP. Maybe if they did, there would be less room for right wing groups of varying degrees of anger and resentment, to fill the gap.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The naming of dogs

At Motes Orchids we spend as much time talking about our dogs and their names as we do about the orchids. We could pretend that obscure names are meant to baffle a would-be criminal: a random "Psst! Here Spot! Good boy!" won't get you anywhere with our dogs. Try Arabic or Albanian. And if you have to ask Why? then you are new to Motes Orchids -(Let me give you the sign up sheet for our news letter!) But those names? Sarah Palin would be right: we are elitist, arugula-eating liberals who think we're smart.

At the moment with our females we're on the Z series. There was our beautiful Azra,( "girl" or "maiden" in Arabic,) who died too young, then Zara. (I'd decided on Tanga till told that was the bottom half of a bikini.) Now we have Zanzi- which must mean something somewhere but I thought had a good growly sound to it. You can't have more than two syllables for a dog- "Bad Dog, Dorothy!" doesn't do it.

For our big male, we've a sharp, masculine sound: Skender! Skender is the Turkish form of Alexander and the name of the national hero of Albania, Skenderbeg. He fought off the Turkish armies so brilliantly, in admiration they called him Alexander the Great.

And speaking of the Turks, one of our dogs was named "Turkish Ambassador." Our son, when small, had a puppy he declared was to be called Turkish Ambassador. Because, he explained, he looked like the Turkish Ambassador. You could see what he meant. Puppies are mostly rather solemn. They have a lot to work out. Of course, if naming always followed that logic, most newborn babies would be called Winston Churchill.

By the way: Turkish Ambassador soon became Ambassador and then Basset. The two syllable rule.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dear Diary

Keeping a Diary
It's now after the Fourth of July and my first entry for 2011 is: "April 25th Mysore raspberries." I usually plod along till mid March with the daily "orchid house," the weekly, "Netflix, Open Sat."and then even that fades away. Well, V. S. Pritchett did say that the secret of happiness was "a pleasing monotony." Obviously the Mysore raspberries this year were a total disruption.

Every December when I buy calendars for Christmas I choose a diary for the New Year. Should I go for a real leather one with all the maps and international time zones? The one with the daisy on the front and This Diary Belongs To..? But of course you don't want your name there if you are actually going to write Dear Diary stuff. And being the trad English type, I don't go in for expressing deep thoughts though looking in the mirror, I think about old age and death quite a bit. That should remind me to keep a diary as memory fails because as Donald Rumsfeld said: stuff happens.

If we do something really big like going to India or North Carolina, then I take along an exercise book and it all goes in there right from the airport:"Buy NYT." But day by day? Well, until 2011, dear diary started on January 1st, with all the other resolutions; tea, skim milk, half grapefruit. That diet one was on its way out by Jan 2nd because of New Year's Day football: (wine, popcorn, chips.)

People coming and dogs needing shots go on the calendar with tax deadlines and Recycling days. Really big things get engulfed in their bigness. I don't remember sitting with my diary on the night Andrew or any other hurricane arrived. I do have one other entry for this year when our son got engaged and we all had dinner. Not even an exclamation mark but next to it, "fish and broccoli."

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hurricanes? Think Italian

We have gas. A gas stove. If the power-lines go down, unlike most of our neighbors, we will enjoy hot tea and three meals a day. Bummer. When an advanced civilization collapses and we are back to foraging for food, that should be the good part, guilt-free survival on chips and cookies.

But, in fact, after Andrew we had so much stuff to eat out of the freezer, we were eating heartier than we had done for weeks. Slaving over a hot stove, even by candlelight, was not my idea of the aftermath of a hurricane.

Anyway, when the ice in the cooler finally melts, you need a plan. Basically, you return to pre-fridge days: think old gnarled peasants, their old gnarled garlic sausages hanging from sooty beams, with a string of onions. Add a can of tomatoes, red wine and good old happy-to-be in-a-cardboard-box pasta. Think Italian!

In fact, getting ready for a hurricane is just like preparing for our Fourth of July party- Not how many people do we estimate are coming? But how many days do we need to provide for? How many paper plates? napkins? chips? crackers? water? sodas? fruit juice? red wine? Get Jim Bean.- No one wants warm beer.
And then not dusting and polishing but fill water bottles, find hurricane lamps, nail plywood over windows and sit in front of the TV in the gloom, while there's still power, waiting for the big news. When is Andrew, Gustave, Pedro or Doris arriving - how far away. That's why, when the hurricane misses us, we are resentful. We did all this? For a no show, for a cancellation? Nothing but a few leaves and twigs on the ground! We gave a party and nobody came!

But now forecasting is sharper; no longer: "Tie down your trash cans and bring in the dogs! From Key West to Orlando!" On the other hand, things appear to be heating up and we may find in the future our quaintly named hurricanes are not so much expected guests as mindless party crashers.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hurricanes and tornadoes

We were the veterans, the year of '92, the big one until Katrina. After August 1992, whenever a TV reporter "in the eye of the storm" stood in a puddle with his collar turned up, we rolled our eyes. Whenever they recounted the terrors of the wind, against a backdrop of palm fronds and leafy boughs, we'd chant:
"Leaves on the trees! Ain't no hurri-cane!"

Hurricane Andrew gave us our standards and our bragging rights. But only about twenty-four people died. Five of them, a mile or so away, had been in a small apartment complex. The way the building had been tossed around it was said, meant "That had to be a tornado."

Joplin, Missouri looks now like Homestead and Redland in August 1992. Andrew also had winds of 200 miles an hour. But hurricanes are better than tornadoes, we say- you can prepare. You can buy bottled water and baked beans and nail plywood over windows. Andrew was strange though, came up suddenly, out of the blue. We were OK. No last minute hysteria at Home Depot. We already had plywood and double headed nails and an old house with wooden window frames you could hammer nails into. That's why our house held while most around us popped. Would plywood make that difference now?
Maybe this hurricane season we'll find out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Redland Orchid Festival: Origins

The last big orchid event of the year has come and gone and here I am mentioning it now: The Redland International Orchid Festival. Well, exactly, because now it's all over I have the time. But it's also hard to decide: What is a blog? Is it basically just to promote your stuff like a tupperware party? It seems tacky to write up events In Which We Have a Commercial and Monetary Interest. (So Republican!) On the other hand there is the Need To Put Food On the Table. (Another whiny Dem!)

Well, Redland is the Big One - biggest orchid happening in the US! And the Motes's should make something of it because it was Dr. Motes who invented it. And it was an invention. A new mind set.

The idea of putting on an orchid show in the middle of May, outdoors, in South Florida, was considered nuts. Too hot. The season is over and everyone who could (i e the sort of people who had money to buy orchids!) was out of here. As though Miami Dade was the backyard of Buckingham Palace and after the races at Ascot, all the toffs motored up to Scotland for the grouse shooting. Or colonial India when the Brits made for the hill country, leaving the peasants sweating in the plains. Well, that does still happen. Apparently you can't swing a cat in the hills of North Carolina in the summer without hitting a wussy South Floridian.
Anyway, the reaction to Dr. Motes' proposal was: No-one wants to be here in May and those who are, won't come (too hot) and You're nuts.

Dr. Motes' argument was: Precisely because there was nothing on- what a great time to have something on! And more importantly, it would give orchid lovers the chance to see and buy orchids blooming at that time of year- All the orchid shows were clustered in the cool season - October through March.
And surely orchid lovers were used to working up a bit of sweat, looking after...their orchids!
And talking of sweat - who needs big exhibits? Bring in your plants for sale, lay them out on the tables, someone opens the gates and stand back!
And that, my children, is what happened.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Wedding PS

I was too cynical about the BBC and the wedding- about the whole thing. I watched loads of it, actually starting out with Katy Couric on Channel Four whom (see I'm English!) I will always love because of Sarah Palin. (You had to have been there.) I was like some old cockney Gran, with bad teeth, interviewed at the Palace railings: "Wha' a loverly pair!"

"Oh the English organisation..."etc. And we go, Yeah, OK. But, when you think about it... Did anyone see sniffer dogs and black vans parked behind the trees, and cops with bullet proof vests talking into electronic devices? Well maybe that was the Household Guards with their shining breast plates..Somehow I feel if this had been in the great US we would have all been made aware of What Perils Are Lurking.

Well, I'm American, too. So God Bless America, but just this once, I think England really is tops. It was a loverly job.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kate Middleton in Berkshire! Me too!

This should really be a tweet. - I grew up in the same county as Kate Middleton! No wonder they call it the Royal County of Berkshire. There's Windsor at one end and Wallingford at the other where Saxon King Alfred had his HQ or something. - Anyway, he fought the Danes and there are lDanish broad swords in the Reading Museum; apparently they kept losing them overboard as they came up the Thames. And now there is Bucklebury - a rather posh Berkshire village where Kate Middleton grew up.

Many a time as a damp young thing in my school uniform, I have watched the big red double decker Thames Valley buses grind by, with BUCKLEBURY or more often, BUCKLEBURY COMMON on the front. Little did we know!

And Kate is so lovely - she has all those mandatory inches between bust and waist that make looking good so much easier. And she has that lovely dimple when she smiles. She's absolutely Bucklebury's Shirley Temple.

Can't wait! But watch out with BBC America. From what I've seen, they're ladling out the treacle so thick I can hear those cynical, young English producers saying: "Lard it on! Yanks love this stuff."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The little black dress

Continuing with the Arab-Moslem theme here, I would like to put in a word for the little black dress. We are supposed to bewail the idea that so many of our Moslem sisters must encase themselves in black from head to toe. All I can say is that for many a day, right now, and for the whole of my adolescence that would have been a dream come true.

For a teenager obsessed with legs, hips, how awful you look from behind, to be able to step out protected by that cave of black would have given me a carefree youth. And when I think of my despair at and hatred for my nose, my skin, my hair, the bonus of being able to cover all that up too, would have been sheer heaven. Personal bias noted here: Growing up I always heard: "-She has lovely eyes!" (i.e. "At least there's something we can salvage.") So for me, the whole black outfit was just tailor made.

Well, you may say: we in the west have sweats- but sweat pants are clingy. And the western version of Don't look at my shape- the caftan - is so forlorn. Unless you are a lean six footer who doesn't need one, you look like an abandoned, graffiti-smothered traffic cone.

Safi, whom I met in Italy all those years ago, the young revolutionary journalist: ("I am the first Arab girl to hitchhike!") has adopted Moslem dress, including the veil. So I was told when I tried to contact her at her Cairo newspaper when I was in Egypt a few years ago. Had she
become ..a devout Moslem? "Well," said one of her colleagues slyly, "when women get to a certain age...it often seems a good idea."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The colors of the prophet

So Gadhafi has claimed the color of the prophet as his own in a bright, optimistic shade, miles away from the standard, somber Muslim green used mainly in the west for agricultural machinery and school uniforms. His supporters only need shamrocks on their head gear to look like a pub crowd promoting St Patrick's Day.

Gadhafi green, like every other color, is there in India. When we were hunting for orchids along the country roads of Kerala, I was recording the colors of Kerala's mosques: pea green, lime green, that bright Caribbean, cabbage green, chartreuse. And that's just the start. I saw a lime green mosque with mint green trim. A bright Gadhafi green with orange accents. A deep violet, mixed with a lighter shade. And how about periwinkle blue and marigold? And why not pinstripe your minaret? In fact, some were turned into candy canes of pink and purple.

It was as though they'd let the Imams' children loose with paint cans - Let's have purple walls and a green arch! Well then, half a mile down the road we'll do a lime green mosque with a baby blue gate! And then they went on to the churches; a lavender church, a pink and white church and a Christian orphanage, all in sugar candy colors.

But when the colors fade this time they may stay faded. The money for such exuberance came from Muslim Indians working in Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and the Gulf states, out of work now, refugees from the Arab revolutions.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Arab Revolution

If I'd been around for the French and Russian Revolutions I'd have been watching TV all day. But they might not have been so inspiring, close up, as the Arab Revolution. I am so proud of the Arab people. (What, all of them?) All the people I've seen on TV. The brave, the articulate - Who knew there were so many articulate English-speaking students, young doctors, beautiful young mothers, in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, in Yemen. Why weren't we told? And all crying out for freedom, passionately alive.
But these are backward societies. We in the West are way past that. We mumble and sigh, especially us Democrats: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity...."
The Arab world is fresh as Wordsworth's: "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,/But to be young was very heaven!"
And it's not just the young who are in heaven: it's the solid women all in black, like gleeful nuns, the Tunisian engineers and Egyptian managers and gap-toothed, worn out laborers.

Well, we all know how the French and Russian revolutions went... but what about the British or American ones? Well, that pair were Anglo-Saxon. The Arab Revolution is full of Arabs. And we know they lack discipline and civic pride...except for the Egyptians and the citizens of Bengazi... and they don't value human life like we do...except for the Libyan pilots who crashed their planes rather than bomb and all the soldiers who refused to fire... and they are not really ready for the modern world except for twitter, face book, etc. And by the way, who was it in Egypt who ordered a pizza for the Union protesters in Wisconsin?

And just a note to all the Anglo-Saxon students who need to get fueled up to march and shout: Most of the Moslem crowds are totally, deliriously sober in their joy.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Start a blog and you are buzzed in to that hive of interconnectedness, The Social Network. Read The Does and Don'ts of orchid selling.. and it's on to Orchid Territory -a fun read and buy it here! Kosova Kosovo too - (Hey, did you know there are still our boys stationed in Kosovo?) - and of course, front and center, Motes Orchids and its delights. And now comes Motes Orchids family members actually putting on a whole show- the Tamiami International Orchid Festival!

....Which you didn't read about here. Which actually was two weeks ago, more now. I didn't blog about the Tamiami International Orchid Festival because I was too busy getting orchids ready for The Tamiami International Orchid Festival. That should have made me the perfect Twitterer. If there was ever someone primed to make short, breathless statements at irritating intervals it's definitely the person scrambling to fill a truck when an orchid show is on.
Breaking flower spikes, Biggest blue-just snapped off! **ghhjxxx!! (Can you swear on Twitter?) Where are eight inch baskets? Cash box! Loading 7 am. Bloody cold! C U there!

Then there was the Egyptian Revolution! Check out the Revolution but don't forget at Tamiami this weekend our Indian Species Special: Ten dollars each- three for twenty-five!

And who on earth is reading this anyway? I know my daughter has corralled about three colleagues in California but we can hardly expect them to be interested in ten dollar dendrobiums in Miami, even with three for 25,00. There's the great young orchid-loving dentist I met in India- to whom I owe a great long email - t0 also thank his Mum, etc. But By now be rude just to email... should really send a card...what's the postage to India?

Now when someone says "I loved your book when's the next one?" I say read my blog and email me! Let me know if you like it! But most people reading Orchid Territory are like me: the internet is not central to their lives. And they are puzzled by new words like "friending.' I need to use the old currency: You liked OT? The blog? Let me know. Just drop me a line - it's 44cents.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

M for Murder

So Mubarak supporters are crashing the party.
The President of Egypt is joining the contemporary M series:

Milosevic, destroying Yugoslavia in order to gain power.
Mugabe, destroying Zimbabwe in order to hold power
Mubarak destroying Egypt's peaceful protest in order to hang on.

But then there's Mandela.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Hurray for Egypt and Tunisia!

A few years ago I was lucky enough to visit Cairo; I had friends there. Everything I'd read or heard about Egyptians, and Cairenes especially, was good: mellow people. And there they were, in the midst of lethal traffic jams, the taxi drivers smiling and joking. I never felt worried to be A Woman Alone though of course by this time I was seen as nothing more than an LOL (Little Old Lady) Alone. (Go East, ladies, as you age and certainly in Moslem countries you will find the man in the street will treat you with respect and kindness, in total contrast to how they'll treat you when you are young and pretty.)
ANYWAY this is just a shout out to all Tunisians and especially Egyptians. Someone on CNN this morning reported that there were many lighthearted signs in the massive crowds calling for President Mubarak to go. One man was holding a sign up high, saying, "Hurry up, Mubarak, my arms are getting tired!"
One Egyptian in their very own Rally to Restore Sanity.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Heritage TV, the Big House

Watching Downton Abbey, the latest TV Heritage dose from the UK, I thought of my grandfather, head groom, my grandmother, the lady's maid, (a union not so much of Upstairs Downstairs as Inside Outside,) and my mother who recounted how she'd eaten stolen nectarines in the hayloft as a child, and ridden down to the village in the estate's dog cart. And then it all ended, just like it always does on the TV series, with the First World War.

When my mother left school she learnt shorthand and typing and worked for the LNER: the London North Eastern Railway and then, she landed right back in that declining Heritage world. My father, just married, was being taken on as a head gardener. He had, as they said, bettered himself. One of six, a mother widowed, living "at the rough end of the village," he had left school at twelve, to work in the fields. But he had a chance to go to the big house: being 'in service' was the education you could get as a poor child in the country.

They went straight from the wedding to the gardener's cottage at Rushbrook Hall, to be greeted by the housekeeper, Polly who opened their front door with a big iron key, which she then put back in her apron pocket.
Rushbrook Hall was Elizabethan. I saw something from it, I think a section of panelled staircase, in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. For my mother, the biggest problem there was the worry that my elder brother when he was small would wander off and fall in the moat.

The PBS Downton Abbey, like the movie, Gosford Park, shows the rules that bound the upper class as tightly as the servants: the upset that a gentleman would serve himself wine, put on his own coat. It made me think of our hotel stays in Malaysia and India: someone to pour the tea, add the milk, someone else to pull out the chair, to hover. If you do these things, the modern young man is asked in Downton Abbey, then what will he do? How will he earn a living?

Every detail is delectable: the gleaming antique furniture, the feathered hats, the bosomy blouses but one thing now is always out of place. As someone who was sent to classes to learn how to speak like a "Lidy," a little suburban Eliza Doolittle, I can't help but register the accents.

The young'uns in Downton Abbey, speak with the casual voices of modern upper class England. Posh voices now are funny. The dowager Aunts, the Maggie Smiths, can drawl and purse lips and raise their eyebrows and their sentences but if the young mangled their vowels, full of frightfullys and Mummys and Daddys - more Bertie Wooster than Prince William - we'd see them as posh, out of touch, spoiled rotten upper class twits. But back then they would have spoken like that and the servants would have bowed in acknowledgement and taken their coats and hats and polished their boots and, like my grandmother, who started off as a tweeny maid, lowest of the low, too low even to have a uniform, would have washed their floors and cleaned their grates.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Kerala, view from an SUV

Kerala means land of coconuts and the Indian-thin lanky coconut palms rose up everywhere beside the roads, behind the tiny shops festooned with clusters of bottled water and bananas. Like Malaysia, there was a heartening mix of churches, Christian schools, Hindu temples and many mosques, most newly painted. Must be money coming in from the Gulf states. So many people working there, said our Indian friends, so much money coming in: every home has a computer. And why so many school children? Kerala the state with the highest literacy. Two young boys did beg -they each asked for a pen. First the Christian missionaries established schools and now the Communists are a big part of government here. "Through the ballot,"as one of our colleagues said because they were seen to be good candidates but now just as corrupt as other politicians.

Everywhere words: on the trucks, FRIENDS, Bismillah!, Jesus Never Fails and on the back of trucks and buses, the most unnecessary command of all: Sound Horn! Above the shacks and tiny shops, signs promising a future: Digital Workshop, Beauty Academy, Internet Institute, Talent Academy, Perfect English Institute. Signs painted on fences and walls. Ideal Vests Briefs and Trunks painted on a succession of private garden walls, followed us all the way down to the Cape.
First day back, never before had the standard silent suburb seemed more like an empty stage set. Every house, every gate, clear cut and on display but where are the signs, the ads, the words, where is the noise, where are the trucks, the buses, the scooters, where is the color, where are the children? where are the people?

Notes on India -Where are the beggars?

OK so we didn't go to Mumbai or Calcutta but we were in Bangalore, (the information capital of the world, according to President Sarkozy, who was there at the same time.)
But no keeping the head down, barging through a dozen outstretched hands, no averting the eyes or handing out cheap coins to the maimed and old at our feet. All I can remember were two young girls outside a big temple, a dignified old man, like a monk; a girl, making faces, pressed up against the car window.
In fact, all the children we saw seemed to be coming home from school, the boys cheeky, the girls bashful. All in uniform, clean and tidy. And there can't be a more beautiful sight than a line of Indian school girls, slim and graceful, dark hair to their shoulders, walking home under those big old orchid-hosting trees, their uniforms a delight: deep blue scarves over pale blue tunics and deep blue trousers, cream colored tunics with vermilion.
I asked about poverty. The poor can buy rice at a special rate. That's one thing. Pressure to survive is obviously intense. In The Hindu Times: six lottery sellers have committed suicide because lottery draws were to be limited to one per week and "a number had turned to begging to make ends meet."