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Peeks and Piques!


ART TIMES October 2006

EVER SINCE I was a boy watching my mother plant and tend her flowers in our postage-stamp-sized backyard in Brooklyn, New York, I have found myself attracted by their varied and colorful beauty. I still recall her surreptitiously digging up roots from Highland or Prospect Park and, after carefully wrapping them in tissues already stored in readiness, stuffing them into her large pocketbook. Our backyard, then, boasted a rather exotic array, and even had a small fig tree that bore a handful of large, juicy reddish-brown fruits every year (my father’s particular province, he would painstakingly wrap it in burlap each autumn against the winter cold — thereby proclaiming his sole right to the harvest, a fact of life his children never questioned). When she wasn’t digging them up (“It’s not like I’m stealing them,” she would tell us with a straight face. “I’m just giving them a better home where they’ll get more care.”), she would press their full-blown blossoms between the pages of books (also, I assume, brought along for precisely this purpose since I don’t recall her ever being the bookish sort). If she wasn’t much a reader, however, she did know how to nurture her plants and our little backyard, with its variations of colorful flowerbeds, its sunken sink serving as a tiny pool and, of course, its fig tree, was the envy of the neighborhood, and whatever else she may have passed along to me, it was her love of flowers that has never left me. I now have my own flowers — even a couple of acres in which to plant (though the deer try their best to restrict where I may safely put them) — and although I don’t make raids on public parks, I do enjoy transplanting from the wilds — though I still have not been able to acclimatize a fig tree to our property. Flowers have always seemed a special gift to mankind, a persistent beauty that perennially returns to untilled lots and battlefields, an enduring sign that there is more to life than gathering wealth or slaying our neighbors. Even the ancient Greeks recognized their value, referring to any collection of beautiful literary pieces as an “anthology” — a word that literally means, “flower gathering”. For myself, I marvel at the mystery of a tiny seed containing not only bloom, but root, stem, leaf, hue, and, perhaps most mysterious, even scent! It is its own universe, existing and spreading its magic in spite of us. No one ever really owns a flower — perhaps one of the lessons my mother inadvertently passed on to me. I can enjoy not only my “own” flowers, but those of my neighbors as well. We just spent a week in the Loire Valley, aptly called France’s “garden spot”. Not only the larger towns, but each little village was festooned with flowers — flowers stretched across streets, overflowing flower boxes in almost every window, displayed in elaborate and beautiful arrangements at roundabouts, town squares, along paths and walkways. Flowers everywhere for the looking, for the pleasure of resident or casual passerby. And, between towns you’ll find acres of flowers — not only sunflowers which are raised for their oil, but vast stretches of fields covered with multi-colored flowers that are obviously not for any monetary end, but simply for sheer visual enjoyment. I know that this is just one more form of crop rotation — that next year this same field may well be sowed with wheat or corn or sunflowers — but I also know that those fields of color will merely occur to the right or left of where they appear today. How can you not admire a people that revel in beauty for its own sake? Oh, sure — I visited the chateaux and the wine caves; but it is the profusion of flowers that lingers in my mind, the abiding memory of my visit to that lovely river valley. So, now you know another of my secrets … do “real” men love flowers? Whatever. I even admit to admiring them in the well-wrought floral still life!