Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Upside of Early

This morning, I was wide awake at 5:30 and after lying in bed unable to fall back to sleep, I decided to get up and seize the wee hours of a Los Angeles weekend. Considering our population and what it usually means for a commute anywhere, there really is nothing like hitting the 101 this bright and early. My destination: the Los Angeles Flower District.

Located in downtown, this is one of the largest wholesale flower markets in the United States. And it was breathtaking. Literally every kind of flower you could imagine to the point where it was hard to choose which ones to take home. Some had the names of the flora on white cards floating above and I tried to memorize the names: celosia, amaranthus, cymbidiums. I imagined how I would create bouquets and table arrangements from some, studying the shape and the stems from a respectful distance. The vendors all greeted me with kindness in spite of their early hours. Then again, waking up to work in a room full of the most beautiful objects on the world, like movie stars flown overnight from far off destinations, couldn't be a very bad way to start your day. The smell of each little bloom waking up and releasing its scent into the air made the sensory experience even more intoxicating.

I stopped at one vendor to seek out another vase after my first Ikebana class, and was met by a Japanese woman who shared her appreciation for the art. She told me that in Japanese homes, because they are much smaller, you really only see a bouquet from one side, and said that being in a kimono and doing Ikebana is one of the most wonderful parts of life. She gave me a much appreciated discount and we exchanged an "Arigato gozaimasu."

Some of the flowers I found to be interesting for their color and versatility, especially for this time of year were:

Ornamental millet (Pennisetum glaucum 'Jade Princess'): Having the shape of a cattail, this fluffy chocolate brown flower seemed masculine and very seasonal. They are noted for their hardiness and eventually get darker and darker to almost black.

Chinese lanterns (Physalis alkekengi): I loved these when I worked at a flower shop before and with their bright orange hue, they definitely stand out. They almost look like little toys, last a long time and work well for dried arrangements too.

Branch of Persimmons ((Diospyros kaki): This variety looks like a bunch of miniature pumpkins on a stem. I might be back for these closer to Halloween.

Chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus): Another great fall flower and great if you want an arrangement that's more masculine. An added bonus: late in the day they actually start to smell like chocolate. But please, don't eat them.

I really think there is a floral designer in all of us and while the market and variety were a bit intimidating, I doubt any flower shop would be able to offer the prices and freshness you can get with an early morning adventure to your own local flower or Farmers market.

Friday, October 16, 2009

My first attempt at Ikebana. There is such a beautiful artistic method and sort of meditation to creating these arrangements. The display honors the design and space surrounding each flower or plant instead of the color explosion known more frequently here in the West. Our Sensai, Hisako Shohara, instructed us in the "Rising Form" beginning with the placement of the subject, the tallest and most primary flower, the object, which is the second one placed near the front at a 45 degree angle, and the filler. Each element is cut and placed to give support to the subject, but they all stand alone. Although there are certain guidelines for this art form, none of those created in class looked alike.

I really loved the way Ikebana let each flower truly be seen. The harmony and sentiment behind letting each stand on its own form and beauty was akin to how I hope all my friends and family feel. We aren't just roses and babies breath shoved in a vase; we each bring something unique and breath-taking, supporting one another and honoring the beautiful space we fill together. It isn't just our blooms that are worth seeing, but our stems, backsides, the shape we take as we grow and the way we bend and form throughout life that adds depth and grace to what we make together.

On a humorous note: Kaz pointed out that in the film "Lost in Translation" Scarlett Johansson's character, Charlotte, begins studying Ikebana to ease her boredom while her husband is at work and where she contemplates leaving him. After one class, I am only inspired to leave Kaz early enough in the morning to check out the downtown flower market.