Monday, July 15, 2013

Drawer #1.7: The Peony & The Orchid

To talk casually
About an iris flower
Is one of the pleasures
Of the wandering journey. 

From The Record of a Travel-worn Satchel by the 17th ct. Japanese poet Basho

The peony, mu dan  牡丹花, is a much favored flower among the Chinese. It was named "male vermilion flower" in the late sixth century by the infamous concubine of the Emperor Gaozhong who later went on to rule China as the Empress Wu. When depicted in paintings & decor,  it signifies power, wealth and rank. Surprisingly, given its lushness, it is associated with yang 阳, the male principle.

The orchid,  lan hua  兰花, is associated with yin 阴, with women, beauty and virtue ( & not "sex without love" as in Proust...) It stands for refinement & elegance; for me, the orchid conjures up Shanghai's Glamour Bar where it is always on display & "hai pai," the style that defined Shanghai in the good ol'/bad ol' days. (For a taste of all those flavors, here's the podcast of Lynn Pan talking about her  book, Shanghai Style: Art & Design Between the Wars.) At the flower markets, I revel in the rush of seeing entire room-sized stalls filled solid with violet & white phalaenopsis orchids.

I put the drawer together for the colors...apparently I, too, think that violet & pink look good together...and for the fakery of the I'm surprised to read all these associations in my favorite book on Chinese symbology, Patricia Bjaaland Welch's  Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs & Visual Imagery. Turns out that the two flowers also both represent spring...

and then there's the serendipitous conjunction of yin & yang for the season of the birds and the bees...
Drawer 1.7: From top (1) Artificial orchid, with support post decorated in gold lame as is often seen here on the columns of buildings...the trick is to tape on long stripes of double sticky tape & then ruche the lame...(2) Artificial peony (3) Metal tin containing traditional chinese medicines (4) Orchid
Photo credit for drawer: Bruno David

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