“I must have flowers, always and always.” – Claude Monet
‘Amen’ to that, Monsieur Monet. I’m at my best when flowers are in sight. Flowers lift my spirits. They make my heart lighter and my home homier.
I don’t need an extravagant bunch. A single bloom, preferably from my garden, will do the trick. It’s funny – as much as I enjoy having flowers in the house, I hesitate to pay for a bunch. I never buy blooms that don’t last, like refrigerated roses, tulips and gerberas. It’s too sad to watch them wilt after a day or two without fully opening.
But lasting flowers are another story. I am happy to lash out on a bunch that endure. I’ve found sunflowers are the best; sometimes I can get more than a week, almost two, before the leaves turn yellow and the water goes putrid.
Lilies are good lasters too, and I always pick a fresh bunch with tightly closed blooms. I like the architectural look and the promise of the unopened blossoms, especially in arranged in a clear glass bowl. I prefer white or red lilies, because their petals are tinged with green.
I splurged on two $4.99 bunches of lilies from Aldi, thinking they were red, but it turned out they were the pink oriental variety, which I usually avoid because of their slightly overpowering scent. It’s been a week, and they’re all open now (see top photo). I think they look perfect in front of my Chinese scroll.
“If you share a destiny, you’ll go a thousand miles to meet.” I learned this Chinese proverb while studying Mandarin in Beijing in the 80s. While there, I met and fell in love with the man who has been my husband for the past twenty-eight years. When I’d left him in Beijing to go on a study tour, I didn’t know if I’d ever see him again, if it had been some ill-fated summer romance or whirlwind travel fling.
I was moping about on the three-day train trip to Kunming, when one of the tour’s professors asked me what was wrong. I told her I was heartsore, and she smiled at me knowingly (I think she suddenly worked out why I’d failed my last written exam). She gave my hand a pat and rattled off the proverb. It was so soothing to my lovesick heart. I asked her to write it down, and when we reached our destination, I sought out an artist.
I found one sitting on the street curb outside a market. That should have been the first red flag. We agreed on a price and he unrolled some paper, spat on his ink stone and began rubbing his nub of an ink stick to make a sticky puddle of black ink. The lack of calligraphy brush was the second red flag. No brush for this guy – he used his long, rather festy fingernails to create brushstrokes. Communist street art? Who knew – but it was too late to hunt for someone else. Third red flag: He had to ask a passerby how to write ‘yuan‘, the complicated second character that means ‘shared destiny’ or ‘entwined karma’ (as it was explained to me by my professor). The passerby ‘drew’ the character in the air and berated the calligrapher’s ignorance. At least I think that’s what went down. He may have said, “Don’t worry about it. The foreigner won’t know any better. By the way, what ridiculous price did you get her to pay?”
Alarm bells fading in the background, I walked away a satisfied customer, calligraphy in hand. I sent it to Paul, and he took it to Chinatown to have it mounted in the traditional way, on white brocade with wooden rolls. Eventually, I moved to Australia and we got married and hung the scroll in our first little flat. Sadly, it got ruined when we left the windows open in a summer storm.
That was a long time ago, but I’ve never forgotten the Chinese saying. I even wrote a YA novel called A Thousand Miles to Meet, based on the sentiment (not on our story though).
A few years ago, I told some friends, Rob and Heather, about the proverb and the scroll. The saying intrigued them because they’d adopted a darling little girl from China, led a thousand miles by destiny to meet, just as Paul and I had done. After a business trip to China, Rob and Heather popped in for a visit. They pulled out a surprise: a new scroll to replace the one that was lost all those years ago. It’s one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received.