Saturday, May 1, 2010

Pole Dancing

America seems to miss out on all of the good stuff. Take May Day, for example.

Long before Christian Europeans, anarchists, and Socialists adopted (and inevitably transformed) the May Day holiday, Druids celebrated the Beltane (and central and northern Europeans Walpurgisnacht) by alighting fires both to encourage the springtime sun into summer intensity and to purify the community in exchange for agricultural abundance. Then the occupying hordes from the south came along and gave Beltane a decidedly Roman flavor: celebrations were geared more towards honoring Flora, the goddess of flowers, and less towards ritual purification of cattle and crops. At least emphasis remained on the agricultural and botanical.

Christian adoption of the holiday brought purity back into the fore—this time by celebrating a chaste young woman who was anointed Queen of the May. She would be crowned not with thorns (as the Romans and the Christians were wont to do) but with flowers, and celebrants would engage in a less provocative form of pole dancing than we today would think: they would not wrap legs but garlands of lovely flowers around the pole as dancers skipped gaily around it and each other.

In my sometimes warped mind, I think that such frivolity would only encourage the very behaviors the holiday’s Christian celebrants warned against: drinking, dancing, cavorting, holding hands, frolicking…But my thinking is not so perverse as the reader may conclude. Floralia was a feast for the body: nudity and merriment reigned; the point was to celebrate and encourage fertility (of the soil, of the body, and my prudence likes to think of the mind as well, though I am convinced that probably wasn’t the point). Put in a Victorian moralist frame, the Roman and pagan holiday was a licentious, not a virtuous one, a dramatic assertion of living and not a celebration of the solemnity of life. (Me: I prefer living over life, so sign me up as a death panel candidate if I ever face the misfortune of suffering the end of my days in incurable, severe pain, or lose control of thought and speech and become irreversibly disconnected from the world of the living.)

But I digress.

To celebrate May Day and publicize her fertility, nature has rewarded me with these curious lovely flowers that had been planted by 410's previous owner but did not bloom until this year: Ornithogalum umbellatum, a.k.a. the ordinary Star of Bethlehem or Grass Lily. I love the way the white accentuates the silver of the Argentina anserina, a.k.a. Silver Cinquefoil, or Silverweed and the white edges of the hosta.

After a long cool spell, the rhododendron began to burst open yesterday, as did the Lena Scotch Broom. Last year, the azalea and the rhododendron coordinated their bloom times which transformed the front garden into a sea of fuchsia, but this year the plants staggered their displays, probably because each wanted to be the center of attention on its own terms. Rhodie is this year's May Pole, though not the sort we usually see.

And to my delight, my Siberian irises will provide me with flowers this year (the photo shows the purple-hued buds)! They protested their transplant two years ago by withholding their blooms and causing me to spiral into despair.

Happy May Day to all! Happy Floralia! Celebrate, and be thankful for not simply the bare fact of life, but the intricate and complex joys of living!

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