100 Days of Solitude: chpt 4

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Upsplash

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.


Day 74: Black Lives Matter:

Bona Fides: my mother’s people came over on the Hopewell, 3 ships or so after the Mayflower and landed in Plymouth. A cousin would brag we came over on the Mayflower and then add sardonically that we were well-bred and dirt poor.

I live in a building where the brown and black and other non-white complexions outnumber us whities. When I get off the elevator the only thing I remember about their appearance is whether they wore a mask. N.B. the children are incredibly beautiful. I once tried to describe a handyman to my sister – I had forgotten his name. She couldn’t figure out who I meant. “He put up my curtain hold-backs,” I said. “Oh, you mean G. Why didn’t you say he was black?” I stared at her. “He’s black?” I said.

We watch George Floyd dying as a policeman kneels on his neck for over 8 minutes. The next day we see the other angle – two other cops kneeling on his body. The cop on his neck had worked with  Floyd as a bouncer at a club. Police were called because Floyd had tried to pass a phony $20 bill, a capital punishment crime apparently. And how do you actually know you have a phony bill?

Demonstrations in support of  Black Lives Matter start across the United States and spread to Canada and around the world and they don’t stop, day after day, night after night. By day 78, Minneapolis is in flames.Then Atlanta and all across the country, cities are burning..

In December 2017, I had been talking to my ex-husband, Blake. We both loathed Donald Trump who gave us new reasons every day. Absentmindedly, I said, “I can see the cities burning.” It was a truly nasty vision and I put it well away. Blake didn’t. He kept repeating it as if it was his idea. He had had stage 4 cancer for 10 years and was only then beginning to weaken. In January 2019, it was clear he needed me and our son to take a hand in his care. He kept talking about cities burning and only Bernie Sanders could stop it. He thought it was a class revolution. He died before Bernie lost and well before the vision that I couldn’t remember came true.

Day 79: Watching the L.A. demonstration on TV at midnight, I was moved to call my grandson there. He had just got back from marching. He had been hit by rubber bullets three times, one glanced off his gas mask (!!), one hit his backpack, which he was wearing on his front (no score) and one made his foot bleed. At least eight people in the U.S. lost an eye to rubber bullets.

The Floyd family appeals to demonstrators to stop the carnage and they do. My grandson decides before that it is too dangerous and stops going.

Demonstrations continue. Trump retreats to his bunker. For inspection purposes. Then he calls some sort of military force out to clear Lafayette Square in front of the White House, so he can walk to the church across the square without permission from said church and hold up a Bible. One of the clergy of that church has just been tear gassed and another driven back from her first-aid post.

(Day 75: My Super Power

By the power of my negotiating skills, I save a marriage. It has to be saved again a few weeks later, but the couple can, by then, do it themselves.)

I have marched in many demonstrations, sometimes with my husband and small children, always for social justice causes. I was union rep when I taught. I hear Canadians sanctimoniously declare there is no systemic racism in Canada. While it is true since we didn’t have slavery, our racism may be harder to see, white people don’t get to decide that. Native people do and black and brown and yellow people, immigrants, do. Only they can see it.

Seers only
to avoid
Sinche, Sinche 

Day 92: As a child, I was shut in boxes. Not for punishment. Far from it. I was a ‘special’ child. For one thing I had webbed toes. I was shut in boxes for increasingly longer periods of time so that I would develop my psychic skills. I was not keen on being special or shut in boxes or being psychic. But my cult was. The cult is shut down now, but I still know what’s in the mail before I open the box or when a loved one is in trouble and I see cinema-scope productions in my head – just flashes – momentary glimpses. Of the future.

Trump decided to hold a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I fight off these flashes for days, but then a week before it happens, in an unguarded moment, I have a horrific vision. It is at night. It has no color. But then colors can’t be seen at night. I try to focus on my TV program, but finally, I have to phone my sister. I find I can’t actually talk. But she knows me. She waits until I begin blurting it out. By now I can’t get my breath, I am shaking uncontrollably, I feel as if my head is going to explode and I want to vomit. Little by little she drags it out of me – the noise of explosions and falling fire, airplanes, rushing fire, machine gun shots, screams and  running feet. “It’s destroyed,” I say. “The whole town is destroyed. There’s nothing left but black ruins. The people are gone. They’re going to destroy Tulsa.” Trump’s followers fighting the BLM people. “It already happened,” she says. “Don’t get metaphysical on me,” I all but yell. “No, no, stop,” she says. “It happened in 1921. You’re seeing the past. It’s called the Greenwood Massacre. Look it up on your phone.”

While she tells me what she remembers from a recent report, I scan through the Wikepedia entry and race on to the next article. The prosperous black community of Greenwood leveled to the ground, looted, 300 people dead, 6,000 -black people of course – taken into custody for 8 days. Residents, impoverished, homeless, wandering.

“Why would I be seeing that?” I demand. Georgie sighs, “All time is one. You know the drill. You’ve seen it before probably.” I hate that idea. Al time is one. Everything that happened, happens or will happen is happening now. The panic threatens to restart. Some days of my life have been so awful that I want them sealed safely in the past.

Day 100: The day of the Tulsa rally arrives. the rally is ill-attended, partly because teenagers who do not intend to attend reserve seats on Tik Tok, partly because Trumpers are not that stupid. They prefer not to die of Covid. There are very few anti-rally demonstrators. A Republican senator subsequently gets Covid, along with a good many others no doubt.













Stinky Flower – a personal reflection on Amorphophallus titanum


Last week ( Sun April 21) an Amorphophalus titanum or corpse flower bloomed in Edmonton, a noteworthy event. There are only about 5 such cultivated blooms a year, world-wide, and an individual plant does not bloom for several years. In its natural habitat, the jungles of Sumatra, there are probably more.

The one at the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton, Alberta was the first to bloom in western Canada. It grew from a dormant 225 lb tuber flown up from Boston last fall. The bloom lasted for a little over 24 hours, attracted 3,500 visitors and smelled like rotting flesh.

It was my privilege to be in the right place -within driving distance of the Huntington Library- at the right time -August 6, 2002 – to see the Amorphophallus titanum in full bloom and redolent of corpse.

People actually do fly great distances to witness this miracle. One of those was Jen Gerson, the National Post reporter, who wrote “Thousands Come for Rare Bloom”, (Wed. April 24, 2013) But, alas, Jen arrived Tuesday by which time the flower had wilted and its perfume abated. I can attest to that short life span. I went back to the Huntington on Saturday, August 10, 2002 and found the 6 ft spadex or”phallus” wilted and even more amorphus (ill-shaped).

The tallest specimen on record appears to have been 9 ft. tall. Even the one I saw dwarfed all viewers as they huddled leeward.

My encounter with the Stinky Flower occurred at a low point in my life. I had fallen into one of those black moods where you can’t remember how to put one foot in front of the other. It did seem like a reckless plan to keep my 8 year-old grandson, Leo, out of school and set out from Culver City. It’s easy to get there I was told: go to the end of the 110 where it turns into South Arroyo, turn right onto California and then Allen. This advice for a person who could no longer master left, right, left.

Leo’s safety seemed to concentrate my mind, however, and we found ourselves waiting in a long line in the hot sun, being plied with free bottles of water. Leo was very excited by the prospect of a really bad smell. The Huntington had thoughtfully called it a Stinky Flower so as not to upset childish sensibilities by calling it Corpse Flower. Sir David Attenborough had invented his own name when he featured the plant in his series “The Secret Life of Plants”, feeling that repetition of Amorphophallus titanum would be inappropriate. He called it titan arum.

As we waited, we boned up on why it smells so bad. It’s all a question of the birds and the bees, wouldn’t you know or, more precisely carrion beetles and flies which pollinate the plant. These flies, children were told, fed on decaying meat. Leo, being Leo, got the straight goods out of me by careful questioning.

The Post report described the smell as a diaper pail that’s been left out in the garbage in hot weather or minnows forgotten on a boat. The closer we got, the more people covered their noses. Even Leo began to wonder if he was up to it. Despite the still hot air, the porch where the plant stood seemed to have an air current and we kept circling until we could stand the putrid odour. It was definitely trial by smell.

The spadex apparently has a velvety texture, is shaped, according to one report, like a French loaf and is purple, a visual imitation of putrefying flesh. The huge cup-shaped flower is also purple inside and green outside.

When we had had all we could take (and out of deference to those out there waiting in the sun) we retreated to a cafe table with an sun umbrella. By chance the docent who had given the “tour” talk sat at the next table. Where, demanded Leo, could he get some of those seeds. A lively discussion ensued about possible places where he could grow such a plant.

He was not so interested in the HUntington’s other offerings – a first folio edition of Hamlet, a Guttenberg Bible or Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

That night, I dreamed I was a young woman, very depressed, and I had been asked to a formal dance by Blake. I knew he would get me a floral corsage and that in the course of the evening, it would die and get repulsive so that I would have a hard time wearing it. Indeed when we met for the event, he was no longer the tanned, trim, athletic boy he actually was but slightly over-weight, soft and -how did I know- hopelessly behind in technology. When I woke up, I felt as if I had created something of great scope and beauty, which had morphed into something noxious and ugly. And that was before I went back and saw the wilted titum arum.

I said I was going back to peer at the old books, but I made for the stinky flower right away and while I spent time with the books, I also spent much time just sitting in the garden.

Our Stinky Flower had previously bloomed in 1999 and an offset seedling from that plant gave rise to a new plant that bloomed at the Huntington in 2009 and again in 2010.

Then last week, as depression lapped around my edges, I came across the Post article. Amorphophallus titanum had come back into my life. Things are greatly changed. I am far from the Huntington. Leo is as tall as the spadex of our Stinky Flower, an adult and very much his own person, but then he always has been. He did not follow through on those early biology interests. He’s more of a troubadour. What hasn’t changed is that, what Churchill called the Black Dog, is still dogging some of us.

Well, so be it. The Stinky Flower has its own amazing beauty and its stink can be endured.