in the exhibition area of the New York Botanical Garden’s Annual Orchid Show.
And is there any better kind of hush? Especially on a cold and blustery late winter day in the Bronx.
Orchid lovers endure heart palpitations all around. At least those not too consumed with taking pictures.
Photographers are legion here. So many photo opps, so little time.
Orchids posing throughout the place. You’d think they know they’re beautiful.
Who cares if they are vain? They deserve the attention.
Some amazing specimens here. The cane orchid.
So rare and yet so common.
As Chet Baker has it most cornily in My Funny Valentine:
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable
Yet you’re my favorite work of art
I can name them if pressed. Not if the flowers are pressed, I mean if it is desired that I know their names. There is the slipper orchid.
The ghost orchid.
The moth orchid.
Most familiar is the corsage orchid, the one you’ll find at every prom.
But the anonymous ones, or the ones in front of which I am muscled aside by fellow Iphone snappers, are really just as fine.
I can also tell you the orchid’s biological features: the fused male and female parts in one structure, called the column; the solid, sticky masses of pollen, called pollinia; a modified petal called a labellum, which insects use as a landing platform. The lip might be small or large, ridged, ruffled, or pouch-shaped. Somehow it all sounds too sexy. Let’s have some innocent flowers, shall we?
After a turn or two down the humid pathways, Gil asks, “Have we been this way before?”
Who knows? In a haze of orchid splendor, before and after fade. It is total tropical immersion. My head spins. My mind fills with fantasies, dreams, nightmares, poetry. Didn’t a monster grab me last night in my sleep?
There is actually poetry conveniently installed here by the powers that be, verse by Wang Huizhi:
I release my feelings among these hills and streams;
Carefree and detached, I forget all constraints…
If you can tear your eyes away from the petals, NYBG has other treasures. Look up.
Or look down.
A king anthurium hailing from Colombia.
A floss-silk tree, from Peru.
As a break from the sometimes-a-tad-too-sweet orchids, I also like to observe what goes on behind the scenes. The vegetation trash in a bin.
Staff gardeners comparing notes.
All around above our heads there is a sound… kind of like birdsong. Are there birds in here? asks a woman, focusing her camera above at the staghorn fern.
Also, what is that thing? I tell her there is a label, it’s a staghorn fern. Oh, she says, I think it’s the sound of the wind.
Go through the flame-draped tunnel…
And you will find… more orchids.
I like my cigar but I take it out of my mouth once in a while, says Gil, quoting Groucho Marx.
Yes, there are a lot of orchids here.
Strangely, it turns out we know the young lady who “designed” the show.
She is the daughter of an old friend, and I happen to know that her big brother is named Huckleberry. She did a great job here.
Along the way it is possible to learn that the most rare color for orchids is blue. But I see no blue orchid among the thousands here. I ask a security guard, Have you seen a blue orchid here?
No, he says helpfully. But I think there’s one at the library. In a pot. Nice idea, but then we’d have to take ourselves out of the fragrant sauna into the cold gale outside. We’ll stick to the fleshy white ones here.
Eventually it is necessary to exit. You like orchids?… Nasty things. Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men, their perfume has the rotten sweetness of corruption. That’s from the noir classic The Big Sleep.
The gift shop offers johnny jump ups, a welcome respite from the orchidium.
And… more orchids, of the 24-dollar variety.
Let’s pretend orchids are really as special as they seem to think they are.
They deserve the glory.
At least once a year.