Bygone orchid trade among trivial matters in writer’s head

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It all started innocently enough. “Is there any whipping cream in the fridge?” my wife asked as she stirred the cake batter in the mixing bowl. “WHIPPING CREAM,” I yelled in her direction. “Why are you shouting and what is the matter with you?” she fired back, giving me that look. I explained to her that I like booming out “whipping cream” when I hear those two words because it reminds me of the saga of the Allman Brothers Band and their song “Whipping Post.” My wife stared at me blankly.

Okay, here’s the story. The Allman Brothers were a highly successful southern rock and roll band in the early 1970s. One night, as they were playing to a sold-out audience in Atlanta, just as there was a perfect moment of stillness in between songs in their set, an extremely loud voice in the audience boomed out “WHIPPING POST.” This was the title of one of the band’s hit songs, which they usually reserved for their closing number or for their encore. However, the timing and sheer force of the call from the audience compelled them to change the set order and break into a boisterous rendition of the rocker.

It wasn’t long before that same voice from that same fan began following the band around from city to city, concert to concert. His timing was impeccable, always at the quietest moment in the show, the cry would go out for “WHIPPING POST.” Soon the phenomenon caught on and others at Allman Brothers shows began yelling out the two dreaded words before, after, and during the songs the band was performing. It got to the point where, before founding member Duane Allman died in a motorcycle crash, all you could hear at an Allman Brothers concert was people yelling “WHIPPING POST.”

Why relate this irrelevant tidbit? It’s simply one example of the thousands of minutiae occupying valuable real estate in this overcrowded organ I call my brain. There has been virtually no room for any new information to be stored therein since about the time the Berlin Wall came crumbling down.

You want more evidence of the minutiae clogging up my mind? Sure, I can tell you that 71 per cent of the earth’s surface is covered in water, or that during coitus, the female praying mantis bites off the head of the male and later feeds herself by devouring the rest of his body. However. The minutiae I usually let loose are long, rambling tales that extend from nowhere to nowhere.

For instance, there’s an island just a few miles north of Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast of B.C. called Nelson Island. One fine day back in the early ‘70s, I sailed up to the island with my friend, Roy. After anchoring in a sheltered bay, we hiked along one of the trails that led us to an area containing the remains of large semi-decaying wooden frames of buildings that looked like they might have been used as greenhouses long ago. Later that day we ran into a grizzled squatter who was a Yankee survivalist waiting for “the s—t to come down” (there was a lot of that kind of thinking going on at the time). He told us that the rotting structures we had seen earlier were indeed the last vestiges of a glorious era on Nelson Island when a large community of Finns had established a hugely successful commercial greenhouse operation that specialized in growing orchids.

This was in the 1920s, and it wasn’t too long before these plucky Finns had cornered the world orchid market. Weekly, large boats sailed into the harbour nearby and loaded up with the valuable flora cargo. Unfortunately, other countries realized the value of the orchid commodity. In just a few years, the competition grew exponentially and the global price dropped decidedly as the bottom fell out of the orchid market. The once thriving Nelson Island community went bust.

Had enough? I’ve got more. Much, much more. On the south coast of Crete, the largest Greek island in the Aegean Sea, lies the town of Matala. During the ‘60s, this small fishing village became a mecca to hundreds of European and North American hippies and anarchists seeking the nirvana of a free life/love society. The large harbour and beach were lined with steep but climbable sandstone cliffs into which, over eons of time, the sea spray and weather had hollowed out dozens of deep caves. These very same caves, which had in their day housed post Stone Age lepers and Roman crypts for the dead, now became makeshift dwellings for the freak foreigners who streamed into the little village. When I turned up there in 1970, the graffiti they had scrawled and painted on the sandstone walls still remained, often standing out in relief because the paint had kept the sandstone beneath from weathering and eroding. Pidgin English slogans such as “today is forever/tomorrow never come” and “make love/then make love more” remind us today of an era not quite forgotten. Even Canadian poet and folksinging legend Joni Mitchell spent time living in a Matala cave and references the experience in her song “Carrie” (“the night is a starry dome/and they’re playin’ that scratchy rock and roll/beneath the Matala moon”).

Eventually, the despotic military junta dictatorship ordered the army in, and the hippies were rounded up and evicted from the caves. In 1984, I returned to Matala to find the village devoid of hippies and the caves barren. Instead, the beach had become a tourist beehive of seminude Germans, Brits and Swedes, and not a word of Greek could be heard except from the beach vendors hawking their coloured prayer beads to the sunburnt foreigners.

On a whim, I hiked up one of the steep trails that led me up over the ridge and down into the next bay which was secluded in comparison to the Matala scene. As I descended, I was almost blinded by the glare of what looked to be a gigantic jewel on the beach. It glistened like the sun, in all its intensity, had half buried itself in the sand. When I finally reached the beach, I was able to make out the actual source of the glare. The blinding jewel was nothing but a monstrous pile of empty plastic water bottles reflecting the stark sunlight. They had been left behind over the decades by every hippie, anarchist and bloody tourist who had ventured over the same ridge as I had just done. In plastic talk, the pile proved indeed “today is forever.”

Nobody asked me, but I can only hope that unloading these minutiae from my brain into yours will free up some space for new trivia to squeeze its way in. The worms are now free to roam about your little neural passageways. The only problem is that I have so many more to divest. So many, that I will have to save them for the next issue of “Nobody Asked Me But….”

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