Perspectives

  • Issue 99 / May - June 2014



    A Dialogue of Flowers

    Meryem Akgun

    The wind gently touched my soft petals. They slightly swayed back and forth to the beat of the wind. It was cooler here than in our homeland. But it didn't feel uncomfortable.

    My leaves reflected the moonlight. I looked up at the moon, and it looked back at me brightly. But even its lights seemed somehow unfamiliar to me.

    I slowly turned my flower head to the right to watch my brothers and sisters. They all looked pretty exhausted from the long journey, and in their face I saw the same concerns as mine. They, too, felt like strangers here.

    Feeling a little bit depressed, I sighed and just wanted to sleep, but in this precise moment a move in the dark bushes that separated the garden from the fence attracted my attention. I caught sight of a small hyacinth. She looked at me curiously, as I smiled at her with mild exertion.

    My smile was returned immediately, and visibly excited she gave a sign to those behind her. All of a sudden, there appeared a bevy of hyacinths, closely followed by - I could not recognize them right away - small carnations and roses.

    Chatting and giggling, they hopped over to me and I realized that they were thrilled. A small carnation stumbled while running and fell to the ground. The hyacinth, which I saw first, ran back to her and helped her up.

    The flower children surrounded me, eyeing me curiously. I smiled back at them kindly, a little nervous. Unexpectedly, they all erupted into laughter. I hadn't seen such vivid flower children for a long time.

    The hyacinth took the little carnation that had stumbled by the hand and started to speak:

    "You and your siblings did arrive just now, didn't you?"

    I nodded, hoping that she was old enough to guess that I simply wanted to have my peace and quiet. But unfortunately, she apparently wasn't... None of these little children were.

    A murmur went through the swarm of children.

    "Wow! Then you are a tulip, aren't you? We have heard of you tulips. You guys are the first tulips coming from there," said the hyacinth, pointing east. Her big eyes were shining with enthusiasm.

    Yes, the East. From there, I came here; from a land where the sun rose and sometimes only reluctantly went down again.

    My petals cramped. It had been very painful to leave that wonderful place, my home and my people.

    As if reading my gloomy thoughts, the hyacinth said:

    "It's really beautiful here in the West! God showers us with water and it is pleasantly cool, sometimes even colder than we would like. Besides, we are well treated. The people are really fond of us."

    These words reminded me of the magnificent brightly lit tulip festivals, which used to be celebrated in the Ottoman Empire, of the nights made into days, and of the wonderful names we have been given, like face of the beloved or lucky star. At once I felt warm all over my carpels.

    But once again, grief seized my flower head, and my sepals sank slightly due to their oppressive severity. "How long are you here, now?" I asked the kids, only to divert my attention from these thoughts.

    The hyacinth shrugged her leaves:

    "I don't know exactly, but I think it was my great-grandparents, who were brought here." The other flower children nodded doubtfully. They didn't know anymore.

    "Do you actually know anything of the country from which you, and..." - I briefly swallowed - " ... I originated?" They shook their heads. They were so young, so inexperienced. I smiled and sighed acquiescently, because I had to suppress my fatigue.

    "Would you love to learn something about your country from me?" I asked.

    The hyacinth politely set me straight:

    "Here is our homeland. Here we were born, and here we are living in peace and joy with each other. I know my homeland. But I would pretty much like to hear something about the country where you and our great-grandparents come from."

    Smiling back at her, I was slightly confused about this answer. She was very smart, for sure, and would be a wise flower.

    "Well, then sit down. I want to tell you about my homeland that is also the land of your ancestors." They bounced close, and formed a semicircle around me with their eyes curiously focused on me.

    "I am a tulip and I used to live and prosper in the Ottoman Empire, where I was surrounded with every imaginable flower. The Turks love us so much so that we have become an important part of their art and literature."

    Again a murmur was heard, and I had to smile about the naive way of these children. My fatigue and my gloomy mood slowly vanished. It was nice to relive those memories again.

    "I don't want to dive too deep into this topic. But we all are common motifs of the so-called Quatre-Fleur style of the Ottomans in the crafts." It still made me very proud when I thought of it.

    The hyacinth intervened:

    "In this country, people say that we flowers have our own language. Each of us has a very special meaning for them and is given away as a present on certain occasions."

    I looked at her in surprise and let her continue. It sounded exciting.

    "And not only have the flowers special meanings, but their colors as well." The children in the semicircle nodded in agreement. "Tulips, for example, symbolize love and affection. Lovers present each other red tulips. Orange symbolizes fascination and blue means a promise of fidelity."

    My stamens trembled with joy when I heard that. How beautiful, indeed!

    "This brings me back to the Ottomans," I smiled at the children. "They also have something like a language of flowers, but somehow different from yours. They, for example, place yellow roses on the window sill, which is saying something like: there are sick or old people living in this house. In this way, passersby were prompted to behave quietly, which they did."

    I gave the flower children a short while to digest this new information, which apparently pleased them.

    "By the way, do you actually know where I originally come from?" I asked them. They shook their heads. "My ancestors once left their home as well and were brought into the Ottoman Empire."

    The astonished hyacinth interrupted me:

    "Does that mean that this isn't the first migration?"

    I gave her a nod. "Your ancestors were not the first, and I certainly won't be the last who moves from one place to another in this wide world. There have always been trade relations between nations, and this will certainly remain so."

    The children smiled at me.

    "And from where did you come to the Ottoman Empire?" the little carnation asked me timidly.

    "Well, my real home ... We tulips were already mentioned by the Greek writer Xenophon, who lived from 430 to 354 BC. And in the fourteenth century the Persian poet Hafez introduced my species into literature. He called us Lale, and this name so much appealed to the Ottomans that they adopted it."

    "In Turkish garden culture we had our heyday with Sultan Ahmet III. At that time, a whole era was named after us: The Tulip Era - Lale devri, which began in 1718. The tulip hype exceeded all bounds. There were 1323 different varieties."

    "Do they only have tulips over there?"

    I shook my flower head. "No. The Ottomans had many flowers, including hyacinths as well. A part of the courtyard gardens of the Sultan were always reserved for you, the hyacinths; and this is still the case today."

    The hyacinths giggled again and whispered to each other. "See, I told you," the first hyacinth whispered to the others.

    "The poet Fazli, an Ottoman poet, often wove the hyacinth motif into his poems," I continued. "And in Edirne and Istanbul, there are meadows covered with fragrant hyacinths."

    "Do you also know where we came to the Ottomans from?" another hyacinth, tall but very thin, asked.

    "From the gardens of Baghdad and Aleppo," I told her. A murmur rose again. The crowd of children thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

    "How exciting," they blurted.

    Thus I added, "by the way, you folks came to Europe in the sixteenth century." While they kept on jabbering with each other, the little pink carnation looked at me expectantly. Then she squeaked hesitant and softly:

    "Have you also got flowers like me in the Ottoman Empire?"

    I smiled at her. "Carnations, you mean?"

    She nodded eagerly, and her cute petals shook with her head.

    "Of course, even at the time of Theophrastus, in 300 BC, you were already growing. But I guess it was the Arabs who brought you to the Ottomans. At least, you got your name from them. The Arabs call you Qaranful, which is probably derived from the Latin Caryophyllus or from the Greek Karyphillon. And the Ottomans call you Karanfil."

    The eyes of the flower children widened and they tried to repeat the name slowly. Apparently they liked it very much.

    For the first time, a small rose spoke up, slowly and gracefully as is to be expected from a rose:

    "And what about us? What did we mean to the Ottomans?"

    Again, I had to smile. What a question!

    "Roses are sacred to all Muslims and, therefore, also to the Ottomans. They play a major role in Turkish culture." The roses looked at me in surprise. "The Ottomans never left rose petals lying on the floor because rose in their tradition symbolized the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him."

    "Wow," the children whispered reverently, as with one voice. The carnations and hyacinths respectfully looked up at the roses. They, in turn, humbly looked at me, waiting for me to go on, which I did:

    Again, the flower children were whispering to each other. At the sight of them, I rejoiced. Now, they were my new neighbors. What luck! With them, I would certainly never get bored.

    I looked over at my tulip siblings. They had already made themselves comfortable and were sound asleep. Out of the blue, I felt tired again. "Dear children! Tomorrow I'll tell you more, if you want. But for today, it's enough."

    A disappointed murmur rose. But the hyacinth encouraged me.

    "Okay friends. She's right. It's enough for today. We should go back. Our parents are probably already worried. It's getting late."

    "But I certainly would like to know more about my ancestors in Albania," the little carnation complained.

    "Arabia! Your ancestors came from Arabia! Just listen more carefully," the hyacinth chastened her. She stood up and pulled the others behind her. "And now let's go home!"

    "Didn't you forget something", the hyacinth asked the flower children. As if on command they all turned again to me and shouted:

    "Thank you very much, Mrs. Tulip!"

    I laughed. The hyacinth had a very good grip on them.

    "You are welcome," I replied. "Good night!"

    "Good night," they echoed back, and with a broad grin and still fidgety, they retreated. I was alone again, and at once felt a little lonely. So I hurried back to my brothers and sisters.

    This country seemed to be very exciting, at least more exciting than I would have thought. I smiled and suddenly did not even remember why it seemed so strange to me in the beginning.

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