Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Lost in History vol. 62: You Say Hanami, I Say Huhwuzzi?

Spring is finally swinging its gorgeous pendulum ever closer to our neck-napes: Warm breezes, shorts, and slathered sunscreen all prove that the median temperature, along with people’s flirtation levels, is on the rise. Another certain indicator of spring springing eternal is the Cherry Blossom Festival at our beloved Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a perennial favorite amongst romantics, botanists, horticulturists, New Yorkers and tourists alike. The peak cherry blossom moment just hit on Sunday, and with the largest collection of cherry blossoms in the world outside of Japan, the BBG was the place to be.

Founded in 1910, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden was established on an ash dump, sandwiched in between the Brooklyn Museum, originally called the Brooklyn Institute of Arts & Sciences, and Prospect Park. It was intended to be the green, outdoorsy compartment to a top-notch museum. (The BIAS was supposed to be the largest single museum complex in the world, with an unsurpassed collection of art, natural history and science objects. The Great Consolidation of 1898 put an end to all that.) Although hardly the first botanical gardens in the city — the first one in the country was founded in 1801 on land that would become Rockefeller Center — the Bot (as we native Brooklynites like to call it) was developed over the beginning of the 20th century and “became known for its emphasis on plant physiology and genetics and for its efforts in public education: the world’s first children’s gardening program was established in 1914.” (Per the Encyclopedia of New York City.) Dr. Charles Stuart Gager was the main man responsible for the development of the Bot, especially its beloved Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, which was the first Japanese garden to be landscaped in an American public gardens — in 1915, by immigrant Takeo Shiota. The cherry blossom trees, although not within the original confines of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, have since been incorporated into the greater schematic of the Garden and are now considered a part of the whole East-meets-West aesthetic.

The Japanese have a term for the “viewing and cherishing each moment of the cherry blossom season” (as the BBG’s website puts it):
Hanami. Along with being a fabulous one-word sales pitch, Hanami is also a lovely microcosm for our lives as New Yorkers as the temperature climbs into the 70s and 80s. We cherish the switch from hot to iced coffee, the swish of summer. We become aware of each moment spent outdoors, away from our computers and cubicles, in the glorious weather that envelopes us. Hooray for Hanami, cherry blossoms and springtime!

(originally published on 5/6/08 in www.thelmagazine.com)

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