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Saturday, May 1, 2010
Flowers and Friendship to the Fore
The first of May. Le premier mai. American news tends to focus on the socialist aspects of the holiday as celebrated in other countries. I speak only from my experience: Yes, the first of May in France takes the place of our country’s Labor Day, and yes, there is also a military parade, but for most of the people I saw on May first, it was a day to celebrate love and friendship. The emblem of the day is the muguet, the dear, modest, fragrant little spring flower we call lily-of-the-valley.
The second morning I awoke in Paris was the first of May, and there, in a little cream pitcher on the table next to my bed, was a bunch of lilies-of-the-valley. Hélène and I were not friends yet—we had only met only 36 hours before when I climbed the stairs to her apartment, where I was renting a room for one month—but as things turned out, the bouquet was a precursor to years of friendship. Out in the streets, hawkers were selling bouquets and tiny pots of muguets. Everywhere people were wearing them, exchanging them, placing them on graves. It was like Labor Day and Memorial Day rolled together, and added in was Friendship Day.
I wasn’t thinking of the date when I drove into town this morning. When it was brought to my attention, I put a “Be Right Back” note on the door and took my camera over to The Pennington Collection, where lilies-of-the-valley on the south wall have been coaxed into blooming by sun on the sidewalk.
Back at Dog Ears Books, transposing my photographs to laptop in anticipation of this post, I had a visit from artist Mary Beth Acosta, the “Feral Housewife,” and she came bearing a stem of muguets. “When I was in Paris,” I began—and she interrupted to exclaim, “I love any sentence that begins that way!” Charmed by my account of May Day in France, she presented me with the flowers whose fragrance she had been inhaling. “You don’t have to give them to me,” I protested. “No, she said. “It’s perfect.”
Perfectly beautiful, sunny, warm first of May in Northport, Michigan.