Saturday, May 11, 2013

Fleeting beauty ........the Tulip festival at Morges

The Istanbul tulips by the lake
Spring is finally blooming on the shores of Lake Geneva in the town of Morges where tulip mania is at its peak in the form of the most well-known tulip festival in Switzerland.

Growing up in India, I never saw a tulip but every year at school assembly we duly performed a song and dance routine called ‘Holland is the land of tulips’. Exotic, romantically red and very Dutch. My fascination for the tulip grew after reading The Black Tulip by Dumas though I didn't believe for a moment that such a black flower could exist outside of the fictional gardens of Harrlem. 

Now eons later, the clichés unravel. Here by the lakeside in Morges, I see the ‘Cafe Noir’ though it’s more a deep inky purple than black. I see white, brown, 50 shades of pink, lilac and yellow. 300 different varieties to be precise. Serrated, bulbous, lily shaped, tall ones and short ones. With names as exotic as the flowers. From ABBA to Prince; from African Queen to Arabian Mystery; from Lucky Strike to Sensual Touch and from Black Coffee to Brown Sugar with Ice Cream thrown in for good measure ..............

Not quite in carpets and carpets of colorful riot as they would be in Amsterdam. After all, this is Switzerland! The flowers (all 150,000 of them) are planted in neat and aesthetically manicured and patterned beds, all carefully mapped and labeled, everything growing in typical Swiss picture postcard perfection.

Iconic of Holland, the flowers are not really Dutch. They are native to Central Asia and were imported to the Netherlands and the rest of Europe from Turkey (the world tulip is derived from the Turkish word for turban) in the 17th century. It appears that they became so popular that there was even a tulip bubble with people willing to exchange acres of land, pay more than a year’s wages or barter thousands of pounds of cheese to get hold of one bulb ..

And as for my India connection …………aha, seems like the tulip did grow wild in Kashmir too, long before the Dutch knew of it. And of recent years it is now being cultivated there commercially. Srinagar now boasts the largest tulip garden in Asia with over a million tulips sprawling besides the Dal lake. 

The beauty is so ephemeral. Within a space of a few weeks we were able to witness tulips transition from being in their bulbs, to full bloom to a withered not so pretty sight.

 Fleeting beauty, the desire that tantalizes and disappears before you can quite capture and possess it ……..maybe that's what their mystical magic is all about.