My Biggest Problem after Escaping a Fresh War

I spent the evening with a friend, trying to choose my favourite flower. I was drawing on examples to convince him of the urgency of my dilemma. What if, in choosing – what happened to a female friend – happened to me – and I succeeded in overlooking the one flower I could have fallen in love with?

Choosing my favourite flower was anything but simple.  Choosing a favourite suggests that you’ve seen it all, done it all.  Choosing means finding the ultimate favorite, the perfect favorite, the one, which would not change with circumstances, place or experience, but which would endure forever – even when you yourself have gone.  Soon I realised that it is an impossible task. But at least, I hoped, I’d learn enough in the process to boldy claim:  “In my opinion, this is the best one among those available”.

At the end of the evening my friend must have been convinced of my dilemma as he told me that I need to blog about that, under the title:  “My biggest problem after I escaped a fresh war.”

When Javier, my Colombian flatmate told me that Jasmine was his favorite flower, I felt intensely annoyed.  Surely it was the Damascenes, who loved Jasmine, and surely it exuded its pure and genuine scent for them alone. Yes, some clichés are hard to let go of. I love Jasmine, as it sprouts and climbs the walls of Mosques and entwines around the fences of the rich in Qosour, Bramkeh and Kafersouseh in Damascus. And it’s yellow perfume bottles which my uncle’s wife gave as a gift to everyone on Holiday in Mawlid, together with bags of sugary-candied almonds. This was before she left Damascus to settle in Bonn, Germany, leaving behind all her relatives, cheap perfume bottles and even the blue Quran cassettes by Meshari Affasi, which her husband was always bragging about possessing, just as he bragged about owning a very religious wife.

So was Jasmine ‘The One”?  It certainly is classic – but then classic was not the way I prefer to see myself.  It carries emotional and historical weight, heavier than its branches can really bear. Put Jasmine in a vase and it will live for a few days. It fades in hours when placed on white napkins. I feel pity for Jasmine more than being tempted by it, and I don’t fall in love out of sympathy. I love you, but you are not ‘The One’. I am sorry.  

The Tulip is more robust, it doesn’t wilt and die as easily, as long as you take care to water it every morning. It reminds you again every sunset that it still needs your care to look glorious, and I like that: One who needs me.  I make it early enough after work to catch the 60-year-old Vietnamese florist at the Prenzlauerberg S-Bahn  station. He is  getting ready to leave, collecting the remaining bunches of sad-looking flowers, who  couldn’t seduce anyone to buy them. There is the yellow tulip flourishing in a bucket of water. It demands in its simplicity that I buy it and avoid all other flowers, as far too complex.  I buy a bunch of ten yellow tulips for three Euros. They look beautiful, but their perfection is silent and uniform.  Each yellow tulip is like the next – arrogant and cold,  not putting in any effort to convince me.  I would love the tulip, but it’s tricky to maintain a permanent relationship while each of us still clings to our pride. I love you, but I’d like to buy you because I choose to and not because I’m fragile and imperfect like you make me feel, by comparison. And that’s exactly why, you are not my favorite at all.

… So my friend and I move on and discuss the flower, which sounds like an English woman, “Daisy”. And like a woman, it’s a good listener. I recall seeing it on empty tables in a warm cafe, waiting for two lovers to join it on their tense date, they proceed to completely ignore its lovely presence, though they can feel its petals listening quietly to their talk. But my choice of flower must be male, otherwise, it would turn into a pale friendship which got smothered by dust in everyday life. Daisies are so peaceful that I only once bought them, when I wanted a boring day to be perfect in its flatness. In our book of short stories in the 6th Grade, a daisy died of thirst.  The house owners left for a vacation without leaving extra water, and the sparrow, the lavender and all the other flowers facing it on the sunny fence ignored its  suffering. The daisy withered, lonely, for a long time before it died. It didn’t even have the strength to put down a root strong enough to suck up the remainder of the water. Daisy withers to the dismay of  others, it lives with the  guilt of  a mistake that is not its own. It’s suffers in silence, bearing daring to open its petals to show off its heart.  It’s too naive for me.

Roses are important, though too traditional. The frightening thing is: no one has really noticed just how traditional the rose has become. And how commercial. Why buy roses for a girl who only expects them on Valentine’s day?  Roses are a disappointment waiting to happen.  A good rose is the one which no one picked from the garden. A beautiful rose is one that everyone preferred to leave for others. The one that someone was too intimidated to own. People praise The Rose’s vanity, but it’s simple conceit bores me. Roses refuse  to share their space in the garden, they refuse to share their attar, and in doing so diverge from the herd and threaten their own survival. Roses are like Paris, a city to adore, but not to live in. Overrated, and in the end, it is really sad – if I have to buy such a beautiful thing to have a little joy in my daily life. How desperate would I really need to be to choose the rose as ‘The One’?

Orchids!  The orchid is my favorite flower, I persuade myself – then hesitate.  The Orchid is secretive, reticent. Fragile and solid at the same time. You could spend a whole lifetime trying to understand one kind of orchid, getting to know its special qualities, and in the end still fail. How could one blossom without a breath? To own an orchid – that is perfect. The desire to understand its complexity led me to the rows of orchid pots in the supermarket.  But I left them there – none the wiser.  Each Orchid is unique, each has its own story.  For example the story about the grandmother.   A grandmother once left her  home for  Europe,  a place which everyone admits is tempting in every way, except for its people.  Orchid is as cold as smart as the people from the old continent generally seem to be. It hurts her  that no one realized how warm she could be.  With an intended carelessness, they put it on a window sill, which the sun rarely visits and allowed her to dwindle.   Don’t buy an orchid already in bloom,  for it will soon die.  And to buy one which has not yet blossomed is a yet greater hazard. It won’t  grow, and you’ll be left with the  grave of a baby flower in your room. Orchid has never pretended to be  a simple, beautiful flower. It’s completely aware of what the intrigues of life and death it hides beneath its shoots. I could say it’s my first flower, but I cannot yet  unravel its mood and character enough to do so.

I liked the roses King Abdullah presented as a gift to his queen for their last wedding anniversary. Rose in all their existing shades. The happy queen carried a huge bouquet of roses.  It looked as if tulips and roses had been entwined with a royal touch. I wanted to buy the same bouquet  as a present for myself  in my 24th birthday, but it was too expensive. I don’t allow myself fall in love anyone or anything, that I know that I can’t afford.

Till now, I am still without a favorite flower, or indeed a favourite film  or a favourite place in Damascus or Berlin. Nonetheless, I insist on forming  preferences,  wanting to believe that they are the best. As if keeping these as a list, would save me  from future losses, like buying a bouquet of flowers only to realise later that you’d left the best behind for someone else.

At the end of our conversation, and the evening, my friend felt the need to comfort me – “the perfect flower for you may not exist”, he said, “but you will find, that once you have had the courage to pick one, in time, it will become your favourite”. I said, “or maybe I need to buy different ones every morning till I get addicted to one of them. Maybe the favorite is the one you can’t get away from, don’t they say that love is the best and worst addiction?”.

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