26 February 2013 @ 01:38 pm
This blog is no longer active. Thanks for your support during my seven year-long projects.
Please follow my new blog Teacher in the Rye, or find me at Twitter.
Philip
 
 
 
26 November 2006 @ 10:00 pm
Sunday appears to be extra festive, at the QV market: as we passed through this morning we saw an inflatable castle and a pair of camels being groomed. I got a picture of the animals with skyscrapers in the background while an American couple passed behind me; "at least they're not as stinky as the ones in Israel," one of them observed. I gave a flower to the man with the animal brush who looked slightly confused until I said "nice camels."
 
 
 
14 November 2006 @ 10:00 pm
How many donuts have I purchased from that man at the bottom of the ramp? I feel that it might be close to a hundred. Today, after all these years, I returned to Footscray and gave the donut-maker a carnation. He was in the process of hand-rolling the balls, but turned at my approach and accepted the gift through the window. I had to reach it over that dolphin-shaped squirter of jam.
 
 
 
02 November 2006 @ 10:00 pm
Today we bought a new stove (to replace the waterlogged old one) from a man selling all sorts of electrical items out of a shop on Belleville. I entered with a rose, and was immediately transfixed by a wall of televisions broadcasting video-clips of East-European pop ballads - all close-ups of teeth, doves and hair in slow motion. But I snapped out of my reverie in time to take the stove from the salesman: it was the display item that he sold us, wrapped in nothing more than an oversized plastic bag. Our hands fumbled over themselves as he passed on the bag. Then, when the transaction was over, I gave the man a rose. At that moment a little person who had been hovering beside the counter burst into shrill laughter that kept reverberating as we walked out of the store.
 
 
 
26 October 2006 @ 10:00 pm
Elsa was wearing a cute floral dress as she opened the door this evening, tied at the front with a gigantic red bow. She had bought the dress in New York, recently, en route from a conference on the study of popular music at Nashville, Tennessee. Is she the coolest person on the planet, or what? Just inside the door I handed over a trio of gifts - (1) a rose, (2) red wine and (3) halva. This got the night off to a perfect start, and we spent the next four hours grinning at one another.

Quietly, at the head of the table, the rose unfolded itself.
 
 
 
18 October 2006 @ 10:00 pm
There's something apocalyptic about the way in which crowds depart from the metro platform, all sense of community lost as individuals squeeze between person-shaped obstacles and sigh at one another. I'm quite good at this myself, actually, and often win the surface-bound race at Pyrénées.

But today, at Porte de Pantin, I was distracted by a certain older woman (sixty-five? ninety-five?) who had pulled over to the far left in order to take each step two-steps-at-a-time, heaving herself upwards with a beleaguered lack of haste. A whole trainload of people had swarmed past her by the time she had reached the halfway step, leaving only her in the middle and me at the top, standing around with an orange flower. Her eventual arrival had a certain joyful dignity, and she accepted the rose as a self-evident sign of her own triumph.
 
 
 
05 July 2006 @ 10:00 pm
The flower thing was easy, this morning, because I'd just had an enormous breakfast and was radiating genuine love for myself and the world. I just handed the carnation to the first guy who passed us along St Marys. He was wearing dark glasses, a bandanna, and extraordinarily little shorts. He was tickled by the gift and kept yelling "thank you" back at us as we moved along the street.
 
 
 
01 July 2006 @ 10:00 pm
Today was the first day that I have seen people using the art-gallery fountain as a swimming pool. It was delirious! Much more healthily raucous than life in Liverpool had been. When I passed it for the second time the sun was getting really balmy. There was a woman sitting there with her shoes off. "For you," I said, trying to keep it dreamy. It's always helpful when people are already in a zone. She took it as if I was simultaneously surprising and inevitable, if you know what I mean.
 
 
 
15 January 2006 @ 12:00 am
I rushed home to get my flower just in case Ryan was feeling spontaneous enough to join me at the movies. He wasn't, so I took the bunch to the minster gardens, protruding from my schoolbag in a most eccentric fashion. For a while their inaccessibility made me miss opportunities - like the man in the leather jacket or the tourist with the glasses - but I spotted some seated lovers and decided to terrorise them, instead. They were eating pasties, or something, when I stopped beside their bench and offered the flowers to the boyfriend. "Welcome," I said, as if I was part of some garden committee, or else completely troppo. The guy started hooting but took the gift and thanked me for it. To confirm that I really was mad I just breezed away without even having made eye contact with the lady. But, well, I was all smiles. This project is getting less and less sacrificial.
 
 
 
11 January 2006 @ 12:00 am
I took the last of my chrysanthemums onto the city walls and enjoyed the childish pleasure of strolling along a footpath with flowers. I was pointing the plant at the ground as if it was perfectly natural for a left arm to be botanically extended, passing a few mundane tourists on the pretty section between Bootham bar and Monk bar. It was at the corner between the two gates that I encountered the old woman dressed in a simple coat and wearing a beanie. I felt the flowers lift into my right hand at the precise moment that I noticed how brightly the sun was shining. So my "good morning" was sincere, and her reply was only slightly suspicious. "For you," I confirmed, for which she graciously thanked me, accepted the gift and continue her walk towards Bootham. I felt a surge of loveliness even before I imagined her passing the tourists that I had overtaken with my conspicuous flowers. So my morning doubts disintegrated, and I recognised the vital importance of place.
 
 
 
10 January 2006 @ 12:00 am
This morning I donned my beanie and went for a run along the river, armed with a clutch of chrysanthemums. For a while I held off unloading the gift, relishing the sensation of running with flowers. But then I saw a man with a briefcase, and offered him a generous "good morning." He was pretending not to see the obvious, so I said "for you!" which forced him into overt rejection: "I don't want them, thank you." Likewise the next guy offered nothing but an ironic greeting and an averted gaze. But it was the third man, the man on the park bench, who was the drollest of the all: "are you well?" he asked, as his labrador pawed me. "Indeed," I insisted; but he let me just stand there, holding chrysanthemums in the rain. A passing cyclist didn't want them. A pedestrian blocked me with his brollie. I started cursing the English; but, even then, I was aware of my psychological triumph. I felt myself settle on their Yorkshire consciences, and not let go. Rejection only spreads the message.

In the end it was a fluro-coated council worker who lifted his hand. He had just switched on the flashing pedestrian lights and was heading back to his truck when I overtook him. The angle allowed him to watch my retreating form as it blithely sped past peak-hour pedestrians, uniformly depressed. So I hope that he interpreted me as an angel, even if the story centres on reward: you switch on the lights, a jogger delivers flowers.
 
 
 
08 January 2006 @ 12:00 am
Tony was in fine form during the sermon, meditating eloquently on the act of giving. As he pondered good and bad motives for the exchange of gifts I'm sure that my stem of chrysanthemums bent itself into a question mark. My challenge, from the pulpit, was to offer the gift with love. I was talking to Ben and Carol while the vicar shook a line of hands but then I lurched forward, bloom in hand, and said "Oh, Tony - happy Epiphany!" He started cartwheeling a sort of bewildered acceptance until he asked "where did these appear from?" At that beautiful moment I was able to look him in the eye and say "I brought them for you." I felt love pass between us; because, in a way, I was treating him like my father. If he's like the other clergymen I know he'll have a strong sense of why he thoroughly warrants a flower. So my first English recipients are very English indeed: the tea man and the vicar!
 
 
 
07 January 2006 @ 12:00 am
After the power failure I walked to the market for blooms. "What are these?" I asked, pointing to the white chrysanthemums. Then, "what are these?", pointing to the yellow ones. I settled on the former - a bargain at £1.50 - and proceeded to the tea shop where that fine-booted man presides. I prepared myself in a side-lane, removing a single stem and hiding the bouquet. Then, inside the store, I walked vaguely towards the counter and proffered the cluster. "Happy new year", I pathetically offered. "Thank you," he calmly replied. And then - after taking a chocolate coffee-bean - I said "have a good year," as if I was both mad and boring. "Same to you," he calmly replied. I was furious! I mean, how dare somebody treat my gift as if it was everyday! He did seem intent on pretending that customers are forever offering chrysanthemums. Then again, there's a chance that he found our last chat about his gumboots sufficiently sexy to resist my more formal advance. Oh, how I despise inscrutability!
 
 
 
05 January 2006 @ 12:00 am
I lunched on proper Florentine food at the central market. The salad was amazing, but the begging gypsy annoying, so I bought her an orange lily. It was wrapped ornately and inefficiently, which only added to her annoyance upon receiving the gift. So I learnt, today, that the project can be used for all sorts of things, including punishment. I had been strategic about the presentation, waiting for her to shake her cup at me before thrusting the bloom at her face - "sua bella," I lied.
 
 
 
04 January 2006 @ 12:00 am
The bank teller was perfectly calm about the whole affair, as if machines were swallowing credit cards on every other day of the week. She simply glanced at my passport and asked me to sign. I was a million times more anxious, and suddenly apocalyptic about what the card's loss might entail. It's the scholarship account, you see, and I need its number in order to do the transfers. So thank God for glorious bank-lady, who single-handedly disintegrated all visions of international begging, and thoroughly deserved her long-stemmed rose. It was red, today, which gave the event an overtone of Parisian romance. I had found the florist by pretending to be Italian, but the ribbon on the bloom surely announced my status as tourist, or clown. To her credit, the woman received the gift graciously, allowing me to step past the front of the line before calling me - in English - "a very nice man." I got that gigantic grin, again. This is a fun game.

Perhaps that's why I was the least angsty person in the Uffizi line-up. Then again, I seem more capable than most of passing passive time. I listened to Ligeti and Puccini and Bach, interspersed with the magnificent poems of e. e. cummings. One of them described a clown giving flowers to strangers, and will become the anthem of my project.

***poem 30; by e. e. cummings***

one winter afternoon

(at the magical hour
when is becomes if)

a bespangled clown
standing on eighth street
handed me a flower.

Nobody,it's safe
to say,observed him but

myself;and why?because

without any doubt he was
whatever(first and last)

mostpeople fear most:
a mystery for which i've
no word except alive

--that is,completely alert
and miraculously whole;

with not merely a mind and a heart

but unquestionably a soul--
by no means funereally hilarious

(or otherwise democratic)
but essentially poetic
or ethereally serious:

a fine not a coarse clown
(no mob,but a person)

and while never saying a word

who was anything but dumb;
since the silence of him

self sang like a bird.
Mostpeople have been heard
screaming for international

measures that render hell rational
--i thank heaven somebody's crazy

enough to give me a daisy