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In late January in California, in the East Bay, the fences along the streets that I walk are sporadically punctuated with blooming jasmine. The scent is sweet but not heady: a spring scent, reminding me of forsythia, or of the mock-oranges — Philadelphus lewisii, discovered by (and named for) the voyageur Meriwether Lewis in some ditch of eastern Oregon. It’s pleasant, muted yet pervasive, calm. The fences they adorn, however, are anything but subtle. Some are made of board, rough and unpainted, just barely standing, aided by wire or many, many appended nails. Others are bare chain-link, the galvanized wire mesh epitomizing a no-nonsense, function-before-status period of this bungalow-belt neighborhood in Oakland.

This is not atypical. Flowers in January, brilliant sunlight, a sense that you can walk down the street wearing a t-shirt almost any day of the year and not be cold beyond reason. Nor, for that matter, will you be stared at for having made a social or fashion faux pas. Just as the ramshackle wood fence and the no-nonsense mesh fence still stand unremarked upon, taste in clothes is equally unseen. Cars come and go on the street. Drivers hold up hands against the setting sun or flip down sunshades, and all is the same, though one may drive a new BMW, and one a 1980s Toyota Corolla. Though one may wear Gucci and Prada or Tom Ford and another Hanes and Goodwill. And critically, there will be no correlation. Mr. Hanes may be in a Porsche Carrera, and Mr. Ford might be behind the wheel of a Honda Accord. More… “Jasmine and the Good Life”

Alexander Craghead is a historian of design and place. His writing and photography has appeared in regional and national publications, including BOOM: A Journal of California, Railroad Heritage, Trains, and is the author of The Railway Palaces of Portland, Oregon: The Architectural Legacy of Henry Villard(The History Press, 2016). He currently teaches in the American Studies program at University of California Berkley, where he is also a doctoral candidate.

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I missed the moment when shop window displays changed from Santa red to sexy scarlet:  a fabulous froth of lace and slinky silken negligees. Most of the neighborhood still has Christmas lights up, but all the stores are pushing Valentine’s Day. In spite of the omnipresent window displays and advertisements, I’ll bet millions of men will forget Valentine’s Day. It could be chromosomal. Or maybe forgetting is a pose, a form of resistance. If men looked at Valentine’s Day like a second Halloween, it might be more fun.

 

That’s what I’ve decided to do, and it works for me.

Why not? After all, stores are filled with candy, and, while it’s not exactly the same as trick-or-treat, with a little imagination the evening of February 14 can be perked up to the next level with costumes. Just try… More…

 

It’s hard not to feel for the people behind the Philadelphia Flower Show, the largest in the world and the oldest in America. When they chose this year’s theme — “Bella Italia” — they couldn’t have known that the stock market would hit its lowest level in more than a decade during their show, and that it might therefore be an inopportune time to celebrate flowers and Italy and events that are “the largest in the world.”

Indeed, the entrance to the 180th anniversary show is so suggestive of Roman decadence that the theme seems almost tongue-in-cheek. Just inside the doors, soaring columns topped with urns of overflowing flowers line a row of fountains that ends at a tall temple where opera singers and choirs give daily performances. Other displays celebrating the art of Florence, the fashion of… More…

When I lived in Japan I joined a flower arrangement club. I didn’t have any interest in flowers, or tradition, or grace, so it was an odd move.

I did, however, have a friend who was the president of the Ikebana club at our university, who had helped me out a lot in the first months of school. In classes Ryoko made sure I was following along by grabbing my sleeve and whispering, “Understand, Emi?” She blinked a lot and made audible breathing-in noises whenever she was about to explain something difficult or ask me a question she thought I could potentially answer no to. So when she invited me to come watch her Ikebana club, I could only say yes.

The sensei, who was in her late 70s, helped me prune my branches and buds into the appropriate shapes. Then she impaled them at specific angles onto a square… More…