27 January 2019

Night Bloom

Sometimes one’s winter heart is warmed by experiencing a glorious burst of civic engagement and mellow cooperation, one sparked by creative people who produce a communal artistic experience that leaves the participant stunned. And i said “participant” rather than “passive viewer”. This is not a museum. Not that i have anything against museums, just that, for me, there are higher forms.

One such form, to which my friend Bob took me just after Christmas, was Night Bloom, a light and sound exhibition at the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park.

So what is it? You can click on the link in the previous paragraph to get the official story, but the short version is that a company called Lightswitch put together a light show inside and outside the Conservatory, and some industrious volunteers figured out that the way to allow the maximum number of visitors to enjoy it without crowding is to admit a small group of people every hour on the hour from 5:00 to 11:00 PM.

You queue in front of the building shortly before your appointed hour. There’s a good view of the building, but it’s cold outside and there’s no need to be early since being at the front of the line confers precious little advantage.

Here’s the Conservatory from the waiting line.

Conservatory of Flowers Night Bloom

When your group’s time comes, you are admitted into the foyer and given an introductory talk by a witty, vivacious, and utterly delightful young Chinese woman. Not that i could understand more than a couple of words in her rapid-fire monolog, but she delivered it with such panache that i suspect she has training in the theater. Off to a great start here.

Then they flung the doors open, and as i passed the young woman who’d given us that fine introdution, i said “Brava” and gave her a thumb’s up, which she acknowledged with a chuckle. Then we were in the central hall, the part with our beloved 40-foot philodendron, the jewel in the Conservatory’s crown that bloomed 25 years ago when the director of the Conservatory was a ballsy young man who erected a scaffold beside the plant so that the adventuresome could climb way up there to the top to view the blossom.

After just a couple of minutes, people had started moving ahead at their own pace, so from then on we were well dispersed along the trail laid out through the conservatory, and there was no sense at all of being crowded since the trail as it wound around turned out to be a full mile long. On the contrary, there was a wonderful sense of shared experience. Many of us were snapping photos, and somehow the sense of togetherness made the photography even more enjoyable.

It was like stepping into an illuminated jewel box. I overhead someone fret over it not being well enough lit. Oh please. No, the whole thing was not cranked up to sunny-day-in-Phoenix, but that was a plus since it left your eyes free to seek out the illuminated bits here and there and savor them.

Night Bloom

And so we wandered through the connected greenhouses, each with its own climate and all finely illuminated. Throughout the whole system, there was playing at a gentle volume what my friend Bob described as “a bunch of chirps and chimes with small animal noises” but which i kept trying to think of as music. In any case, it certainly added to the experience.

Night Bloom

One thing that struck me was the large number of species in the Nepenthes  genus on display now. Yeah, yeah, i now know that there are 170 species in this genus, but i’d had no idea there were so many, and i was astonished at how large some of them were. These here are nine inches long whereas the largest i’d seen before had been something like three inches.

Nepenthes at Night Bloom

It was just one treat for the eye after another.

Night Bloom

Some of it almost surreal.

Night Bloom

Truly a marvelous tour through the greenhouses on a winding trail that’s a full mile long although it doesn’t seem like more that a hundred yards.

Night Bloom

And once you get outside, you notice a number of rather strange forms on the lawn, all of impermeable cells, this one rather like an igloo

Night Bloom

Alas, the show ended in January. Catch it next year.

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