Earthquakes & Flowers

We were parking our car in a Chinatown lot near the Philadelphia Convention Center when my sister called.  We had tickets for Springtime in Paris, the 2011 Philadelphia Flower Show. Paula’s voice held a note of urgency. She asked about our oldest son living in San Francisco, an untimely concern I thought.  We had not yet heard of Japan’s earthquake and the resulting tsunami reportedly headed toward the West Coast.

Walking into the flower show’s main gate seemed surreal. A possible tsunami was hours from San Francisco. The lines to the show were long and moved slowly. We could only wait. We entered under the arch of the Eiffel Tower, painted a light color against the black ceiling and awash with spotlights. Our son would return my call. Feathered and flowered carousel animals ran wild among blossoming cherry trees.  He would call soon; soon he did. Everywhere people stood in awe at the surrounding beauty. He and the rest of California were safe.

Surreal morphed into a vision, a landscape artist’s fantasy recreated inside the huge convention center. We strolled beyond the tower’s imposing structure and into a Parisian-inspired dreamland.

Sixty large scale gardens were featured.  We gazed on a Victorian salon adorned with flowers under glass, a floral decorated Patisserie, a carousel stage, an artist’s studio, a water lily pond and fountains, and an amazing shack inspired by the Louisiana Bayou and built by students. There was a topiary carved into Rodin’s The Thinker and another exhibit inspired by a painting of Edgar Degas.

After a few hours, we left the show and wandered across the street for lunch. The Reading Terminal is a fragrant, busy Marketplace dating from 1892.  It is filled with multiple markets — meats, fish, fresh produce, Philly Cheesesteaks, Amish bakeries, dining counters, and more.  Walking through the Reading Terminal alone would have been worth our trip to Philadelphia, but we had more flowers to see.

On our return, we encountered two polite protesters carrying a large banner.  They were part of a group protesting what they called PNC bank’s “environmental crimes” in Appalachia.  I later learned more about their protest in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Once back inside, we wandered by prize-winning miniature gardens, then among the one-hundred and eighty unique vendor booths. Wood patio furniture, unique light fixtures, metalwork, a myriad of seeds and bulbs, and quality jewelry. I was attracted to a stall featuring intricate carved porcelain night lights.  The artist was Marty Kubicki from Irvine, California.  I admired his gorgeous artistry then he and I spent several minutes discussing news from Japan and the west coast.

Finally, with feet aching from long hours on concrete, my husband and I left for the parking lot, then drove out of the city.  Late that day, as we settled into our suburban hotel room, we watched broadcasts of the heart-breaking devastation in Japan.

My stories are set in other time periods, before thoughts and pictures could fly around the world in seconds.  On Friday, in the course of a few hours I learned of a horrific earthquake and a possible tsunami, but that my son and the state of California were safe.

What must it have been like for those who lived in earlier times?  How did a woman cope when her husband or sons went off to fight in the Civil War?  Not knowing.  How did 18th century parents manage when their children moved to the new world, not knowing if they would see them again?

Writing historical fiction takes more than just research.  It takes immersing oneself into a different time and culture.  The creators of the gardens at the 2011 Philadelphia Flower Show immersed themselves in the Parisian culture, and were inspired to create awesome scenes. As writers we must do the same.  Doing so brings life to our vision of the world.

My heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those lost in Japan.