The Lore of the Roses

On the discovery of rose attar in seventeenth-century India: “There is no other scent of equal excellence to it. It restores hearts that have gone and brings back withered souls . . .” A Rose by Any Name, p. 201

Mankind’s fascination with the genus Rosa spans ages and continents. A Rose by Any Name: The Little-Known Lore and Deep-Rooted History of Rose Names by Douglas Brenner and Stephen Scanniello introduces the reader to an extraordinary variety of rose cultivars, their often entertaining nomenclature, and their hidden pasts.

Marie Antoinette slept on fresh rose petals the night before her wedding. “Before falling on his sword,” the authors note, “Mark Antony asked Cleopatra to perform the proper floral ceremony at his tomb.” From Persia to France to our grandmothers’ gardens, at once exotic and familiar, roses are inextricably entwined with the lives of both the great and the forgotten.

The ‘Tipsy Imperial Concubine’ rose, according to one historian, recalls “the ‘precious consort’ of an eighth-century Tang emperor whose fatal obsession with her beauty plunged him into a life of debauchery.” No less dramatically, ‘Grace Darling’ was named after an English lighthouse keeper’s courageous daughter who, with her father, braved a storm in 1838 to rescue survivors of a shipwreck.

Other rose names range from amusing to racy — ‘Mutant Charisma’, ‘Pest’, 'The French Strumpet', and ‘Four Inch Heels’. Celebrity roses abound: Marilyn Monroe, Charles Darwin, Helen Keller, Audie Murphy, Princess Diana, and Elvis Presley all have roses named for them. In 1986, then-President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the rose as the national flower of the United States despite pressure from the Marigold Society of America (one can only imagine the backroom politics).

The ancient Greeks, Romans, and early Christians remembered their interred dead with roses; and the Victorians, who elevated the art of mourning to unprecedented extremes, carpeted the graves of loved ones with Rosa wichurana, the ‘Memorial Rose’ imported from Japan.

No other flower is so universal a symbol of love, of spiritual comfort, of mystique, and of beauty. A Rose by Any Name is a dense compendium of rose-colored history, mythology, and popular culture in a deceptively small package. I call it ‘Thoroughly Delightful’.


Mood Ring: Darkly Romantic


Will Durant Has The Last Word

Sometime this past spring it came to my attention that legendary historian Will Durant’s final book was due for release in December 2014.

I’m a huge fan of Will Durant. His massive 11-volume The Story of Civilization resides upon my groaning shelves. Unfortunately, most of it has remained unread except for roughly a page and a half—but what a page and a half it was. Something about Rousseau, I think.

You may believe that a mere page and a half of a majestic opus like The Story of Civilization is just not enough material on which to base an opinion, and you would be right. It wasn’t long after I acquired the (rather intimidating) set that I opted to take the lazy way out. So I listened to a much shorter audiobook, Durant’s The Lessons of History.

The Lessons of History included exclusive interviews with Will Durant and his wife Ariel, who was his cowriter and—if I may be allowed a bit of poetic speculation—his muse. The best part was that I finished the book feeling like I really did understand the lessons of history without having to slog through thousands of pages of tedious historical detail. I’d love to convey these lessons to you here, but a) there isn’t nearly enough room, and b) I’ve forgotten most of them. Anyway, I was chuffed to discover that Durant’s final work, Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War, and God, would be made available just in time for Christmas.

Kudos to the publisher for choosing to employ the exquisitely civilised Oxford comma in the subtitle. Wallet akimbo, I am preparing for download with a long, pleasant evening of reading ahead, and vino, though not necessarily in that order.


Happy Birthday, Mr. Orbison


The Dashing Eccentric

Blogueuse at the seashore.I’m not a regular at most fashion blogs, but I’ve been admiring The Dashing Eccentric for a while now. When I’ve spent one too many days padding around in jeans and a marinière, TDE makes me want to toss on a velvet riding jacket and show up somewhere interesting and a little spooky–the Winchester House, perhaps? Mrs. Eccentric’s style is feminine but not fussy, with just a hint of TARDIS. Probably NSFCC (Not Safe For Corporate Cubicles).






A few favorite outfits:

The Dashing Eccentric: Enchanted Woods
The Dashing Eccentric: The More Things Change
The Dashing Eccentric: Double Denim Visibility
The Dashing Eccentric: The Awful Truth
The Dashing Eccentric: A Quiet Day


Belle, Bonne, Sage: Redux

If profanity has become the norm, then let us as writers and speakers become revolutionaries once more. Let us move beyond the mediocre mainstream to a New Age of poetic, articulate speech.

Lisa Mason, Author