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Jellyfish, art and ancient warfare

"Jellyfish" sculpture by Kendy Bellony SM504

“Jellyfish” sculpture by Kendy Bellony SM504

Earlier this week, we posted 39 new catalogue pieces on our website.  Designs that we have worked long and hard to bring about, we are now excited and proud to present.   Though it is hard to pick a favorite, I’m going to.  Hands down, and for the next three or four days at least, it is Kendy Bellony’s jellyfish.

Isn’t it elegant?  That’s what I think of when I think of jellyfish. Elegance.  I saw them in an aquarium one time and in that particular exhibit, each of the tanks was surrounded by a heavy, highly ornate, gilt frame and in the background, classical music was playing – Bach or Handel, I’m sure. It seemed entirely appropriate as I marveled at the jellies gliding with refined grace through the water on the other side of glass.   Watching this video by David Regner for the National Aquarium in Baltimore took me right back to that experience. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJUuotjE3u8  They are works of art, pure and simple.

Kendy’s sculpture looks to me like a sea nettle, which is a type of jellyfish found in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  They are characterized by their long tentacles and frilly mouth-arms (I did not make that up.  That’s what they are called, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium website.) and by the star-like pattern on the top of their bell. They eat zooplankton, small crustaceans, and other jellies, while they are preyed upon by tuna, dogfish, butterfish, sunfish, and sea turtles.  Jellyfish as a species have no blood, brains, teeth, or fins and are 95% water, which sort of makes you wonder about nutritional value and why ANYTHING bothers to eat them at all. Balance of nature and circle of life considerations, I presume, or maybe just roughage…

Sea Nettle - serene and elegant.

Sea Nettle – serene and elegant.

The splendid, flowing tentacles and mouth-arms of the jellies are, of course, where the “sting” is carried.  This insidious business is conducted by a multitude of stinging cells called nematocysts, which vary in toxicity from mildly irritating to deadly. Though my research resources are replete with gee-whiz facts with regard to “the sting,” this one, in my opinion takes the cake:  The National Aquarium website reports that the ancient ninja warriors of Japan used to scatter dried venom from the Northern Sea Nettle into the wind to irritate the nose and eyes of their enemies during battle.

Sayonara, Baby!


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

Standing in Canada with Haiti on My Mind

Summertime is vacation time for many of us, and as my family lives in a place to which people escape winter’s wrath, it’s probably no surprise that we chose to migrate northward as the summer’s heat became too intense for general tolerance. We set off for Victoria, British Columbia but, of all things, by the second day there, I was reminded of Haiti.

Haiti? You would think that about all Victoria and Haiti have in common is that they are on islands and that the residents speak some French.  But on an early morning stroll among the float homes on the Inner Harbor, I spied a fish sculpture by Guy Duval and instantly, my mind wandered back to his workshop in Croix-des- Bouquets. Guy is a remarkably talented person that takes great pride in his work.  I thought how pleased he would be to see his art so perfectly set in this beautiful place. It tickled me later when I re-read the letter he wrote to Beyond Borders accompanying a sample of this very design.  He said, “I take this moment extraordinary to introduce to you my model of fish. I think you and your friends are going to like it very much.” He was so right! Haitian art is as perfectly at home at the beach on the Caribbean Sea as it is along the Straits of San Juan in the North Pacific.

After our quayside amble, we hopped on an excursion bus and headed north from Victoria to nearby Buchart Gardens, a glorious 55- acre spread of botanical extravagance that receives upwards of 1 million visitors annually.  The Gardens are the result of great vision on the part of Jennie Buchart, who, in 1904 sought to restore the site of an old quarry after it had been depleted of its limestone. Even on an afternoon when the coastal fog had been slow to dissipate, The Gardens were a photographic wonderland.  Everywhere I turned there were marvels of color and delicacy to behold.

And I thought again of Haitian sculptors, this time, Jimmy Prophet and Willie Juiene, whose artful eyes and exacting hands re-fashion Nature’s work so elegantly in steel. The monochrome of the metal they work focusses one’s attention to form and line, and emphasizes the refined precision of the artists’ touch. These men have never seen Buchart Gardens nor are they likely to, but flowers and trees that serve as their inspiration are miracles of design no matter where they bloom and flourish.  In Haiti, as in Canada, the miracle is the same.

Breadfruit and Metal Sculpture in Haiti

Travel is such a mind-broadening experience.  From the monumental to the minute, there are things to be learned and observations to be made.  So, sitting on the patio of the hotel on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, sipping a hard-earned brew at the end of the day, I noticed this huge, chartreuse-colored, bumpy, round fruit growing in a tree above me.  Thinking I’d seen it in an Asian food market somewhere along the line, I wondered A) What it was and B) What it was doing here.

A little on-line investigation revealed that it was breadfruit. Originating in the South Pacific, the species was spread throughout Oceania by intrepid islanders settling the numerous islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Due to the efforts of Captain Bligh and French voyagers, a few seedless varieties from Polynesia were introduced to the Caribbean in the late 1700s. These gradually spread to other tropical regions. Breadfruit is now grown in close to 90 countries. Countries like Haiti, apparently.

Breadfruit is a versatile crop and the fruit can be cooked and eaten at all stages of maturity.  It is mainly grown as a subsistence crop in home gardens or small farms and is an excellent dietary staple, comparing favorably with other starchy staple crops commonly eaten in the tropics, such as taro, plantain, cassava, sweet potato and white rice. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy. Additionally, breadfruit is a good source of dietary fiber, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, with small amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and iron. The seeds are edible, resembling chestnuts in flavor and texture. They can be boiled, roasted, or ground into meal and are a good source of protein and minerals. (Incidentally, recipes can be found at:  www.ntb.org/breadfruit)

The trees begin bearing fruit in 3 to 5 years and are productive for many decades. They require little attention or care, and can be grown under a wide range of ecological conditions. Throughout its range, breadfruit is grown in home gardens and small farms interplanted with a mix of subsistence crops, cash crops, and other useful plants. The trees form a protective overstory providing shade, mulch, and a beneficial microclimate. Cultivating breadfruit trees protects watersheds; replacing slash-and-burn agriculture and field cropping with a permanent tree cover. What a wonderful crop to plant in Haiti, where deforestation is at a whopping 98% and watershed damage due to erosion is tremendous.

Thinking this over, I looked at some of the tree of life metal sculptures on our website.  (www.itscactus.com)  Bingo – the breadfruit was there.  Tree of life.  How appropriate.

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