Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memphis Orchid Show 2011

Dtps. Sogo Domeni AM/AOS 'June'
The Memphis Orchid Show was fantastic and I was grateful to clerk during the ribbon judging and loiter during AOS judging. The clerking responsibilities in the morning required activity: hanging ribbons, weaving in and out of mobs of judging teams, writing things on the backs of ribbons, getting other people to write things on the backs of ribbons, and locating the next flower to be evaluated.

The AOS judging process, by contrast, requires passivity from those outside the AOS judging program (those who are not judges, probationary judges, or student judges). It's similar to kibitzing a bridge game. I wear my best blank look and crush any impulse to comment on anything. In Memphis, I could tell that some clerks enjoy kibitzing the AOS judging, but some looked bored by it or had difficulty with silence. The AOS flower discussions are spellbinding and the judgments have immediate effects in the orchid world. It's an alchemical act where the judging team calls the flower and/or plant into glory and prominence. It's celebrating the flower (and using feats of science and botanical genealogy). 

The judging team makes an initial decision to score the flower or plant. Then, they research relevant databases for the cultivar and its lineage. There's more discussion. Each member of the team evaluates the flower or plant on a 0-100 scale. The team passes the plant or flower to another judging team if their scores show an insurmountably wide point differential. If the team shows consensus, they write a judging description of the plant or flower.

You can read the AOS Judging Handbook to understand the considerations that go into orchid judging. Cats and Catts readers know that I find the orchid judging world captivating on multiple levels. At the Memphis Show, the art of writing a flower description jumped out at me as an especially important dimension of the judging process. The team I watched went back and forth, around and around, on color and shape descriptors. Are we looking at dots or spots? Are we looking at a red that looks like wine or rubies? Where do the adverbs go in the sentence? When does one use semicolons? 

Linguistic precision is important because these brief descriptions become the account of the flower (independent of its photo). Given the international scope of the orchid world it's essential to have clear descriptions that abide by discursive norms. They form a permanent record in the orchid databases AQ+ and OrchidWiz, so it's important to do a good job. I watched it with rapt interest, but I'm a little bit of a word nerd.

The remainder of the show and Mid-America Orchid Congress meeting was tons of fun. Between Orchid Babies and Orchid Inn, I showed remarkable restraint in the vendors’ area by walking away from far too many Brachypetalum hybrids. I was trying to be good. I dodged the Orchid Inn’s many temptations, including Phrag. Peruflora's Cirila AlcaBut my only failure, as I see it, was buying only one Paph. barbatum from the Orchid Inn table (I should have bought all of the Paph. barbatum Sam Tsui had for sale). Are these species normally so bright, so round, and so adorable? I love the white dorsal with the red and green linear elements. Maybe I need to buy a few more from Sam in order to satiate my barbatum needs. And my birthday isn't that far off. (Hey, I'm just thinking out loud here...)

I’ll post photos of my auction booty in the near future, but let me tell you about the trip home. Wow!

Paph. Wossner Goldball 'Jeanie's Dream' AM/AOS
The journey to and from the show reinforced my psychotic commitment to the orchid activity. The 19th century orchid hunters seem a little less brave after having gone what I went through to return home. I've driven all over the country, through ice and snow storms that would bench lesser drivers. Like a traffic ninja, I've navigated San Diego and Los Angeles freeways during the worst rush hours. I consider myself an experienced driver until last weekend.  

The drive home from Memphis was a frightening affair. I kept my radio on and, as I drove northward on I-55, the radio alerts told of multiple tornado warnings across the state. Broadcasters listed of counties and towns potentially getting hit. At first, it seemed like a string of meaningless names. Then, I start to read the aforementioned names on various signs and I knew I was in trouble.

Paph. Lucky Bells 'Gigantic' AM/AOS
I'm accustom to torrential downpours and loud thunder, but the wind gusts and the sheer volume of water dropping at every angle complicated matters. The heavy cloud storms had tornado potential, but there wasn't much to do but drive.  

Cars started to pull over to the side of the road. The ones that didn't pull over slowed to a crazy 40 mph on a normally frisky freeway. Hazard lights went on. More cars exited. The best situation, the radio boys explained, was to find an interior wall. That didn't help me at whatsoever. Exiting the freeway seemed to pose its own risks, so I locked my eyes on the hazard lights ahead of me and followed through, what seemed like, the Bonus Wash part of one of those drive-through car washes. The skies eventually cleared and my gut instinct to keep driving succeeded. All of this occurred during the same few hours that tornadoes ravaged Joplin. Selfishly, I was glad to be on the other side of the state during the worst tornado disaster in decades, but tornado systems covered all of Missouri that Sunday afternoon and my memory of the Joplin tragedy will be forever tied to my white-knuckled return from Memphis.

The crazy thing isn't the lengthy and difficult drive. The crazy thing is that I'd do it all again next weekend just to see the people and the flowers. And just because I only purchased three plants at the show (details coming soon) doesn't mean that the addiction is lessening. Stay tuned!


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