Not so long ago, Debrah featured Parisian flower shops on her blog. She is right, the French do indeed like flowers in abundance. They also have a strong preference for monochromatic arrangments. It reminded me of this story:
I was living in France during tulip season. I love tulips; they are one of my favorite flowers. At the time, in many of the American shelter magazines, you could find an ad for Martha Stewart paint colors. The ad featured a paint can with a huge, luscious bouquet of all different colored pastel tulips coming out of the can. I thought it was beautiful, and I had the idea of re-creating this bouquet as a gift for a friend.
I went to one of the neighborhood Parisian florists where there were buckets and buckets of unwrapped tulips in a rainbow of pretty colors. I greeted the florist with the obligatory "Bonjour, Madame!" and asked for her help. I explained that I wanted to buy a large bouquet of tulips, but not just in one color. Rather, I hoped to take a couple of tulips from each bucket and mix them together to create a colorful pastel bouquet.
"Mais non!", the shopkeeper exclaimed in absolute horror, "Why ever would you want to do this?!"
"Because I like lots of color", I replied, stupidly adhering to my American-instilled attitude that the customer is always right.
But the florist refused. In France, the shopkeeper is always right. She told me that monochromatic bouquets were far more sophisticated, far more chic. I should trust her expert advice and stick with one color of tulips as she simply could not tolerate the idea of mixed tulip bouquet leaving her shop.
I held fast to my desire to have a mixed bouquet, and she held firm to her monochromatic principles. I left her shop highly insulted (and without my pastel tulips)!
Truth is, I appreciate all kinds of flowers from the humble dandelion to the most exotic orchid. I love to see fruits and vegetables and cabbages and greens and branches blended into beautiful bouquets. But, I also love the striking drama of one single flower repeated in abundance. I may not have understood her at the time, but now I realize that "Madame" was right. The understated elegance of a monochromatic bouquet is very... I believe the term in France these days is "de classe" ("chic" has become "passe".)
No matter the flower, no matter the arrangement, no matter the vase, I think Iris Murdcok had it right: People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us!