THE MARVELLOUS HERBARIUM
As an art student in Paris I lived on Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Every morning, my portfolio banging about in all directions, I sprinted through the Galerie Véro Dodat like the coat rack guy in the ad for the Playtex Cross Your Heart Bra – lift and separation, remember? Weaving in and out and leaving no damage in my wake, I crossed Rue des Bons Enfants, plunged into the Palais Royal gardens and followed the fence around the Buren columns project. Place Colette, I stopped off at the Nemour bar for a quick coffee. In front of the ‘colonne Meurice’ the old violet seller was putting her flowers out, sticking little metal cones among cypress branches to give her humble bouquets a little more zing. This was one of the high points of my morning On my way back in the evening she was still there, hoping to sell her last, weary posies to people coming out of the Théâtre Français. Often I bought the leftovers – five francs for two – for the little altar in my attic room Then I settled down to devour Ovid’s Metamorphoses: the death of Adonis, the death of Hyacinth, the death of Cyparissus, the death of Narcissus, as flowers crowded around me in my dreams
Back in Paris and on Place Colette I find that the violet lady’s been replaced by a newsstand Years of notes, stories and photographs of heaped-up flowers for a stained-glass window project for St. Martin’s church in Harfleur, Normandy. My idea was a return to the Virgin Mary’s Garden, for me a Garden of Eden bathed in red light beneath the canopy of St. Martin’s cloak. I would cut the space in two with a horizon of light. On the ground, flowers symbolising Christ’s passion would have sprung up: lily of the valley, born of the Virgin’s falling tears, and scarlet field poppies, rising out of the drops of blood spattered at the foot of the cross. With its keys in the shape of little yellow bells, the wild primrose opens the gates of Paradise, but not the doors of the Church.
In the Chapelle Saint-Martin in Arles, Veronica, patron saint of photographers, wipes the face of Christ, and the flower that bears her name carries forever the imprint of his eyes. Gifts from heaven, these wildflowers have found their home ground.