Sunday, January 1, 2012

Roses, Roses, Roses!

December 30, 2011
Our Road Scholar Tournament of Roses Parade adventure officially began with dinner and introductions last night, but the real kick-off to greatness was today, when we spent a whole day working on floats that will be in the parade.  Actually, we didn’t literally work on the floats themselves, but we worked on the flowers that will go on the floats.

The roses that are applied to floats are first inserted into water-filled vials that have a pointed tip which is punched into foam on the float surface.  I can proudly say that I put roses into over a thousand vials. 


White roses, red roses, yellow roses, peachy roses and pink—the batches kept coming, and our team of Road Scholars trimmed their long stems to little four inch stubs and stuck them into the rubber-topped vials with precision.  The rose blooms had to be flush with the top of the vial—no stem sticking above the cap—and the cut end of the stem had to be near the bottom of the vial but not touching it, to maximize the time that it could keep sucking up water to stay fresh.  Getting it just right was harder than it sounds.  Also, thorns presented a constant hazard, and none of us emerged from the experience unscathed—or undelighted.

By the time we were done, we and the other volunteers crowded around our long work table had filled over 60,000 vials with beautiful roses. 

We also had a brief stint cutting the tops off daisy-like chrysanthemums and daintily applying tacky glue in a circle around the underside of the petals.  Thousands of those white flower heads we prepared were applied to the huge helmet on the Wisconsin team float.

The roses were destined for the five floats in our warehouse—the Wisconsin and Oregon team floats,

 the lead float for the parade,

a huge dragon sponsored by China Airlines, and a Power Rangers float.  

During breaks in our flower processing action, we had time to wander around the warehouse and watch the volunteers decorating floats.  Those of us who had a hard time putting tinsel on the Christmas tree one strand at a time could never qualify to do float decorating work, which often involves tasks like gluing tiny leaves one at a time in a complex pattern, or outlining the entire perimeter of a 50 foot float with a single line of black beans.  We watched one woman using a curling iron on corn husks, curling them one at a time.  It was a seemingly endless task, since it appeared that over a thousand would be needed to cover the long neck of the dragon.

One woman who has been volunteering at this warehouse for 23 years showed us how she pulverizes straw flowers and statice in a blender to make flakes of yellow and blue colors respectively.  She was using burgundy cranberry seeds and tan raspberry seeds on medallions she was preparing, and she showed us multiple variations on black—shiny black seaweed, matte black onion seeds, peppercorns.  Surprisingly, the warehouse was not fragrant with the aroma of roses, but instead it smelled like coconut, which was used in flakes and ground fine in abundance.  

One of our favorite surprises during our time there was the arrival of a team of Power Rangers, who practiced their very impressive choreographed kicking and flipping ninja moves in front of their float and did features with local news anchors.  The music blaring from their float during a very long sound system check and optimization was very energizing and fun after a long day of poking flowers into tubes.

What a grand and wondrous adventure!

But the day was not over . . . after dinner a group of riders from the Southern California Peruvian Paso Horse Club came to talk to us and show us their traditional handmade tack, including this exquisite hand-tooled saddle. 

According to our speakers, the Peruvian Paso Horse has three legs on the ground at all times, resulting in such a smooth gait that when the rider is viewed from the shoulders up, he or she appears to glide on an even plane, with no bouncing up and down involved.  One of our presenters has had multiple back surgeries, and claims the hardest part of the ride is getting into and out of the saddle—otherwise he can, and does, ride for hours in total comfort.  This sounds like my kind of horse.  I will be watching carefully at the parade to see if the evidence bears out their claims.

And, of course, we will be watching for the five special floats that bear our roses—hope you will be watching for them too!

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