The new graphic companion of tranzit.ro/București
The last specimen of Hyophorbe amaricaulis, also called “the loneliest palm in the world”, unlike other endlings in this world of quickly disappearing species, did not have a nickname. Until today. To name is to possess, says writer Jamaica Kincaid, yet the colonisers who encountered the island of Mauritius (where Hyophorbe amaricaulis is to be seen now in its cage in a botanical garden), failed, as pretty much everywhere in the world, to possess more than their own ambition for power and wealth, together with the appetite for crime and destruction. They mapped, reported on, drawn, described and labelled most of the species they found, yet they did not manage to teach themselves the knowledge of preserving these species from extinction.
The representation of Hyophorbe amaricaulis, “our” HYO, will be with us for a while, alongside our (to be realised) projects and our (lack of) ambitions. It is here to remind us of the critical state in which much of the planet is today, while not diffusing, and remembering to whom belongs, the responsibility for this state. HYO emblematizes the tropical imaginary that drove the white predators to the crossing of the seas, in search of “untouched” paradises. It is the same imaginary that lead to the creation of botanical gardens at the tropics: sources of spices and timber to keep the domination rolling, as well as territories of experimentation where endemic species and introduced ones came to live in the most unlikely vicinities. It was this cultivated imaginary that stimulated also the building of conservatories in the colonisers’ home places in Northern Europe, under which glass domes they could dream of those places at the end of the world where human misery feels less pathetic (la misère serait moins pénible au soleil).
Lately, Bucharest is developing an increasing tropical climate. An “African” bug has invaded the tomatoes crops already since a few years (a climate refugee, perhaps), the cicadas can be heard on the rosemary bushes that now gloriously survive winters, people are getting specialised in growing avocado plants next to dill, and the omnipresent ailanthus is the surrogate for palm trees, which don’t yet grow in open air. To complement this development, mayors go wild and fund “exotic” greenhouses, inside which plants are brought together without any knowledge nor under the care of specialised personnel, thus condemned to die soon and be replaced with other, costly ones. Over here looms the supreme example of a mayor in another Southern city in Romania, who escaped justice by fleeing to the tropics – why bother with the simulation when you can get the real experience?!
At the edge of Bucharest, a thermal spa invites carefully selected clients to be as close as one gets to the common Romanian dream of walking in bathrobe with a colourful cocktail under the large palm leaves. And the tickling of the locals’ tropical imagination is not even pertaining to the business oriented minds of the 21st century, as advertising from the early years of transition in the 1990s reminds us, such as the famous commercials for the Tropicana juice or Palm-olive soap.
Yet, the interchange of drought and flooding, which are the constant meteorological phenomena in the country, puts things in perspective and brings the inflated imagination closer to reality. It’s a reality already predicted by climate scientists: if things go according to the present rhythm (and despite the illusion of slowdown induced by the current pandemic), by the end of the century (probably much sooner though), Bucharest will be an arid, cold steppe zone. With a bit of grass growing through the ruins of the hideous office buildings of now, with hardly any trees (they are anyway already disappearing through the zeal of city officials concerned with parking lots), and with the memory of palm trees surviving in some books. Can we still prevent this reality from happening? Should we? By then, our kids, half-borg, half-vegetable with a touch of human shape will most likely be adapted to the new environment.
Hyophorbe amaricaulis means bitter fodder for pigs. Plant life is also a prosaic fight for survival. Café marron, a plant species that was thought to be extinct and then rediscovered on another Mascarene island, Rodrigues, used to be consumed by the locals as a cure for hangover. If HYO is to be reproduced through the efforts of scientists (for, as a single specimen it cannot reproduce itself, engendering male and female flowers at different times), its future existence as a species will have to be understood in an ecosystem of care for its actual needs, its cage hopefully removed for good and its offspring given the chance of a better life in the wild, where they can fight extinction away from the human predators. Palm trees do not belong to botanical gardens, nor to conservatories.
If Bucharest is to have a future as a city, still inhabited by people as well as by plants, this future has to be imagined as a fragile entity, on the verge of extinction. We place this future (and part of our programme) under the sign of HYO.
HYO graphic design: Eduard Constantin
Text: Raluca Voinea
HYO graphic design by Eduard Constantin