camellia in my hands as he took my picture. As young as I must have been (about two?), I actually remember him taking this picture of me standing in the shade near one of the camellia bushes at our Downey house.
The first plants he installed at the Peralta Hills house when we moved in were the red and pink camellias by the side gate. I asked him why camellias. He simply said, “I like them.”
In Japanese folklore, camellias are said to symbolize transient beauty. They are among the first flowers to bloom in the spring, and we are to appreciate their beauty all the more intensely because of their evanescence. In her work A Tale of Genji, Lady Murasaki Shikibu wrote in the early 11th century that the tragedy of the camellia’s short-lived beauty represents the sudden death of dreams and illusions. Alexandre Dumas, fils, capitalized on the camellia’s tragic trope in his 1848 novel La Dame aux camélias or The Lady of the Camellias. Giuseppe Verdi adapted this Dumas story as the basis of his 1853 opera La Traviata.
As much as I like La Traviata, we weren’t thinking about tragic philosophy, either Eastern or Western, when Bing and I decided to incorporate camellias into our Howard Street landscaping. Like my dad, we simply liked them. But we wanted varieties that were a little different, so we spent an afternoon at Nuccio’s, a world-famous nursery in near-by Altadena which specializes in camellias and azaleas. We selected this variety because of the way the pale pink shaded out darker at the edges. Bing planted them between the wisteria and Akemi’s play house door his last summer. When it’s blooming, I like to bring one blossom into my office and float it in one of my blue and white Chinese rice pattern bowls, part of my wedding set from his paternal grandparents, on my desk.
I returned to Nuccio’s a few years later to look for some white camellias. I fell in love with a camellia japonica known as “Elegans Champagne” because it looks like a peony. Unfortunately, three of the five I brought home that day scorched in the next summer’s heat. I salvaged the two survivors and have been babying them back in pots with constant watering and fertilizing.
My patience has been rewarded this February with beautiful blooms. I positioned the pots outside of my bedroom window where I can see them while sitting at my desk, nestled among the new plantings installed as part of my garden make-over. I owe you a photo of them because I failed to take the photo I intended to take on Friday when the first one was in its glory, but today already has crumpled away. Evanescence, indeed.
Nevertheless, I am happy to look out on them today in my energy-less state. I’ve done well during the two prior cycles of Bortezomib, rising above the side effects and able to carry on with work and life. I guess it was bound to happen, but this third cycle (and the fourth treatment round) has finally caught up with me. I’m not nauseous or in pain or distress—nothing like the Cladrinbine/Rituxan trials of last September—just completely “zapped.” Lying in bed and not moving much has seemed like a good idea for most of the time since coming home from the day hospital on Friday following the chemo infusion. Unbelievably, I had no meetings scheduled today, so I took it as the sign to not don “dean clothes” and navigate the freeway and campus life, and just continue to lie low. I’m hoping to recharge back up, though, and not have this “Violetta” routine go on much longer.