September 5, 2012
Recently I finished the book Tulipomania by Mike Dash. Like any nerd or writer, or potential citizen, I bought books that would help me understand my new country and culture.
There used to be a Tulip Museum here in Amsterdam, and when I was visiting last December, and skeptical about a whole museum being devoted to a single flower, I was told that in Amsterdam’s Golden Age, often tulips bulbs were used in commerce instead of money. Fascinating. I pictured thieves climbing out of greenhouse windows with bags of tulips, someone buying a gold-framed oil painting with a single tulip bulb in the palm of his hand. Those are all true things, actually.
There are a few minorities here in Amsterdam, people who live here, who have lived here their whole lives but don’t feel truly Dutch. Moroccans and the Turks are the two greatest people groups caught between two cultures; therefore I like that the history of the tulip began in Turkey.
Its origins are all the way into the Ottoman Empire, an empire known for both its brutality and beautiful gardens. The Turkish gardeners (hoveniers) for the sultan served two roles: as executioners and as gardeners. The one exemption for the death penalty was if you could run faster than the gardener/executioner. If you beat him in a race, you kept your life.
Here are other fun and interesting facts:
At the height of tulipomania, a single bulb sold for 125 times its weight in gold.
An unsuspecting sailor came back to Holland after years away at sea, and unaware of the fever that had taken over parts of his country, was thrown into prison after eating a tulip bulb he thought was an onion.
In the Ottoman Empire, there was a law that as soon as a sultan died, his eldest son became sultan, but the rest of his brothers and sisters were executed by strangulation with a silk ribbon. That meant, in a court with wives and concubines, even babies still at the breast.
There have been many unexpected manias…one involving a Coca Cola being sold for $4,000 during World War II, and the other the land boom in the early part of the twentieth century in South Florida, with land bought for $2,500 and sold months later for $35,000.
Bam. When I read the part about South Florida’s land mania in the tulipomania book, a mania that was experienced in part five years ago again in South Florida ,I thought, I come full circle. I live in the mania-lands.