Wednesday Vignette – seeing through the layers

Many years ago, my grandmother – as a reward for her chapter’s ability to volunteer and raise money for an international help organization – was invited to visit their headquarters in Stockholm. As she entered the shining brushed steel and glass doors to their penthouse lobby, she had a bit of an awakening. Fundraising for a purported help organization that splurged the fruits of countless volunteers’ labor on prime real estate rent and Barcelona chairs suddenly didn’t seem like a wise use of her time, so she left, and found more worthy causes to expend her energy on.

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This past Saturday, I finally got to see the Spheres in Seattle – the iconic headquarters of Amazon. I traveled up with members of the Pacific Northwest Begonia Society – which should tell you that I was in the glorious company of other plant nerds. All of it was fantastic – the building, the space, our guides, and of course the plants. Squeals of delight and sighs of admiration were heard as we traipsed through the fabulous glass domes filled with marvelous, hard-to-find collections of tropical plants, and – strewn amongst them – open work landscapes and secret meeting pods. It’s the kind of space that is every architect’s wet dream. And yet, when we saw it in all it’s faceted glory, we agreed there is a very tangible elephant in the room.

What we were basking in was an expression of the concentrated wealth extracted from thousands of dead and dying smaller businesses from Main Streets across America . This state-sanctioned, strategic milking dry of local commerce has taken place over the past couple of decades, with the political repercussions one might expect from such an assault – angry, embittered voters in small-town America, with shrinking budgets and vanishing opportunities. I have to admit this stark realization tempered my enthusiasm some. I will be posting more about the prettier sides of this fabulous adventure soon (there were many), but I wanted to first put this sobering notion front and center in this Vignette. The Spheres served as a sparkling reminder of the REAL cost of online convenience, and I vowed to be extra conscious of it going forward. As with everything else in life, I think it’s important to not stop at just face value, but to also examine the layers that substantiate something’s actual value in our communities, and tailor our actions accordingly. More to come…

About annamadeit

I was born and raised in Sweden, By now, I have lived almost as long in the United States. The path I’ve taken has been long and varied, and has given me a philosophical approach to life. I may joke that I’m a sybarite, but the truth is, I find joy and luxury in life’s simple things as well. My outlook on life has roots in a culture rich in history and tradition, and I care a great deal about environmental stewardship. Aesthetically, while drawn to the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia, I also have a deep appreciation for the raw, the weathered, and the worn - materials that tell a story. To me, contrast, counterpoint, and diversity are what makes life interesting and engaging. Color has always informed everything I do. I’m a functional tetrachromat, and a hopeless plantoholic. I was originally trained as an architect working mostly on interiors, but soon ventured outside - into garden design. It’s that contrast thing again… An interior adrift from its exterior, is like a yin without a yang. My firm conviction that everything is connected gets me in trouble time and time again. The world is a big place, and full of marvelous distractions, and offers plentiful opportunities for inquiry and exploration. I started writing to quell my constant queries, explore my discoveries, and nurture my curiosity. The Creative Flux was started in 2010, and became a catch-all for all kinds of intersecting interests. The start of Flutter & Hum at the end of 2013 marks my descent into plant nerd revelry. I occasionally contribute to other blogs, but those two are my main ones. For sure, topics are all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blogs!
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14 Responses to Wednesday Vignette – seeing through the layers

  1. Sound thoughts, Anna, and particular wisdom from your grandmother

  2. Tina says:

    Yes, I’m glad you could see past the glitter and glass (okay, steel) to the problems that glitz has caused. Of course, we’re all part of that aren’t we? I first joined Amazon when I could no longer get a certain sunscreen here in Austin, but of course, Amazon carried it. Since then, it’s all too easy to log on, order, have it delivered, move on to the next thing on my to-do list.

    I make some efforts, though I’m sure not enough, to find things locally. This is a good reminder about how important that is–so thanks for that.

    My garden musing: https://mygardenersays.com/2020/01/29/a-fab-fritillary/

    • annamadeit says:

      Oh Tina – I’m sure we are all pretty bad in our online habits, but like what you indicated, it’s a bit of a Catch-22. The store doesn’t have it, Amazon does, eventually the store closes – because it can’t stock everything – and shoppers don’t even have the choice of brick-and-mortar anymore.

      Another thing I’m sure you’ve seen in Austin as well as I’ve seen here; gentrification is another killer of small businesses. Over the past two months, I have seen two businesses I frequented close their doors and move. My hairdresser had enough space to open up his shop at home as opposed to at a street front. The building housing the fabulous bead shop that had the most amazing selection of beads from all over the planet was sold, and will probably be torn down, in favor of condos. The couple that ran it are still looking for a new home – hopefully on the coast somewhere. I still send them good karma every day, hoping they will find a good landing spot. Portland is well on its way to becoming a place where only corporate chains will survive. It’s really sad, and I don’t know what to do to stave off that seeming inevitability, other than to stay conscious of it, and make the choices most supportive of small businesses that I can. Open to any and all ideas on what else to do.

  3. bergstromskan says:

    Yes, how do we choose? Amazon is now the owner of Whole Foods, where I find most of my organic veggies, at least in the winter. Fortunately we have a Farmers Market where I still can get some organic vegetables.
    One way is to ask myself: Do I really need this thing? Such an opposite, to start my life where things were not available in our local store, and today drowning in opportunities. Amazing. Thank you for sharing your awareness Anna

    • annamadeit says:

      Just reflecting… Yes, how and what we choose is huge, and will likely only get more and more important. I like supporting my farmer, but on the other hand, I still order from Amazon as well. I am very far from practicing what I preach, but I do admit to trying to do better. Convenience is a devious thing… You are right – the contrast between then and now is stunning!

  4. Alison says:

    The article you linked to is dated 2014. You may not be aware, but there has been a resurgence of independent local bookstores since then. You might find this article from NPR interesting: https://www.npr.org/2018/03/29/598053563/why-the-number-of-independent-bookstores-increased-during-the-retail-apocalypse

    Google “resurgence of bookstores” and you’ll find lots of other, more recent articles about the phenomenon. I’m not defending Jeff Bezos’ business practices, but thought you might not be aware of this.

    • annamadeit says:

      Yeah, it’s an older article but I don’t think that much has changed. I had not heard about the resurgence in indy bookstores – that makes me happy, so thank you for that, Alison! Maybe it’s some kind of sign of consumer rebellion? Do you know if it’s trending similarly for all the other types of goods Amazon sells? Either way, sorry for the gripey post, but I had to get that out before I could focus on the indisputably glorious aspect of the Spheres. More to come soon…

  5. Kris P says:

    All very true. I have a similar reaction to church cathedrals. The argument there I suppose is that they inspire congregants with the glories of heaven. Some of the most fabulous gardens in the country were also created by the very, very rich who made their fortunes on the backs of their workers, who in some cases were slaves. Still, I think we have to find a way to appreciate offerings of beauty where we find them in today’s world, while also not closing our eyes to the social issues surrounding colossal inequities in the distribution of wealth.

    I have a very simple WV this week: https://krispgarden.blogspot.com/2020/01/wednesday-vignette-getting-early-start.html

    • annamadeit says:

      You are right – and come to think of it, I had the same kind of gut reaction when I visited Versailles. I guess the main difference between now and then is that this is happening in a so called democracy, whereas back then, no pretenses were made about social hierarchies. Like so many other tech companies, Amazon is opportunistically taking advantage of current laws and incentives, and the sad thing is of course that none of us (meaning the collective humanity) were smart enough to see where such forgiving policies would eventually land. All that aside – it is a fantastic building with a fantastic plant collection. I am very grateful I had an opportunity to visit, and get a tour three times the length of a normal tour, led by incredibly knowledgeable people. It was a wonderful day, and you’re right – I should focus on the beauty of it. I promise to do that in my next posts. I took enough pictures for at least two more – LOL!

  6. On the other hand look at the people, talented horticulture people, who are employed to care for this one-of-a-kind plant collection. Look at the plants that have a home where we all can see them, fall in love and be inspired to create our own small slice of heaven. Amazon has happened, there’s no denying it or the negatives. But how wonderful that some of that money went into creating a garden, a garden that is a private corporate office building but shared with the public! They didn’t have to open for your tour, or the twice monthly public visits, but they do…and at no cost to those who visit.

    Just my two cents, and here is my WV:
    http://www.thedangergarden.com/2020/01/wednesday-vignette-green-on-green.html

    • annamadeit says:

      Oh for sure. One aspect does in no way take away the other. I’m sorry if this post sounded negative and bitter, but my head is in a political space right now, and I can’t help myself. I had to get this off my chest first. More starry-eyed posts coming up on both plants and architecture. It truly is a fantastic place to visit!

  7. Jason Kay says:

    Very good, thought-provoking post. I like the reference to Versailles, as Jeff Bezos is the would-be Sun King of our age, along with the other gods of finance. Actually, I think I would like the Amazon hq much better than Versailles. But we can’t let the futuristic design and cool plants blind us to the employment practices that push ordinary working people into poverty. Though I will say one thing in Jeff Bezos’ favor: he did not fuck up (excuse my language) the Washington Post after purchasing it, and so has provoked the rage of Donald Trump. Anybody hated by Trump can’t be all bad.

    • annamadeit says:

      Haha – amen on the last one! I am SO GRATEFUL for independent journalists and select news media these days. And I’m appalled that so many of them receive death threats on a regular basis. We live in scary times, and despite the backstory of the Spheres, seeing them in person was a thing of wonder and delight – both architecturally and botanically. I just can’t help seeing the whole story. I am convinced that Bezos and the likes of him, in combination with neoliberal lackadaisical policies (and the DNC’s refusal to abandon those in light of the obvious zeitgeist of 2015-16) is the reason we have a sociopathic moron currently occupying the White House. A free and fair media has never been more important, so I DO appreciate Bezos keeping WAPO that way.

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