Broken Blossoms


Straddling two cultures can cause a certain dissonance, particularly if the cultures are not that dissimilar. Chinese New Year is not January 1. So what? One could celebrate both separately in the tradition of each. It's when you feel you have to choose that things gets dicey.

Take superstition. Except for the Stevie Wonder song, I'm not into it. Not because I'm too rational, but because I'm too forgetful and careless. But if I were superstitious, which day would I dread? Friday the 13th, as Americans believe, with the horror movies to illustrate it? Or Tuesday the 13th (no movies)? In fact, Tuesday is an all-around bad luck day. En martes ni te cases ni te embarques, ni de tu casa te apartes. On Tuesday neither marry nor travel, nor leave your home. Fortunately, I follow neither English-language nor Spanish-language notions on these matters.

What is an issue is flowers. Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee enthusiasts will recall the flower seller who says, in Spanish, flores para los muertos in Streetcar Named Desire, repeated as a gloomy joke in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. That's who flowers are for, besides for lovers, where I grew up. For the dead. In my home city, the flower-shop district was right next to the cemetery. To send flowers to a hospital bed, I learned, was tantamount to wishing the patient dead.

My father, who was horrified by the American custom of sending them to the hospital, went further. He didn't even like them at funerals, and he left specific instructions that there should be none at his. I believe it was his floraphobia that accounted for my never sending flowers to the hospital beds of convalescing friends and lovers, for which I've been accused of being insensitive -- by lovers, friends are usually cool. I probably am, but this is an aspect of culture to which I never assimilated.

Sending them to love objects, on the other hand, is no problem. Well, it is a problem because I am forgetful and careless and, yes, insensitive -- self-absorbed, which is the same thing. But there are no cultural taboos to stop me. Just character flaws. And once, just once, I had a woman send me flowers. That was a big surprise. I confess it embarrassed me, this reversal of traditional gender behavior. It put to the test my "evolved male" stance. It still does. As well she knows.