Hanging out with Goethe at Cherry Blossom Fest

Swamp Rabbit looked around and said, “Where are the cherry blossoms?”

It was a good question. We’d arrived to work the 18th annual Cherry Blossom Festival, at the Horticultural Center in West Fairmount Park. There was plenty of greenery but few traces of the delicate pink blossoms that appear every spring on the rows of trees that line the pathways.

“It’s because no one can tell from year to year exactly when the bloom will happen,” I answered. “Last week, you would have been choking on cherry blossoms.”

I pointed at some kimono-clad attendees and told Swamp Rabbit that the event celebrates Japanese-American culture. He wanted to know when the tradition started, so I sought help. A scholarly looking fellow in a conical hat directed us to a statue of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), the poet, playwright, novelist, scientist and central figure in the German Romantic movement who wrote, along with many other works, The Metamorphosis of Plants.

Goethe, an old white guy, has been neglected for years in his little corner of the park. He was happy to talk and told us that cherry trees, planted here in 1926, were a gift from Japan to mark the 150th anniversary of American independence, and that additional plantings by the local Japan America Society were completed in 2007.

“Your English is decent,” Swamp Rabbit told the great polymath. “But how come you ain’t in Germany instead of this here Japan-America thing? You some kind of spy?”

“Such are the vicissitudes of life,” Goethe said, his tarnished bronze face beaming. “I miss Weimar, but I’m glad I wasn’t there in the mid-20th century. Not the most enlightened period in German history. Better to be here, watching people from different backgrounds throw a party and get along.”

Swamp Rabbit still seemed suspicious. “Pretty words, but how do you pronounce your name? And ain’t you the guy who sold hisself to the devil? Ain’t you the German Robert Johnson?”

“You’re confusing the author with his work,” I said, embarrassed for my friend. “Faust sells his soul but is ultimately redeemed because of his determined effort to transcend his imperfections. Or something like that.”

After a few hours of work, I drank matcha and ordered beer for Swamp Rabbit and Goethe. We ate sushi and watched a squad of costumed dancers perform. The sun broke through the clouds, but Swamp Rabbit predicted a long period of Sturm und Drang just up ahead.

“A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart,” Goethe said, shrugging.

“More pretty words,” Swamp Rabbit replied. “You wouldn’t talk like that if you lived in my neighborhood.”

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2 Responses to Hanging out with Goethe at Cherry Blossom Fest

  1. Myra Nelson says:

    That was sweet and fanciful, David. I enjoyed it, and I also enjoyed the festival, but mourned the dearth of blossoms.


  2. Sterling Brown says:

    Dave —  The big cherry tree in my back yard is blossoming, but with far fewer blooms than usual.  S. 


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