The tapes came in a big white envelope. My address was written by hand. I liked this, because I could envision someone who actually sat down at a table or a desk, took a pen, and from a piece of paper copied the address, taking care to spell it properly. A sticker in one corner showed the pre-stamped address of crustacés tapes. This, too, was the result of an hour at the laboratory and, apparently an insignificant work, carried out with care.
In the other angle three stamps, almost a relic from the last century - strawberries, the westcot apricot and a region in Canada called Point Pelee. Every time I brought some packets or envelopes to the post, I observed with regret, how the postman put one after the other on a scale, turned to the computer, hit a few keys, looked at the screen and fed the scale with an adhesive paper on which the price would be printed, a barcode and what did I know, and still it took ages for the post to arrive.
A big part of the envelope was covered by a page from a book on flowers and wildlife. It was page 113 and it showed three pictures. The description of the darkest picture was partly covered by my address. From the French text I understood, that it showed a bird which flew low over the surface of the water to catch, yes, to catch what? I didn’t want to risk to destroy the composition of the envelope, tear of my address and find out. The picture itself didn’t tell me anything; it was all black and blue and blur. No matter how I turned the picture, I saw bird nor river. The other two pictures were clear. Moreover they told a story Anne-F could not have imagined.
The first one was a parade of floating plants, the giant Victoria Regia. It was a picture of them in the wild, taken somewhere in the Amazon region. Now this Victoria Regia had a claim to fame. I learned from the story of this plant from a book by one of the best Dutch writers ever, Jan Hendrik van den Berg. The book was called ‚hooligans.’ It was a bazaar of stories, pictures and prophecies. One of the stories was about the construction of the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition in London, in the year 1856. The Crystal Palace was a glass house of enormous proportions, four times the size of the Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. More glass houses were built in the years following, but, somehow, this dreamlike architecture disappeared completely after the Great War.
Joseph Paxton, a gardener, became the architect of the gigantic glass house. Well, the Victoria Regia, also the Victoria Amazonica, was the largest of the family of water lilies. Mr. Paxton was heard saying that the lily, with ribbed undersurface and leaves veining like transverse girders and supports, was his inspiration for The Crystal Palace. Anne-F had taken the page from an unwanted book. She had been working in the second-hand bookstore until last year. They were given boxes and boxes of encyclopaedias, atlases, dictionaries, that nobody wanted even at 1$ in the street sale. So she started bringing them to her studio and use them, and included a memory to my long time girlfriend as well: a picture of an orchid, a species that grew without roots.
The father of my girlfriend had been a well known breeder of orchids. He even came up with a new kind that was named after him. His idea was to travel to South America with her to find orchids in the wild. It would have been the present for her twenty-first birthday. They never went. The father embarked on a different voyage, to a place where no envelopes arrive, be they with tapes and pictures from Amazonian flora and fauna or not.