Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "The Hanging Gardens of Babel"

This poem came out of the January 24, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired and sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles. It also fills the "herbs" square in my 11-1-16 card for the Fall Festival Bingo fest. This poem belongs to the Polychrome Heroics series.

Well, I almost made it through a fishbowl with all standalones. I got about two-thirds through this poem before I looked up urban agriculture and hit some gorgeous images I recognized as Terramagne-Paris. But I did keep it to sub-epic size.


"The Hanging Gardens of Babel"


At first there was only forest,
neither field nor city
anywhere to be seen.

Then the seeds that
sprouted in the middens
began to be different from
those that grew in the underbrush,

and the women who gathered
became men who planted.

Farms there were, then,
and from those fields
the first cities grew
like strange new trees.

The citizens of Babylon
hung gardens overhead, and
the far-flung workforce of Babel
argued in a hundred tongues
as they tried to build a tower.

The cities grew, and grew,
in rings like the trunk of a tree.

People continued to bring
their plots into the cities --
dooryard gardens and planters,
balconies and windowboxes.

Up and up the buildings went,
and the gardeners climbed them
like vines reaching for the sky.

People argued over what to change
and how much, what to keep the same.

Paris became a city of market gardens,
survived a number of wars, and let
the gardens lapse for a while.

But some people still remembered,
and when the growing population
strained at the bricks and mortar
of civilization, they suggested
turning the city green again.

So the roofs were turned into
beds of flowers and vegetables,
the windowboxes spilled over
with savory herbs and soft fruits,
while down on the streets, rows of
decorative planters appeared.

There were gardens, too, some
repurposed from less-popular parks
and other ones made anew from
vacant lots or parking places.

The great architect Gorlois Olivier
produced new plans and proposals;
buildings were approved and built,
turning their developments into
vertical farms with spirals of steel
or honeycombs of concrete
supporting the greenery.

They gathered so many names
from tourists, they came to be known
as the Hanging Gardens of Babel.

It was a verdant revolution, and
Paris would never be the same.

It would be better.

* * *

Notes:

Gorlois Olivier -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short messy brown hair. He also has a short scruff of beard that is starting to go gray. He wears glasses with thick, geeky frames of dark brown. A native of Paris, Gorlois is a native speaker of French and Picard (a regional language related to French, spoken by his mother who comes from the city Amiens in Picardie). He also knows Berber, English, Esperanto, German, Italian, Maghrebi Arabic, and Spanish.
Gorlois is a brilliant architect and an accomplished urban gardener. He is one of the leading figures involved in turning Paris into a garden city using modern technology such as hydroponics, solar panels, and wind turbines. This has made him a lot of friends and a few powerful enemies. Some people make fun of his geeky appearance.
Origin: In college Gorlois won a contest for designing hydroponic gardens. The prize was a handsome antique French bracelet with an enamel design of sweet peas (symbolizing luck and friendship) twining around cabochons of orange coral (associated with imagination, perception, and wisdom). This artifact gave him Super-Intellect.
Uniform: In the lab, Gorlois usually wears dark pants with a white shirt and lab coat. For heavy work such as gardening or construction, he often wears overalls. Outside of that, he likes multicolor clothes but doesn't have much taste. He has a nerdy, oddly-dressed look.
Qualities: Master (+6) Architect, Master (+6) Urban Gardener, Expert (+4) Gizmologist, Expert (+4) Parisian History, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Languages, Good (+2) Making Friends
Poor (-2) Appearance
Powers: Good (+2) Super-Intellect
Limitation: His intelligence functions at Good (+2) level in the naturalistic and spatial fields. In other areas it is only Average (0) level.
Motivation: To make Paris green again.

* * *

The history of agriculture goes back a long way, and people debate how it started. The midden theory spans multiple variations and coexists well with several other possibilities.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon used to be one of the 7 Wonders of the World. They have been variously described as terraces, green roofs, hanging planters, and assorted other styles. They could have been any of these, or some combination of them. Within the history of Terramagne, it seems likely for these gardens to have been constructed by someone with Super-Intelligence in the spatial and/or naturalistic field.

The Tower of Babel is generally considered a myth explaining the existence of different languages. A more realistic explanation comes from the experiences of mixed-language construction crews. These are safe as long as people can communicate -- i.e. if there is an auxiliary language (Plains Indian Sign Language aka trade sign or hand talk is an example from Turtle Island) or multilingual translator available. They become very unsafe if anything happens to remove those supports, for example, an outraged overlord banning the auxiliary language or firing the multilingual supervisors. A superpowered explanation could be the loss of someone with the Gift of Tongues, or worse, abuse of (or by) a telepath which caused aphasia over a wide area.

Urban farming exists in many variations, such as greenscrapers and retirement farms.

The history of market gardening is similarly complex. In the 17th century, the French garden system was the bleeding edge of urban agriculture, and many of those techniques are still in use today. You can read a whole book about this online.

Among the more interesting inventions was something called a hotte or Paris basket. This was a basket with a tall back, carried by means of two shoulder straps, used for hauling large loads of manure down narrow paths in the market gardens. This type has a tall wooden cage. This is a wicker harvest basket. Indeed, grape-picking baskets come in many styles. Here is a modern wicker hotte with a deep basket and short back.

Local-Paris has mandated that every new building have a green roof or solar panels. While laudable in intent, it's impractical because both of those things work well in some conditions and not at all in others -- and neither of them work in shady areas. The Terramagne-Paris parameters are more flexible and also more comprehensive, aimed at creating a sustainable city whose buildings work with their environment. That entails a lot more variety. This is an example of a green roof terrace in L-Paris.

Windowboxes such as these are another option. This French windowbox is growing herbs and strawberries.

This is Gorlois' vision for Paris of the future. It is overambitious in scope. Most people don't want to change that much, because the city has many historic buildings. However, it also has a lot of postwar buildings which were made quickly and cheaply, some with the hope of replacing them with something better at a more opportune time. Along with a few vacant lots and areas ravaged by fires or other disasters, these offer potential for fresh developments. Parisians adore anything that makes their city special, and right now, a lot of them want to make Paris into the "garden city" that it has been at some periods in the past. In places you can see where the new architecture interweaves with the old.

Check out some features of the improved T-Paris, some already in place and others planned. These spiral towers overlook garden paths linking the buildings. These conjoined towers resemble stacks of pebbles, and rise above park and garden areas. These three oblong towers are near a forested park. Mesh towers with turbines stand over older buildings. Honeycomb buildings are festooned with vines. This gallery garden has trees as well as vines. A bridge forms two enormous arches over a river teeming with life. Mangrove towers optimistically shelter a Fleer train station. Curving towers can be incorporated into aquafarms. Here's an inside view of a giant greenhouse building.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, environment, ethnic studies, fantasy, fishbowl, gardening, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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