From our balcony the other day I noticed that our banana has flowered. This doesn’t happen every year – in fact I can’t remember the last time the bright yellow Little Shop Of Horrors waxen monster opened up like this (can any of the horticulturalists among you give me any hints of what species of banana tree this actually is?)
I don’t even remember how it got there. I know we have some small banana trees upstairs; and this might have just been one of those from before, one that was ailing a little, that we just planted in the soil on the offchance that it might thrive. It did : and then some ; big, unfurling plantain leaves that strive up and flop over the next door neighbour’s fence (a courteous and energetic widow, whose late husband, it has only just occurred to me while writing this, actually worked for a banana trading company back in the day – Chiquita, I think, making frequent flights to Ecuador). I was about to write that she might object to the bright out-of-place-ness and hugeness of this non-indigenous and tropical plant, not quite matching her carefully tended begonias and dahlias, her delicate orchids suspended in hanging baskets, but now I realize she might come out of her back door, see the banana plant there each day smiling at her, and just find the whole thing quite ironic.
I find this flower majestic. Startling. It doesn’t have a particular smell, just slightly sugary , like sap – though its leaves have the bananier note found in Patou’s Sira Des Indes, one of the most indolent and nonchalant perfumes ever made. Bananas themselves we seem to have gone off slightly in recent times. Here they often come riduculously wrapped, individually, in cellophane, and sometimes one of us will buy one, or a bunch, but they go untouched. Sometimes the texture is all wrong, others I am just not in the mood – right now I prefer persimmons and mikan satsuma oranges.
Banana trees in Japan also strike me as somewhat sad. Deracinated. Not quite there. In August you feel as though you could be in the Philippines, with palm trees and the baby green bananas forming hurriedly on the branches. They never make it to full growth, though, because it starts to get colder by October, and by winter they get killed off by the frost.
Our banana queen, though, a different, non-fruit forming variety, while dormant for years at a time, is almost lividly alive, resplendent. There is a luxuriant, sheen of sap and nourishment for all the creatures that live inside her : satellites pulled back into the heaving mothership. Sturdy; of rubbered heft. She may be biding her time – for several years in a row, sometimes – just waiting, and drawing strength, but when she flowers …………………she really FLOWERS.