TO GHENT AND BACK with snacks - by Nick Lenz
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Author:  Nick Lenz [ Tue Sep 25, 2007 9:17 am ]
Post subject:  TO GHENT AND BACK with snacks - by Nick Lenz

TO GHENT AND BACK with snacks
by Nick Lenz
Photograph by Dorothy Schmitz

Upon receiving the following "review" of the recent and possibly last Ginkgo show, we were immediately struck by two things. First, that it is a rare occurrence to hear from Nick and second, that his humorous review of his personal experiences at the show were a welcomed break from the usual overall seriousness. Taking our own policies into mind which state "All forum posts should involve serious (though not necessarily humorless) and well-intentioned discussions of the artistic aspects of bonsai." we decided that this "review" of the 2007 Ginkgo Show should indeed be part of the public record and we are proud to include it here at AoB.

Of course it was the lure of the great inter-European bonzo show that lured me and my drinking buddy Krunk to endure 16 hours of airline food and trash movies to see what Herr Pall called ZE BEST BONZAI IN ZA ENTIRE VORLD. Not quite so ? the show was a bit disappointing. Eight to ten of the trees were a joy to behold. Another dozen were really good with only a few alterations or manipulations required to make them super. That left a hundred bonzo bushes, often huge 'n impressive, that received my re-design critique to my two students. Hands gesturing, heads turning or slanting, bodies moving around the trees, it was always possible to find a better design. All the while, a thuggish oaf-guard glowered at us, often interrupting with DON'T TOUCH, which we were not doing. There were then another 30 Japanese trees of great craftsmanship and boredom. Another twenty trees were just bad, even if the show was juried. The worst was a sickle tree with a wimp branch dragging out of the great curve.

The show layout was very good - stretched canvas backdrops and table covers. Some of the presentations of artifacts and companions were more fun than the trees. Some were presented with complete dullness. All the big pots were boring or just plain bland except for three I duly noted to my beer break requiring students.

And yes, the beer. You had to stand in a long line to buy tickets to stand in a long line to get your beer and then walk a quarter mile to the food stand to wait in line for your hot dog. You waited in a long line to get your ticket to stand in line to get a wristband to show you belonged. You stood in a long line to buy a ticket to stand in line to piss. Consequently, Krunk and I walked into the back of the nursery and fertilized the bonzo stock for free.

Pall was astonished to see me there and fussed that he could not arrange 'things' for me. That was the idea behind being secretive about the trip. Later, I complemented one of his larch and he gave me a free beer ticket. This I accidentally dropped in the toilet that night, washed it off, and stuck it back in my pocket. Later, perplexed, Pall accosted my whacko Swiss student, fetching me a beer. "VAT IS NICK LENZ DOINGK HERE, NOT TELLING ANYBODY" Answered my student: "I don't know " he told me to fetch a beer and I always obey my master. Moments later, Krunk came by and claimed: Hey, Walter, Nick pissed on your beer coupon. I VILL NEVER GIVE HIM ANOZER VONE, he grumbled. Much fun in the land of lines. Little humor was visible anywhere. But I did have my Pall piss beer.

Ghent is a delightful town to spend a couple days in. There are 3 cathedrals of excitement and a 12 story clock tower of medieval clunk construction, all very cool to be in. There are myriad canals of stinky water and dying water birds, so the streets are very narrow and go nowhere. However, trolley cars run everywhere, so the antique streets with no cars are covered by a canopy of trolley wires. Quite enough of the medieval architecture of the filthy rich Bush lovers remains along the canals to give you the feel of a 600 year old city, and it is ornate. Unfortunately, their concept of restoration is to gut the houses except for the facade and put a concrete modern building behind it.

There is a restored castle very close to where we stayed. They had a large display of medieval torture. According to the Bush schemata, thumbscrews, inside barb collars, and a slow stake burning would not be torture, but a fast burning or a multiple limb amputation would, so we would never do that. VE WUD NEVER DO ZAT!

The food was pretty good, especially the vegetable stuff that seemed fresh from the field rather than stupor-marketed. No duck to be found anywhere, but the beer was heavenly, the main reason Krunk wanted to go. For lunch he would have two entrees for my bowl of soup and for dinner, three. His beer consumption was 2.73 times mine and he usually ordered triple strength. He was happy.

But not altogether by our cheap accommodations. We were in a limited B&B. That means that it was a house only 20 feet wide. The first three nights we spent in the attic, reached by a ladder. The access hole in the floor frightened me somewhat, being tottery, but there was a sink and crapper. The landlord, a consummate hippy artist of fun stuff, and alcoholic, shared the second floor with a charming unfinished transvestite who spoke only French. In the back yard, a disheveled and rotting mess of curious plants, including the one legal marijuana plant, were brown and stinky with the season. Willy the dog shat all over, including the walk to the cabin in the back where we stayed for a couple of nights. At our arrival, Krunk asked the landlord where food could be found, as he was faint from hunger. The man immediately took us out on a beer binge that left the Krunk bloody and scabbed when he fell over. The landlord liked to show off his belly boils by taking off his shirt. He also liked to show his hairy legs by taking off his pants. At one time, he brought up blankets in the raw and Krunk had to literally kick him back down the ladder to keep him out. As I napped in the cottage one evening, he came in, kissed my cheek, covered me with a blanket, and went back out to tell Krunk: "This is a mystery" there is someone in there I don't know. And that wasn't the bottle of gin afternoon.

We left a day early for the Dutch coast and wound up very close to the Amsterclam airport International, but on the ocean dunes. Grabbing some beers, wedging through the barbwire fence, and violating the national dune reserve, we soon found ourselves alone and isolated in a strange and lovely habitat, without power grid, freeway, or windmills. I didn't know such a place could exist in modern Europe.

And of course, US customs sucked. The lines were considerably longer than those of the bonzo show. The drug dog did more than sniff my bag - my crotch also, and licked it. The fascist cop handling the hound yelled at me: CREEP, DON'T TOUCH THAT DOG! EVERY ONE STAY IN LINE SINGLE FILE! We went through baggage security twice. The second time, I asked the glowering fat woman why I was being searched and she answered: YOUR BAG IS DISORDERLY. She fished around in my pill bag and her eyes widened with triumph and joy. And then she pulled out my toothbrush. THIS IS DIRTY! And she trashed it. Whee. Welcome back to Empireland.

Author:  Mike Page [ Tue Sep 25, 2007 11:07 am ]
Post subject: 

Now THAT was a review!!! Made my day!!!! Check in more often, Nick.

Author:  Walter Pall [ Tue Sep 25, 2007 11:31 am ]
Post subject: 

This is all true, of course.
Besides 'ZE BEST BONZAI IN ZA ENTIRE VORLD'. I will bring with me a hearing aid as tribute when I visit Nick next time. I clearly said 'ONE OF the best bonsai exhibits in the whole world'. And Nick should agree to this. But it does not matter much really. We had a lot of fun as you all can tell.

Thank you Nick for the most precise report.


Author:  Nick Lenz [ Tue Sep 25, 2007 6:32 pm ]
Post subject: 

Hey folks,
I did not write this review for AoBon but for friends, few of whom are bonsai junkies. Blame Will for this one. I even sent a copy to George W. after I learned that travelers abroad are being spied on, with this cover letter:
Dear Mr Bush,

I understand that you are collecting data on the sojourns of Americans abroad. Since my trip to Ghent was somewhat seedy and likely not captured by you to its fullest extent, I enclose the 2 page summary of the trip for your enjoyment.

The person PALL, or Walter Pall, is a well known figure in the German bonsai world and somewhat of an antagonist, especially when he comes to visit here. Other than that bit of unknown around DC, the rest of the reading is a lot of fun.

May God travel with you, Nick

Andrew N Lenz
144 N Leverett Rd
Leverett, MA 01054
Imagine how much more confused our government will become with garbage like this amassed for millions of traveling American suspects and stored for 20 years - hotels, number of beds, meal menus, books read...
Now, we could not expect to find such an excellent show in the states because we would not bother with one. A tremendous amount of volunteer effort went into it. When I say that a hundred trees were a challenge of redesign, it is true, and for several reasons:

The helmet is in the wrong place or is distracting in a tree that does not require a helmet.

Inconsistency between trunks and branches - many a wiggle-wonder had straight, stiff branches for the sole purpose of contriving a helmet. A few straight trees had absurdly sinuous branches. Consitency is important to the illusion of maturity and reality. Bonsai that do not mimic reality look like the Japanese wonders at the montreal Botanic Garden, all of them Grade B or lower (nice helmets, though).

Outright fakery. I detected not a single graft, but many insto-attempts, including a long branch from the top glued to the trunk way down low, a branch from way down low raised up along the back to fill in the apical helmet, a lone branch wrapped round and round the tree to poof out a helmet, and any other variation you can think of. These were rush jobs unlike the carefully crafted Japanese trees that, while boring, were also unflawed.

Wrong angle, wrong front, better movement when rotated...
Stupid looking pot. For all the excellent bonsai potters in Europe, few of their pots showed up. The American trend was apparent: "I got dis tub pot from China and I got dis big tree dat fits so I'll cram it in..."
Immaturity of planting. Gee, if lipstik and powder can cover the imperfections of a whore, they sure used a lot of lime sulur thick paint in this show. Only the dead wood on the olives looked real. My favorite tree was an olive.

I may seem nasty to be so critical of God and his bonzo bushes, but that is what teachers do. I had one of my students calling the right punches after a couple hours (and 12 beers). That made the thug guard even grumpier. Too much gesticulation.

I kept hoping I would creep around a corner and discover a whole row of masterpieces by the Italian bonsai Mafia, but I did not.
A couple more Ghent notes:

The girls are slender, charming, and beautiful with no hint of makeup. The boys are goonier and all seem to smoke. The cobblestones of the old town are bonded together with cigarette butts. But their roads are not bordered with knee-high plastic trash as they are in Texas.

The airline snacks are very nasty. It is better to bring your own Spam sandwhiches.

The tastiest dish I had was a rare tuna steak fried in hamburger grease. Even the chef (Krunk) loved it.

Author:  Will Heath [ Tue Sep 25, 2007 10:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Nick Lenz wrote:
I did not write this review for AoBon but for friends, few of whom are bonsai junkies. Blame Will for this one.

Thanks again Nick for the permission to post this, you know me well enough by now to know I am always looking to share with the masses, sometimes to the point of annoyance.

What I like most about your letter was that it was funny, not in spite of the honesty, but indeed because of it. I have always enjoyed your unique outlook on bonsai and you have not disappointed me at all.
Thank you,


Author:  david brunner [ Wed Sep 26, 2007 12:44 am ]
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Here here, Will! I salute you for posting Nick Lenz?s review. And Mr. Lens, I do not know you but I admire your work, and now, I admire you yourself even more. Thank you for your honesty, candor, and sharp pin for bursting bubbles (though I dare say we likely have a surfeit of bubbles and dearth of pins.)

Thank you again, from a frequent reader but infrequent poster,
David Brunner

Author:  Mike Page [ Wed Sep 26, 2007 1:03 am ]
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We need more posts by Mr. Lenz. He may turn out to be the H.L. Mencken of bonsai.

Author:  Mark Arpag [ Wed Sep 26, 2007 10:55 am ]
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That was like a day at the carnival! I laughed, I cryed, I laughed some more...Brilliance crossing in and out of lunacy. "Whee", what a ride!

Author:  Attila Soos [ Wed Sep 26, 2007 11:57 am ]
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It's a breath of fresh air to read Nick's account of the Gingko. You never know where the story is heading, until it's over. Full of surprises.
It was much fun to read this Myth-Buster. Some people take themselves way too seriously, to the point of heart-burn.

Author:  Heather HartmanCoste [ Wed Sep 26, 2007 11:42 pm ]
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Nick, thank you for making me laugh after a long day.

Author:  Si Van Nguyen [ Thu Sep 27, 2007 3:56 pm ]
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This is hilarious! I think Nick Lenz can sell a bunch of tickets on his next guided tour of Gingko, if they ever have it again. I'll be the first in line! But we all have to stay at that same attic though. Now that's a destination!

By the way, who ever is planning on organizing the American Gingko show had better not invite Nick Lenz. They will never hear the end of it!
Hilarious writing! I can hear Alan Alda speaking in there.
Si Nguyen (in Lake Forest, CA, USA)

Author:  Dorothy Schmitz [ Thu Sep 27, 2007 8:51 pm ]
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Nick,it was a pleasure meeting you in Belgium and I am still surprised you looked so "normal"..
But looks can be deceiving..;)
Hello to Chris,

Author:  Aaron Khalid [ Thu Sep 27, 2007 10:57 pm ]
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That just made my day.

Author:  Behr Appleby [ Fri Sep 28, 2007 1:13 pm ]
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When I think of bonsai artists with 'innovative vision' Mr. Nick always comes to mind first...It is indeed a pleasure when one gets to experience a 'glimpse' into the thoughts of an artist of this caliper, and the 'humor' as well as 'thought provoking statements' concerning a show of this quality are definitely 'icing on the cake'...Thank you Mr. Nick for these observations, and thank you Mr. Will for having the vision to realize many would appreciate these words...

Author:  Marc Steurbaut [ Tue Oct 02, 2007 3:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: TO GHENT AND BACK with snacks - by Nick Lenz

You drank too much beer?
American chauvinist! lol

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