"There is something distinctive about the sight and sound of a human body falling from a rainforest canopy. The breathless scream, the wildly gyrating arms and legs pumping thin air, the rush of leaves, and the sickening thud, followed by uneasy silence. Listening to that silence, I reflected on how plant collecting can be an unpleasant sort of activity."
- From Eric Hansen, Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust and Lunacy
The first few lines of a book are considered some of the most important lines a writer writes. Within those lines, the reader decides whether or not your book is worth the time. With these lines, I was immediately hooked. As a writer, I find comedy and humor to be the most difficult to do, which Eric Hansen manages to do flawlessly. I've been a huge fan of Eric Hansen ever since I picked up Motoring with Mohammed (no joke, that book actually made me laugh out loud on a packed crowded LIRR commuter train, causing my fellow commuters to give me dirty looks).
The orchid is used for everything from medicine for elephants to an aphrodisiac ice cream. A Malaysian species can grow to weigh half a ton while a South American species fires miniature pollen darts at nectar-sucking bees. But the orchid is also the center of an illicit international business: one grower in Santa Barbara tends his plants while toting an Uzi, and a former collector has been in hiding for seven years after serving a jail sentence for smuggling thirty dollars worth of orchids into Britain.
Pick it up if you have the chance, even if travelogues aren't really your thing. It's a great read.