My son says to me: “Dads and boys don’t like flowers.” We’re standing in a carpet of crocuses and snowdrops in our back garden – the first flowers of spring.
He’d heard it from a boy at nursery. I say, “I like flowers.” He says, “I do, too.” It’s a fleeting victory. I will lose the culture war. Men and boys don’t like flowers. But it was not always so.
Red roses for me
Whenever powerful men of the Persian or Ottoman empires were portrayed by painters, rather than a horse or a sword as a prop, they would invariably be holding a flower to their nose – often the rose.
Floral scents were highly prized in the region – as, indeed, they are everywhere on Earth. To smell of roses, rather than of the more unsavoury things of life, was seen as civilised and, more specifically, gentlemanly.
To give Western culture its due, the buttonhole lingers on alongside the floral tie as nods to a gentleman’s love of flowers – but these feel rather dated cultural expressions nowadays.
Be sure to wear flowers in your hair
When I read Robert Byron’s majestic 1930s travel book The Road to Oxiana, I came across a passage about his arrival in the western Afghan city of Herat that struck a similar chord.
He observed young Afghan tribesmen from the hills swaggering into town together, rifles slung over their shoulders – the epitome of young manhood. But they were also holding flowers in their hands or tucked behind their ears.
I love this image. It seems inexplicable to me that nature – and beauty more broadly – should be disliked by men. Is our appreciation of beauty meant to end with women?
Next time you’re walking the dusty road, into Herat, or wherever, to sure to smell the roses…