Report on the 18th World Orchid Conference – Dijon France
by Robert Hamilton
reprint from the June 2005 Odontoglossum Alliance Newsletter

In late 2003, I received an inquiry from a colleague. Was I willing to present a talk on odontoglossums at the 18th World Orchid Conference in Dijon, France? A few months later, this inquiry was followed up with an official invitation from the conference organizers. Upon thinking on it, I accepted. My last trip to France was in 1969, a trip I gifted myself as graduation present. A second reason for accepting this talk was I have become more passionate in promulgating the idea that some orchid hybrids contain a genetic treasure of genes from one-of-a-kind, turn of the century plants. This gene pool is just as threatened with extinction as many wild orchids are. This is particularly true for odontoglossum hybrids because of their finicky cultural requirements.

Correspondence and instructions from the WOC conference organizers was clear and concise instructions. One requirement was to present a 20 minute program plus 10 minutes for questions using Microsoft’s PowerPoint software. Thus, I would have to create my first PowerPoint orchid presentation. This stirred a bit of apprehension, taking note an orchid colleague’s maxim, “power corrupts, and PowerPoint corrupts absolutely”.

To begin with I needed to scan my slides. The scanner I owned was a medium priced Canon desktop scanner and not terrific for slide work. Investigating options such as a commercial digitizing service, buying a dedicated slide scanner or simply upgrading my desktop unit I opted for an upgrade to my desktop scanner. After some research I bought a ScanMaker i900 by Microtek. This turned out to be a popular product which was on back order at most vendors. There was a delay of a few weeks in receiving it. When it arrived I spent two days trying to make it work. With online help from the Microtek "helpline" I determined it was defective. I must add the company was most helpful in diagnosing a problem. It was sent back to the vendor and replaced. I use B&H Photo in New York for such orders and want to add a comment; they have been excellent vendors over the years and they stood behind this product. A replacement came a few weeks later. Because I am a chronic procrastinator, I was now behind schedule.

In spite of managing a research facility for UC Berkeley’s Dept. of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, I am not particularly adept at reading manuals or using computers. Fortunately, this scanner proved easy to use. It produces excellent digitized slides which are better than mid-priced dedicated slide scanners! Also fortunate, I found PowerPoint a straightforward computer program and relatively easy to use.

For travel arrangements, I looked over the hotels suggested by the Conference but opted for an off-the-beaten-track hotel which a friend’s brother recommended. He is an art instructor in Utrecht, Holland and tours his students to Dijon. He recommended the Hotel Du Sauvage located in the old center of Dijon. At 55 € per night for a room for two it was priced right. My sister, who lived 12 years in Geneva, Switzerland, recommended we fly Lufthansa to Munich, connect to Geneva and drive to Dijon thus avoiding landing in Paris. This turned out to be a great plan. On a previous transatlantic trip I used United Airlines. The seating was cramped, the food and service terrible; it as a tortured flight to England. I always enjoy payback time!

The flight over was terrific – Lufthansa a great choice. With the German passion for timely schedules the stopover in Munich was exactly 45 minutes and the flight to Geneva took slightly more than one hour. My partner, John Leathers and I spent a couple of days in Geneva before heading for Dijon. I planned our arrival for Saturday, two days before my talk and several days after the conference opened.

The drive from Geneva was pleasant and scenic. The roadways in France are terrific – much better than the third-world roads now common in California. We were in Dijon in less than two hours. Upon finding the hotel we both laughed. It was an absolutely charming, 15th Century carriage house with a private courtyard. In my book, it doesn’t get any better! We were given a large room at the top of a spiral staircase. We unpacked our luggage and headed off for the 2005 WOC in search of friends.

The 2005 WOC was held in conjunction with Florissimo, a horticultural show that travels about Europe. Originally, the WOC was planned for Paris but moved to Dijon. The venue was described in the 2005 WOC brochure as “palatial”. I suppose there is an issue with translation because the correct English word is “warehouse” - there was nothing “palatial” about the exhibition hall. After some searching we found our way to the correct entrance, registered and set about. Just before entering the exhibition we ran into two of our favorite San Francisco orchid growers, Anna Chai and Pui Chin. They had arrived days earlier and were bored. They were exiting and on their way to Paris. This did not bode well.

The exhibition area was immense. The first sense provoked; however, was not visual but nasal. The odor was similar to some kind of bug spray. It turned out, those staging the show had used some kind of asphalt to anchor gravels in place. It was not a pleasant smell.

The exhibition halls were populated with a good number of large exhibits. Displays were, for the most part well staged. The overwhelming type of orchids displayed were meristem material, i.e. dendrobiums, phaelanopsis, etc.; not the kind of plants that attract specialty growers. All of the times I visited the exhibitions and halls were crowded and it was difficult getting good views. There were a few notable exhibits such as Robert Fuch’s nursery and the Eric Young Orchid Foundation (EYOF). Although the EYOF showed some very fine cymbidiums their odontoglossums were not up to pare with what I have come to expect. With Alan Moon retired and Prof. Don Wimber deceased the best for odontoglossums may be in the past for the EYOF. Moon’s brilliant hybridizing with the knowledge of chromosome numbers Don Wimber provided of the EYOF plants is now gone.

Because the 2005 WOC was held concurrent with Florissimo the duration of the show was 10 days. This is longer than most WOC’s. In addition, CITES in France made it virtually impossible to display potted plants. Ten days is a long time for cut spikes to last.

I did not bring any plants to France or buy plants while there so I had no personal experience with CITES at the 2005 WOC. I can report what I heard. Many vendors remained plant-less throughout the show, their plants held up by inspectors, the paperwork deemed “improper”. CITES was clearly implemented in a way to do economic harm to some vendors, particularly those that deal in species. One Peruvian vendor had his flasks, which eventually made it through inspection process, purposefully smashed and “dumped” in the parking lot when delivered by inspectors at the end of the show.

Clearly, there was an agenda to these actions. CITES is becoming political. In my opinion, commercial orchid producers of meristem and pot plant material are delighted! An impediment is in place which is burdensome to small vendors and economically harmful. Inspectors enforcing CITES don’t know chalk from cheese about orchids. Regrettably, our orchid organizations have been ineffective at adding sanity to the various implementations of CITES. Some botanic gardens are the provocateurs of draconian CITES implementations. They get theirs, however in the name of “science”.

In my talk I name CITES as one of the antagonists in the endangerment of hybrid odontoglossums. Specifically, I borrow a phrase, “an iron curtain has descended over the world of orchids”. The upshot of CITES, as practiced in France, for this event is many vendors will not again participate at a conference France; ergo, no vendors, no growers! This is more than shooting yourself in the foot; it is blowing off both your legs, above the knees!

In addition to orchids, the sales area hosted other garden and plant items, sundries and some terrific foods. No one can deny the French are great epicures. There were several vendors selling excellent selections of spices.

The talks were spread out over four days with three talks running concurrently. There were many excellent presentations. Including poster sessions and information booths there were approximately 98 presenters. I found many of the posters fascinating with much high-caliber research.

My talk began with an unexpected comic air. The presenter before me left his PowerPoint slide show in an automated run mode. When I plugged my memory stick into the laptop provided my passport, my car rental papers, airline tickets, etc. started slewing past. I had scanned these at the last minute as a precaution should I loose my wallet or passport. In an attempt to gain control, I ALT-CNTL-DELETE’d the computer to get back to a “desktop”. Alas, a desktop appeared I was unfamiliar with and in French (remember the maxim, PowerPoint corrupts absolutely)? Fortunately a young man from the audience came forward and set things right. My last minute idea of scanning my travel documents was not so well planned. Leaving these files at the same file-hierarchy as my PowerPoint presentation made them accessible to the running PowerPoint program. From the laughs, I conclude this event added a light-hearted touch to my presentation. No matter, I don’t mind a laugh at my expense. My talk was well attended and well received. It was the only talk dealing with odontoglossum culture.

While at the WOC we had a chance to meet up with Cynthia Hill Beckendorf and Steve Beckendorf who were celebrating their honeymoon. This made for a good number of fun excursions. Cindy’s French skills were an asset. Steve, having done post-doctoral research in Geneva was also familiar with French. Dijon and the surrounding countryside are truly magnificent. Dijon sits in the middle the famed Cote D’Or, an important wine producing area of great scenic beauty. Dijon is a medieval city with Roman roots. With its historic Burgundian-wealth there is wonderful architecture and great museums. The old center of the city is right out of a Dumas novel. The shops and markets were fun.

Steve Beckendorf arranged a meeting in the countryside with Dr. Guido and Lieve Deburghraeve of Belgium and John and Anne Gay, both noted odont growers. John is active in the North of England Orchid Society and past President of the Great Britain Odontoglossum Alliance. Guido has a superb odontoglossum species collection and is familiar with the French countryside. He arranged an excellent dinner complete with terrific wines at a small country inn. That evening it snowed which made it very special.

Juan Felipe and Maria Victoria Posada of Colombia were also in Dijon with friends. I was honored Juan Felipe delayed his plans to leave long enough to attend my talk. Juan Felipe Posada studied in France and is trilingual, clearly a real asset when visiting. We also dined with growers Don and Carrie Brown from Santa Barbara and Norrito Hasigawa – all great company. In spite of bad food and terrible service dinners were fun. (What can one expect when service is a tariff rather than a gratuity?. Bad service)!

Was the 2005 Dijon WOC a success? If one gages success by attendance than it was a success. The show was crowded for all ten days it was open. The lectures and presentations were, on a whole excellent. Could one buy interesting plants? For the most part no; such plants were confiscated by French CITES authorities or delivered too late to be sold.

One of the great lures of orchid shows and particularly world orchid conferences is fellowship. Was there fellowship? While I met old friends and acquaintances in Dijon I never met my hosts. I received no courtesies such as a welcoming, a phone call, a handshake or a tour of a greenhouse. There was a speaker’s lunch. At 50 €, on principals I did not chose to attend. The closing dinner was a black-tie affair at a historic monastery – 150 € per person. Somehow, traveling to France with a tux did not appeal to me. One could opt to wear “native dress” in lieu of black tie but I could not figure out if this meant war paint and a feathered bonnet or simply the blue work-shirt and Levi’s I treasure when I work in the greenhouse. Upon my return to the US I have not received a thank you or follow-up for my efforts. The organizers of Dijon are abnormal hosts.

I close on a positive note. From Dijon we continued on our vacation traveling via the TGV train (superb technology and smooth as silk) to Paris again meeting up with Cindy and Steve. After Paris, we took the TGV south to Lyon, for the best food in France and more great scenery. Finally, on by car to Arles a city with a Roman amphitheater still used for bullfights and the home for a duration of Gauguin and Van Gough.
One final orchid note, on a day trip from Arles we visited the Pont de Gard, an intact Roman aqueduct. We hiked around the area of this attraction. There, blooming for us at the top of the hills were serapias, a European terrestrial orchid genus. Finding serapias in bloom really fulfilled a dream.

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