Sunday, 1 March 2009

EBA, wots da deal, mon?

A number of people have asked me why the heck I keep going on about EBA, so for all of you that I've directed here for my explanation, here goes:

There really is no big deal about the European Bonsai Association Convention as such. It takes place yearly and is sponsored by a different country each year. Or at least, it is sponsored by the member Bonsai Federation of that country. Not sure how Germany goes as they don't have society members but only individuals. Maybe there never has been an EBA convention in Germany - don't know.

I'm not associated directly with either the EBA committee, general assembly or whatever. I attend each convention as Joe Public the spectator, don't attend any meetings and don't cast votes on anything. My understanding of the politics behind it is sketchy at best. That doesn't mean that I don't have a personal opinion on certain individuals that I meet over there, but that is purely on a person-to-person interaction basis rather than as a result of their efficacy as representatives of their own countries or their actions reflecting on the good of the EBA as a governing entity. Is that enough gobbledygook doublespeak for you? In plainspeak, lots of guys over there are way cool, one or two I would take a kamagong across the kisser to. In that, I'm no different to any of the EBA 'roadies' over there.

For a long time, the bonsai display at an EBA convention was mostly local trees, possibly with a few foreign entries solicited by the organising country. Poland in 2006 was the very first time EBA opened up the exhibition to foreign displays, which was a major logistic challenge that the Poles rose to admirably, given the limits of their resources at the time. They will always hold my admiration for that. And for the fantastic food (and ice cream) - I would go back any time. Buying plants in Poland is way fantastic as well; they tend to have species rather than commercial hybrids. We brought back dahlias that have shrugged of the worst of our wet winter weather with supreme Polish disdain - nary a bit of protection and they are still going strong after 3 years in the ground.

There is a contest of sorts involved in the exhibition, in that the local federation may give out a Best In Show sort of award, and I believe the EBA Chairman gives out Certificates of Merit. This is by no means the most prestigious of European recognition events. There are other shows on the Continent that tend to attract the crème de la crème of European Bonsai, these appear to be run by commercial individuals but don't take my word for it.

What I do like about the EBA though, is that it levels the playing field for the emerging European countries, as well as giving us punters a view of what they have to offer over there. When you compare the displays that went up at Poland against those in Austria last year, the improvement was phenomenal. The East is nipping at the heels of the West, and the West will have to shake off any complacency about being the Big Boys of Bonsai. Another good thing is that, while there may be a good number of imported Japanese trees on display, you do have a people who have trees that they have raised themselves from cuttings. Should I acquire the middle name of 'covet-at-all-costs', that would be for the shohin and mame that Bruno and his mates put on display.

Speaking of Japanese imports, I personally don't have anything against them at all (have loads of them in the garden). What I do mind is when it all gets a bit same-y, which is a hard to explain but you do get this feeling after seeing tons of displays. Collected material with lots of deadwood (whopping great jin, shari and that sort of stuff) tends to give me the same feeling as well.

There is also the ever-excellent Suiseki (or viewing stones) display of the European Suiseki Association. Again, for a very niche segment of practitioners. If you think it takes dedication to lug a potted tree around, try humping around a couple of them big rocks. But I am ever grateful for those dedicated individuals who do so; they have some of the most beautiful bits of geology to be put on a plinth. If there were a way to get young people interested in this most esoteric of interests, I would be all for it. (e - SO - TER - ic, okay?)

Then there is access to traders that you would not encounter normally back home. Currency fluctuation made it very favourable for the Continentals at the Noelanders show in January; whether this will be the case for the European shows across 2009 remains to be seen.

There are the ups and downs. The show moves venue every year, which makes me wonder if there's ever a hand-over of lessons learned from one country organiser to another. Space allocation becomes a political (and emotional) minefield. I can see where everyone's coming from, but it does make setting-up day a long and tiring one. We have high hopes for this venue, though. Seems it's part of a high profile local horticultural show in a dedicated convention space.

I'm hoping for at least a good coffee bar and a smoke-free lounging area. And good nosh. Tapas, yeah. Oh, will there be bonsai as well? Count me in.

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