I am in the garden reading a book that I have saved for this vacation — Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine Benyus.
Biomimicry is about observing nature’s strategies to come up with advanced solutions for human challenges such as food spoilage and shortages, harmful chemicals, and water scarcity.
Immediately as I read the opening quote from Václav Havel, I sense synchronicity: here I am in the Czech Republic. And here is the quote:
We must draw our standards from the natural world. We must honor with the humility of the wise the bounds of that natural world and the mystery which lies beyond them, admitting that there is something in the order of being which evidently exceeds all our competence.Václav Havel
There is a soft murmuring of water from a fountain behind me and a rippling pool in front, as the swimmers float gently from side to side. I settle deeper into the lounge, adjust the sand-colored shade above the chair and continue reading.
A honeybee lands on the top edge of the book with stubbly legs and an unmistakable aura of purpose. He is so close to me yet focused on the book and he seems to not even see me. I hold the book still, my gaze moving from the words on the page to the movement of the bee above it. He heaves into the pages then rises up with a pregnant pause. Curious. And this repeats, again and again. I have a fantasy that perhaps the previous owner of this second-hand book imbued it with some invisible sweetness. He comes to his senses and takes off into a vertical flight path. I follow him with my gaze until his black and gold body evanesces from my field of vision. I continue reading until I reach this point:
“The changes we make now, no matter how incremental they seem, may be the nucleus for this new reality. When we emerge from the fog, my hope is that we’ll have turned this juggernaut around, and instead of fleeing the Earth, we’ll be homeward bound, letting nature lead us to our landing, as the orchid leads the bee.”Benyus
Marienbad is a renowned Bohemian spa town, known as Mariánské Lázne in Czech. Situated in a geological basin, the marshy valley’s curative mineral springs have been a draw for centuries. And not just a few springs — we’re talking about 140 mineral springs in the town and the surrounding area. In the 1780s a humble spa house with four baths beside the “Maria Spring” gave the town its name. Marienbad’s reputation grew steadily, and the town gained its official public bath status in 1818.
You may have heard of the town from the French film directed by Alain Resnais, L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad), which won the 1961 Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival. The film wallows in ambiguities and repetitions which will render you either a) studious and somnambulant or b) bewildered throughout the entire 4-hour film that they insist is only 94 minutes.
Did the man and woman meet last year or not? And was it Marienbad — or not? It may have been, it’s not certain. But the film itself was made in palaces and lodges in and around Munich, not in Marienbad. Nonetheless, the town offers itself up to such a dreamy composition and juxtapositions — reflecting the highly civilized Bohemian spa town of the Belle Époque with all of its intellectual and cultural influences — and the primeval, mud-oozing, rough and gorgeous forest-dwellings of hunter-gatherers.
My mind wanders to the heyday of the spa town, in the 1870s. I imagine an elderly woman out for her daily walk…
The Baroness Ulrike von Levetzow then sits down with an English friend for a cup of tea. Her friend talks about having spent the early summer in the “colonies”, by which she actually means New England, in the United States. She discovered a book there by a “transcendentalist”, Thoreau. “THO-ro” she pronounces it. The book is Walden – or Life in the Woods, a beautifully-written work inspired by his experiment living simply in nature. “You know, his marriage proposal was rejected by a lady. Had she not declined his proposal, he may never have ventured to live in nature alone and to write about it. "You had a similar experience, didn’t you, Ulli?” The baroness’s focus softens as she goes inward. She remembers walking in town with her mother and sister in the 1820s, and being introduced to an elderly gentleman. She was only 17 when they met in Marienbad. He asked for her hand in marriage two years later. At that time, he was about the age that she is now, 73. She glances at the back of her hand. It had seemed inappropriate to her then and she was relieved that her parents had felt the same way, despite how illustrious her suitor had been...
Mir ist das All, ich bin mir selbst verloren,Goethe
Der ich noch erst den Göttern Liebling war;
Sie prüften mich, verliehen mir Pandoren,
So reich an Gütern, reicher an Gefahr;
Sie drängten mich zum gabeseligen Munde,
Sie trennen mich, und richten mich zugrunde.
(To me is all, I to myself am lost,
Who the immortals’ fav’rite erst was thought;
They, tempting, sent Pandoras to my cost,
So rich in wealth, with danger far more fraught;
They urged me to those lips, with rapture crown’d,
Deserted me, and hurl’d me to the ground.)
The baroness walks back to her hotel, reflecting on these lines from the Marienbad Elegy – poetry inspired by her refusal to marry Herr Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Goethe never returned to Bohemia, but she encounters his spirit every season she is in Marienbad. She arrives at the Tuscan villa style Hotel Casino -- designed by Viennese architect Emil von Förster -- rebuilt after a fire, true to its original design. A phoenix of sorts. A grand dame of the Bohemian spa town...
To a Marsh Hawk in Spring
There is health in thy gray wing,
Health of nature’s furnishing.
Say, thou modern-winged antique,
Was thy mistress ever sick?
In each heaving of thy wing
Thou dost health and leisure bring,
Thou dost waive disease and pain
And resume new life again.
It was originally called the Hotel Casino. Later it became the Grand Spa Hotel and is now also known as the Falkensteiner Spa Resort-Marienbad, after the Austrian consortium that restored the building and added new structures.
The hotel has its own mineral water source, the Alexandra Spring. If you are new to drinking mineral waters at a spa town, or even if you have experience elsewhere but Marienbad is new for you – it is important to consult with a doctor to make sure that you are drinking from the correct springs for your constitution and the right amount. At hotels or in shops around town you can purchase a specially-designed cup with a spout that invites sipping.
It is also possible to bathe in the Alexandra Spring water in the spa, which is said to promote relaxation, lower blood pressure, and improve blood circulation. The moor mud bath, fango bath with essential oils, fango pack with colloidal silver and dry CO2 bath are other specialties.
I combined the following treatments to superb effect: the Alexandra spring water bath, partial fango pack (heated pad with mud peloid), and then a massage. Another powerful combination: the moor mud bath and a yin yoga class. The relaxation goes deep into regeneration.
The spectrum of curative sources in Marienbad is also compelling. Some of the conditions that are treated are cardiovascular diseases, problems with limbs, digestion, and metabolism, and respiratory difficulties.
One of our favorite places in the hotel is the spacious library. We ensconce ourselves at tea time and after dinner with our spaniel. I find myself thinking about the visual symbols in this Bohemian spa town. Marsh, wetlands, peat, and salt. Ore and stone. Forest and wood. Basin, fountain, and water…
Elements and materials that we must use wisely and take care of, and — in order to do that — think well of.❂
Benyus, Janine. Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. HarperCollins, 1997.
L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad). Directed by Alain Resnais from a screenplay by Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1961.
Feature photo by Kat Smith
The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in, or receive funding from any company or organization mentioned in this article.
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