Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Garden Gnome Wars

Disclaimer: I never get all of the facts of a story straight in my head, I do not pretend to be a journalist, and as I grow older I care less about the facts and more about the reality of the fiction.

When a country enters into the European Union there are agreements made as to what they can proudly claim to produce as a national product.

France has claim on a specific type of fried potato (popular at McDonald's), Italy a type of wine (popular in the Bowery), Greece on goat cheese and wrestling, or, like Ohio is allowed to make Ludowicci roof tile, Texas gun owners and Vermont allowed to make hot Vermont maple syrup poured on white snow. All products that will increasingly be manufactured in China. So when Poland entered the EU there was suddenly a rivalry in the garden gnome industry between them and Germany.

Garden gnomes: those short little whimsical figures made of terra cotta or, in the USA usually of precast concrete, unpainted or painted in glorious reds and greens, smoking pipes or displaying pitchforks stuck out their bums, and with panoply of comic expressions, that one purchases and then lugs home to place in the garden, or yard as a sort of secular fertility guardian. They could as well be angels, or a virgin with a baby, or a unicorn. (Note: in the Long Island Hamptons they have gigantic horses, ironic pedestals and dinosaurs.)

Lest you think this is all meant in funny according to Wikipedia there are an estimated 25 million garden gnomes in Germany, the nation reported as origin of the first garden gnomes at Gräfenroda (my obligatory histo presto context).

The French have their Front for the Liberation of Garden Gnomes—le Front pour la Libération des Nains de Jardin (FLNJ).

{In 1998 there was another strike that has been attributed to the Garden Gnome Liberation Front. This strike was known as the "mass suicide." In Briey, a small city in eastern France, citizens woke up to find 11 garden gnomes hanging from a bridge with nooses around their necks. A nearby note stated: "When you read these few words we will no longer be part of your selfish world, where we serve merely as pretty decorations."}

The Italians have the MALAG (Movimento Autonomo per la Liberazione delle Anime da Giardino). In the UK is the ISPCG (International Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Gnomes). And in the Republic of California there is the conservative DEKGJ (Deportar al Estúpido Kitsch Gnomos de Jardín) that through some misunderstanding believes all of these alien figures in the American floral landscape originated from Ecuador.

If you drive from Berlin to Szczecin, as my friend did one day on his return to his homeland, when you approach the border there are garden gnome dealers lining the road. Hundreds and hundreds of garden gnomes arrayed to entice the enthusiasm of impulse buyers -- we assume impulsive gardeners. And when you drive into Poland there are even more dealers and more garden gnomes lined up. It is as if the industrial production resources of Poland have been arrayed to amass their symbolic troops in an economic battle, which, in fact, it is.

Just as a New Yorker will drive to Paramus, NJ to buy school clothes and designer knock-off shoes cheaper, Poland is undercutting the cost of garden gnomes and the Germans are ignoring their own garden gnomes to cross the border to purchase the less expensive, and we assume qualitatively equivalent, Polish garden gnomes.

We do not know who has won the battle or the war. Stay tuned for future reports from the front lines.

We will keep an eye out for you.