I am excited about the trip I’m planning to Surinam. This trip will be different from the one I made to Germany. There I was more familiar with the language. But I don’t speak Dutch which is the official language of Surinam. So…I will take an experienced translator with me. (I learned in Frankfurt and Nürnberg that you never know where or when a casual conversation will reveal or lead to a real “gold nugget” of information.
I am looking forward to researching in the libraries and museums of Paramaribo. I am also looking forward to again walking the streets Maria Sybilla Merian walked, seeing some of the buildings she saw, experiencing new foods and new sights, sounds, smells, and textures. Trying to describe the taste of something totally new must be interesting. (I’m not sure I would have recognized the taste of pineapple from Maria Sybilla’s description, but then I already know that taste.)
I have no idea what the rain forest is like, so right now I cannot adequately write about that. And a writer needs to know the location used in the story. Actually going to the location leads to more authentic descriptions and feelings.
With passport, visa, camera, and notebook in hand, I am eager to gather sensory as well as documentary input. With that I can get back to writing!
While looking out the window and watching the snowflakes fall this Christmas morning, I found myself wondering whether Maria Sybilla and Dorothea missed the cold weather and snow at Christmastime. It must have been very different with the temperature in the 80s and rain everyday!
What would it have been like to live in a city surrounded by walls? It is difficult for me to imagine living where the entire city was locked up for the night, much less guarded twenty-four seven. I cannot imagine traveling to a city and then being turned away, not allowed inside. In Maria Sybilla’s time the guards at the gates would check travelers’ papers, and those papers had to be in order for those gates to open. Not everyone was allowed in.
When I traveled to Frankfurt, I had hoped to gain a sense of size of the city back in the 1600s by where the walls were. Alas, there was only one small piece of the old wall left standing. I was shocked, however, at how short the wall is. The apartment buildings behind it are taller. (For some reason I thought the city’s walls would be much higher.)
Armed with notes I had made from old maps, I began walking around. Whenever I began to feel a bit lost, all I had to do was look for the tall steeple of the church called the Dom. I might have to walk to a cross street, but it never took long to find that tower and figure out where I was. It didn’t take long to understand how close everything must have been back then.
I was disappointed that there was so little of the city wall left. That comes, of course, from someone whose city was not totally destroyed by war. In fact those were just words without any real meaning until I entered the city museum and saw a model of the old city, and then in the next room saw a model of the city after WWII. Only one building was still intact! That had quite an impact on me, and it was awhile before I mentally shook myself and got back to my research.
Maria Sybilla has been honored on postage stamps in Germany and the U.S. Her portrait appears on the 40 pfennig German stamp as one of their Women of German History series. It was issued 17 September 1987. Ten years later details of her artwork from her research in Surinam appeared on two 32 cents U.S. stamps. They were issued 1 March 1997 as part of The Year of the Artist series. One of the stamps shows a flowering pineapple; the other depicts a citron with a moth, larva, pupa, and a beetle.
Maria Sybilla Merian has also been honored by having had six plants, nine butterflies, and two beetles named for her. However, while I have read this fact from several sources, I have yet to discover any specific names or photos.