NOBODY WALKING in the Netherlands Embassy had a mind like a child, full of the spring. It was the anniversary of Martin Luther Kings's murder, and the day of Bhutto's execution, and the whole Middle East a shifting sand and zub, zub, zub.
Still, there they were, those lucky enough to be on the embassy list to view the annual display of flowers grown in Holland and flown to Washington for the occasion.
Outside there were reddish pink hyacinths marshaled like improbable soldiers defending the still-chancy spring, and inside there was a glory of perfume from thousands of freesias, spilling out of great baskets hanging over the stairs and banked on the landing, and set in vases throughout the reception rooms.
Ambassador and Mrs. Tammenoms Bakker had the contented look of those showing off tow litters of pups.
From the bottom of the grand staircase you could see the splendid folk of the capital march gravely up to the landing, and there stoop over the rumps in air to smell the flowers then erect again and stately on their way up the final flight to the receiving line.
For the first half hour guests were too absorbed admiring copper ewers with gerberas (those great African daisies) to eat the Grade-A puff pastries stuffed with meat and the canapes of glazed turkey. One woman who had just eaten the turkey said appreciatively:
"Absolutely nothing like Dutch cheese."
Vasses of red glass held freesieas, possibly the sweetest scented of all flowers, on two-foot stems. Summer's honeyed breath is, of course, a freesia.
Here I thought, was the opulent and baroque side of the Dutch temperament. We grow up thinking of the Dutch with fingers in the dike throughout childhood, after which they scrub bricks, collect empires and groom barge dogs. It is said there is no such thing as a flea on any dog in Holland.
The rest of the population runs banks, cuts diamonds, polishes skates, buffs the royal collection of astounding sapphires and grows flowers.
Our view of the Dutch, formed in childhood, may err in some slight way but is doubtless on the mark generally.
They have some of the most dismal soil in Europe which they have transformed into one of the world's amazing storehouses of tulips and azaleas and the Lord only knows what else.
They force lilacs and peonies and all sorts of tricky subjects requiring skill and watchfulness so that there is more scarlet, more cobalt, more general perfumes, in the vast flower market of Haarlem than in Arabia and Bali put together.
Why is it, I have often wondered, that the Dutch have had such a continuing passion for the flowers of Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan, South Africa-sun-drenched lands with opulent blooms. But there the Dutch are, breeding them right and left in the gray latitudes of Labrador.
One little freeze and the whole thing is blackened ruin.
The Dutch are the people who see to it there is no freeze.
I still had in my mind a conversation with Franco Zeffirelli, the film and opera director, a few days earlier.
He had been going on about the wonders of a public television show on Maria Callas last December.
He had just seen the tape, not the show as it aired. I saw the same show in a dismal hotel room in New Jersey, and only the absence of oatmeal box to read the label of kept me tuned. The show was ruined by endless, inept interruptions from some New Jersey idiot begging for money for the station.
Art is strong, but with a little effort you can ruin it. Zeffirelli, seeing only the beautiful tape, and not the crass barbarism of the show as it aired, did not know the show.
He also knows nothing of the "Jsesus of Nazareth" show that has been running this week (eight hours) on commercial television. He directed that show and is rightly proud of it.
But he was not around to see it ruined by stupid handling. No sooner did I see the Nativity of Christ, in the Zeffirelli film, than I was reminded by the network that Donald Duck's birthday is coming up. John the Baptist screams in the wilderness and the next moment you have a young man worried sick about his hands, dreadfully damaged by sun and wind,though in the nick of time he discovers some cosmetic to make him lovably soft and sweet again.
I did not bother with ?Jesus of Nazareth" past its opening segments. My poor mind, such as it is, is not the sort that accepts soapsuds and doughnuts in between the bloody sweat and the crucifixion.
Zefirelli, seeing only the polished tape and not the comtemptible presentation to the public, reminded me of that pope who was too damned sensitive to view the slums of the poor, so his motorcade route was changed.
And the embassy flowers, so lovely, harldy seemed a part the world of Pakistan or oil or the Wailing Wall or the holy city of Jerusalem.
When King was killed, one image sticks in my mind.
In that city then you had to possess a police permit to be abroad on the streets at certain hours, and not many people had permits. I did, and sometimes I drove a whole mile through the city without seeing another car or another human. But once, in the deserted streets, my headlights caught the cruddy wall of a barbecue stand, and caught the spectacular blue of the common German irises blooming there.
I don't think I yield too easily to the "all's well" philosophies. All was not well in Memphis.
My interview with King, which had been scheduled the day of his death, was postponed because of his urgent meeting with lawyers. Until tomorrow.
My secretary phoned to say, after his murder, that a note reminding him to reschedule the interview was in his pocked and would dobtless be found.
My lawyer said if I got any calls from people saying they were polie not to meet them anywhere except in the downtown police headquarters, and not to open the door to anybody, no matter what identification they seemed to have.
And the streets empty and the city seething and armored cars roaming about with guns sticking out.
When I saw the blue flowers in my headlights, I was far from thinking all is for the best and never fear.
And when I saw the embassy flowers, I didn't think all is for the bes, either.
But I did think, in both cases, they were beautiful.
How can summer's honeyed breath hold out, in a world like ours? And what chance has any monument to splendor got, since all decays. Beauty herself, in which men have always vested such dreams, has not so much force as you need for the smallest lever, but only an action on stronger than a flower.
Oblivious to any pain, careless of any death, indifferent to every violation that may crush a human, the blue flowers or the red ones or the ones like white wax, go right on blooming and Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed and so on.
And I thought at the embassy, surrounded by those flowers the Dutch are such supreme masters of, that people had come, not because they hadn't read newspapers for a few years, but because they acknowledge and salute the fragile tissue that grows out of dirt and lasts a day and is stronger than a reactor and things of steel. CAPTION: Picture, Freesias, by Linda Wheeler-The Washington Post