“Our Garden of Everyday No. 7: Viola and the practice of flirting”


Ah! the spring… the fresh air, the flowers, the buds populating the naked branches… the anticipation of the warm weather. And with it a renewed work in the garden. Picking out old stems, cleaning the faithful tools and starting the nurseries. In the meanwhile, it is always nice to have a bit of colors around and this time I decided to grow some violas and pansies, as they add such a jolly spirit to the garden and this is my drawing of the marvelous Viola. According to Wiki, the violas are related to the family of the violets (violacea), living in temperate climates of the Northern Hemisphere. These lovely flowers are referred as shy and it is colloquial to talk about the “shrinking violet”. However, with the pansies, these flowers represent a huge chunk of the flower market worldwide (only in the USA it takes US$111 millions!).

In the perfume industry viola odorata is used as a key ingredient, but is normally referred as a “flirty” scent because its smell comes and goes. I thought that perhaps this characteristic illustrate the magic of spring: the anticipation and the promises of the light to come.  In the purpose of LIVING BEAUTIFULLY flirting, like any other healthy exercise is essential… In this case, flirting does not require a clear object, not even needs to be connected to seduction… and it must be practiced in completely sobriety. Flirting is the exercise of a playful soul, it is to acknowledge that “love is in the air”, in every action or every gesture, it is to share and to smile, to be kind and to be beautiful.  Of course, one needs to be careful as this exercise may be misinterpreted by unrequited suitors! Thus, like the viola, flirting needs to be ephemeral and purposeless, sweet but not overwhelming, like a breeze of air, like a promise but without staying…

Shakespeare referred to this flower in many of his plays: in Hamlet, Ophelia gives Laertes rosemary and pansies for remembrance. In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Puck uses a flower called “loved in idleness” which according to killerplants.com  was an old name for the viola. In Shakespeare times the viola symbolised thoughts of a love one, or the common condition of not being able to think on anything else but the beloved one!  Finally, in “Twelfth Night” Viola is the name of the main character, who separated from her twin brother after a shipwreck takes the identity of Cesario – a young gentleman – at the service of the Duke Orsino, in the country of Messaline. Although she is in love with the Duke, she has to act as an emissary between the Duke and Olivia. And as in other Shakespeare plays this cross dressing and identity games bring all sort of mischief: Olivia falls in love with Cesario, while Cesario (actually Viola) is in love with the Duke!  It is only until Sebastian, the twin brother appears that everything comes to a crux and finally the truth is uncovered.

As the days are becoming warmer it is difficult to stay indoors, in the studio… I have still a number of tasks to do for the exhibition but the playful flowers are calling my name…

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