It’s a well-known writing exercise to think of a common household object, (shoes for example) and just dwell on it until memories and associations begin to present themselves and the words begin to flow. To this end, I’ve been thinking about violets – many different kinds – and I’m surprised and kind of delighted that I have so many diverse feelings around a flower which is often considered boring and supermarket- frumpy.
Such misplaced snobbery must be addressed.
When I was ten, I was presented, in what amounted to a kind of ceremony, with a tiny bottle of Yardley’s “April Violets” perfume and a manicure set that zipped all its tools away in a half-moon case of pink crocodilian plastic. I carefully unscrewed the purple top and swooned at the sweet, floral smell. The manicure set however left me cold and I was alarmed by those menacing picks that were better suited to a nut-cracking set. My father intoned stiffly that he and my mum realized I was getting “a bit older now” and might appreciate such things. (This may have been a weird “Girl-You’ll-Be-A-Woman Soon” reference. Which I totally missed. But even in my confusion, I knew I loved that clean violet scent!)
At twelve, I was given free rein to select the colour scheme for my room. Thrilled, I immediately opted for brilliant white gloss on the trim and baseboards and the palest of milky-purples on the walls. The finishing touch was a series of fat African violets on the windowsills, bright dots of cheer which welcomed me as soon as I entered the room.
When I lived in the UK I was introduced to Parma Violets/ Violet Cachous which were a purple oval shaped candy that tasted strongly of the flower’s scent and left a strange powdery flavor in the mouth. They also came in a beautiful tiny tin which I wish that I still had. I ate them till I felt slightly ill.
I used to believe that I could smell violets as the definite base note of both Chanel No.5 and 19 (in fact, I still believe it) but careful research tells me this is not, in fact, the case; however, a new Chanel called “Misia” is all about violets so I intend to do a comparative analysis in the store sometime soon because I instinctively love all things Chanel.
When The General’s mother was in the hospital, I brought her a squat, healthy African Violet that seemed eager to please and settled in immediately, sending up non-stop blooms which she seemed to be especially happy about. After she passed, I sadly brought that same violet home with us but for two years it never bloomed again no matter where I put it.
Finally, in desperation, I set it up on a table where I had noticed coins of sun in the afternoon and one day when I passed by I noticed three or four tiny clenched green fists reaching towards the window! Within a few days it was in full rippled glory again.
This small thing has given me joy every day for the past month and feels significant and hopeful in many ways I cannot explain.