You would think that a colour such as lavender would be synonymous with the verbs “calming”, or “relaxing”, like the flowers of the same pigmentation and name. Instead, it is a colour that is symbolic of decadence—a lifestyle devoted to the aesthetic and the sensual. I can count the number of lavender-coloured items I own on one hand: a lavender lipstick, a bottle of lavender nail polish, a lavender summer dress, a lavender Penguin book tote (which was once closer to mauve, but after too many washes has taken on a worn-out, lavender tinge), and a lavender plastic My Little Pony toy that sits on my desk beside my mint Olivetti typewriter. Come to think of it, it isn’t a popular colour at all. With the exception of flowers, it isn’t a very natural colour either: there aren’t any fruits—or anything at all, really—that bears this unique and pretty hue.
A few months ago, I had my first taste of lavender ice cream. It was at a gelato store on Glebe Point Road—the same one Milo and I went to on our second date back in January. I remember this because we had sex later that night for the first time. I’d also made him buy me two scoops of ice cream, instead of one—because I was on my period. I suppose it now makes sense that the sort of girl who has sex on the second date whilst on her period, would also happen to be the sort of girl who fancies a colour like lavender. ‘If I seem to you to have lavender lips under the leaves of the world, I must tighten my belt’, Frank O’Hara had written in his poem “Music”. I didn’t understand what he meant when I’d first read it—but I think I do now.
I knew that my scoop of lavender gelato wasn’t made with lavenders. It was suffused throughout with the synthetic taste of food colouring and lavender “essence”. I had tasted lavender-infused honey in France. It was exactly like how it was described in A Very Long Engagement: it went perfectly with a bowl of hot chocolate. Of all the ice cream flavours I have eaten, I would consider lavender to be the least decadent one. It is creamy in the same way that body butter is, and tastes like what you’d imagine body butter to taste like—based on its smell.
I’ve always considered my lifestyle to be more “bohemian” than “decadent.” I like to think of myself as being the opposite of “posh” and “chic”. However, I’ll admit that I do have some rather posh inclinations, such as my peculiar appetite for opera and classical music. I’ve also always preferred traditional art to contemporary art; the sumptuous French court paintings of the Rococo and Baroque period are my guilty pleasure. I also don’t possess the constitution to be able to work a nine-to-five job; but whether this is the trait of someone who is bohemian, decadent, resistant, or just hopeless—I don’t really know. If it doesn’t please me mentally, aesthetically, or sexually—I simply don’t care for it.
The study of language used by LGBT speakers is known as lavender linguistics. As a failed lesbian, it is a language I don’t speak very well. I’m not sure which category of sexual orientation I fall under. What would you call someone who is attracted to others according to how well they “connect” with them—but has difficulty connecting with most people in non-romantic situations to begin with? My reclusiveness and general social-ineptness has hindered me from meeting the people I might connect with. Still, I am not lonely. ‘If you are lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.’ I agree with Sartre.
Lavender roses are symbolic of “love at first sight.” I wonder if this extends to lavender ice cream. Sappho and her lovers reputedly wore violet tiaras in their hair; if I wore a crown of lavenders instead of violets, would it still be poetic? If Fragonard’s soft pink bodies in Naissance de Vénus were painted purple instead of pink, would they still remind me of cotton candy?
Porphyrogennetos (Greek: Πορφυρογέννητος, literally “born in the purple”) was a title given to babies born to a Byzantine emperor. The dyeing purple of robes began in Ancient Rome, using the mucous secretions of sea snails. It was an expensive venture, and so purple was a colour reserved for royalty. It is appropriate that the wearing of the colour of decadence began with the Romans—a society that thrived on living in excess.
If Jackson Pollock had dripped lavender wine over the once raw canvas for Lavender Mist (1950), it would not surprise me. He was a drunk, and a wife-beater—but the world forgives him for his caveman-like tendencies. In my second year at art school I had a class in “Flung Ink Painting”. We were given not ink, but cheap acrylics—which we diluted with water and swished around over scrolls of sketching paper. Our teacher Justine was also a drunk. I learned that in order to be a good abstract painter, I would first have to take up drinking. I stayed sober and returned to figurative drawing.
Milo had watched ice cream melt onto my fingers, and tasted the sweet stickiness of it when it had dried. I made him bite me before kissing me; he bit my neck until it was splotched with purple. Pliny the Elder recommended the use of lavender in order to treat sadness. Milo’s spikey teeth left imprints of membraneous ovals and cylindrical calyxes across my collar bones. It stung, and it bloomed for no less than a week. This made me ethereally happy.
And when he kissed me his lips tasted like lavender wine.