The violet sellers became one symbolic character on the streets of Spanish cities like Madrid to the point that they became a symbol of Hispanicity, and to them many a work of art were dedicated.
There is a statue in Madrid -which was the object of arguments for many a reason but was finally placed there; however, the best known homage was the universally known song “La Violetera” (“The Girl Who Sells Violets”).
Like with any universal symbolism full of significance, passion and beauty, there have been innumerable versions, adaptations and plagiarism related to the famous ode to the violet-selling girl. Originally written as a musical piece called “habanera” (that was not exactly composed in Havana, Cuba, but followed a given genre of Spanish music from the 19th Century, played in dancing rooms, related to the Cuban “danza” and “contradanza”, and which later made its way into the theater and the vaudeville), the song was later adapted as a typically Spanish song genre called “cuplé” and the English-speaking world usually remembers it as a tango. The Spanish cultural world saw the song mystified and immortalized in a film called “La Violetera” (literally: “The Woman Who Sells Violets”) featured by the late Spanish actress Sara Montiel , although much before that there was a song written by Jose Padilla with that name “La Violetera” (namely in English “Who’ll Buy my Violets”), and made popular by vaudeville singer Raquel Meller. The song has been used in innumerable film renditions like Chaplin’s City Lights or the more recent Scent of a Woman, with Al Pacino.
The women and girls who sold the violets announced themselves and their merchandise with short tunes that became familiar to all due to their simplicity -from the musical composition standpoint- and repetition. Some were just a simple phrase or sentence. Others were true works of popular art based on the grassroots of popular versified improvisation and empirical musical composition. It was probably one of those tunes the one which inspired Padilla, who added his poetical and musical genius to the composition. It was very difficult not to have multiple versions of the same tune just as in English or German, and the music of many a Protestant church hymn. The drill was effective to publicize the message. It was so appealing that Chaplin was himself into trouble during his life due to the unauthorized use of the tune for his film City Lights, altogether with the theme, which was -as much of his work- the reflection of the sad reality, vaudeville style.
Having violets in the garden became a must for any woman who cherished her Spanish roots. Everywhere the diaspora of Hispanic colonization and culturization took Spaniards to migrate, in spite of the climate, it would be common to find a woman trying hard to cultivate violets. It was a way to keep them rooted. It was a way to remind them where they came from. Most times that meaning was lost in time with no explanation of why or what they meant. However, in Hispanic cultures, babies have traditionally been blessed in “Agua de Violetas” (Eau d’Violetes) after every bath or when grooming them for school and no other cologne could substitute this ritual. For those who know how expensive it could be to get an ounce of the essential oil of the flower, it would be very meaningful to receive anything authentically smelling like sweet violets. The natural process is so expensive that some manufacturers came with cheap imitations of the aroma. But to the connoisseur, the authenticity of the aroma will not go unnoticed.
In alternative medicine, the essential oil of violets is used in relation to emotional issues when there is a need for transmutation, for change. For further information, find out Bach flowers on the Web.
In the next entry, there will be some description of the endemic species of sweet violets found in the Canary Islands and why they became significant to Maria.