"Flora", the shortened name for Principessa FloraBella Gladioliisima (1535?-1629) who lived in Venice and numbered dozens of prominent politicians and artists among her lovers (including the young painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo). Fabulously wealthy from her merchant family's importing and trading ventures starting with Marco Polo, Flora spent her days learning new languages, improving her musical skills on seventeen different instruments, studying foreign cuisine, raising an enormous menagerie of beloved animals, and tending to her window box gardens which covered her palace on the corner of the Calle dell Forno and the Fondamenta Zorzi.
Since Venice is and always has been a "water city" with very little dry land to waste on open fields, municipal parks, or even private gardens, Flora early on discovered that she could spend days and days raising the most extraordinary plants from around the world just outside her windows, and the spectacular beauty of her home architecturally was only surpassed by what grew in the boxes and trailed down from them to the admiring crowds below. As she grew older though and her passions for the handsome lovers of all ages and origins that she had burned so brightly for began to mellow, she devoted more and more time to her “journeys of the mind” as she called them.
Towards the end of her life, she was able to converse, write poetry, and improvise naughty limericks in over forty-two languages. She had accompanied several of the Bachs on her seventeen instruments and composed a special Cantata for Two Harpsichords which she played herself simultaneously much to the wonderment of European royalty who honored and celebrated her with special gifts of jewels, titles, and land. Her animals were loved generously and housed in the greatest comfort alongside her extraordinary window gardens. Although not reclusive in the least, Bella’s great age began to confine her travels outside her walls more and more, and she was finally only able to drift from one window to another with her faithful and adoring servants who tended to the heavier chores of maintaining the plantings under her wise direction. It was never mentioned…never even whispered about in polite company, but, as the years passed, it was rumored later that the great FloraBella Gladioliisima, Principessa of Venice, had begun to become her flowers. Literally to become her flowers. Wherever she passed, there was said to be the most exotic and mysterious scents from faraway places …and that they would change from day to day….. and even more wonderfully, with those fragrances there would follow the deep feeling of peace and contentment that comes sitting alone in a garden... contemplating an opening blossom in the light of a setting sun… That special light and color that has been stored from a radiant day and is now blazing bright as night approaches….
[postscript: Flora lived to be quite old, especially by 16th century standards, but the greatest mystery of her life was actually her death… you see, she made fewer and fewer appearances even at her own banquets and costume balls held in her very own palace. Her loyal servants would make more and more excuses, quite believable, why the great and much beloved lady could not come down from her separate wing of the house. As the public counted the years and began to prepare for a great state funeral for Flora once she had passed, it was finally revealed that Flora had continued her metamorphosis into the very plants and flowers she loved so much… one servant after another related various stories of how a parlor maid had "found a beautiful little nosegay sitting at Flora's writing desk", that an elderly housekeeper had "discovered a gather of dried yarrows glowing bright yellow and wrapped in a gilded ribbon on a settee in the tea room", or that the under-butler while bringing her breakfast tray had come upon "a single sprig of verdant mint on her monogramed pillow, still fragrant and sparkling with morning dew"…. You see, she had indeed loved her gardens so dearly, even only as flower boxes hanging over the great city of Venice, that she had joined them….forever….] (for George Sweet)
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