flo·rid·i·ty (ˈflȯr-əd-ə-tē) n. the state or quality of being florid
flo·rid (ˈflȯr-əd) adj. [L. floridus, flowery < flos, floris, a flower], 1. Rosy; ruddy; highly colored; said of the complexion. 2. Highly decorated; gaudy; showy; ornate; as, a florid passage in music, etc. 3. [Rare], decorated with flowers; flowery. –SYN. See rosy.
Where is the line between gorgeous and gaudy? Between taste and ostentation?
When I think of floridity, these questions come to mind and also: the irresponsible use of color; writers who aren’t afraid to use flourishes; embroidery on bodices and pillows and handkerchiefs; flowery accents in music, the lilt of a trumpet carried over the beat of a handdrum; dark ink curling around elbows and forearms, beneath clavicles; cheeks flushed from flirting; brocaded curtains; balconies, ornate with iron plumage.
When I was seventeen, I visited Versailles for the first time and witnessed it in all its floridity—everything lacquered with gold, everything in undulating waves and crevasses, cherubs everywhere, gilted glory. In my body, I experienced the feeling of it being too much and then the quiet relief of the garden—which, even if precisely manicured, provided, in its lush greenness, a respite. Somewhere to stand that felt closer to where my body comes from, my mother’s body, and where it will end up, underneath the earth.
When I first moved to San Francisco, I stayed in the apartment of a friend. The walls of the living room and one of the bedrooms were covered in ornate wallpaper, dark maroon and dark green etched over with a pattern of intertwined gold leaves and vines. At night, when the fire was lit, small strokes of light illuminated the golden pattern before it was reclaimed by shadow. The paper contained both darkness and light. And yet, when I had the opportunity to move into one of the rooms with that paper, I could not do it. To be there part of the time was acceptable but to sleep with this richness, that was too much. When a room with plain green walls opened up, I moved in.
Florid sounds like floral—floral was big in the early nineties when I was in junior high. Babydoll dresses, rufflely shirts, ultra-feminine pinks and corals. Lipstick that looked like the little Avon samples my grandma kept in her drawer—tubes the perfect size for my fingers. As a child, I felt so grown-up, with the addition of this color.
Floridity: a matter of personal taste and aesthetics. But also a communal decision because at different eras in different locales, different levels of floridity were prized. The Puritans weren’t so much into the gaud, but the Baroqueans were. It seems some floridity comes from the desire to decorate, to make things beyond beautiful. And other aspects of floridity seem to stem from not being satisfied with life as it is, with things as they are. As if the addition of a bustle or a bow could help in any more than a superficial way. But it can, on some level, can’t it?
I love adornment. I am a fan of earrings and scarves and brooches. I like stripes and polka dots and dark colors etched over in silver and gold leaf. Really our world is our canvas, parts of it have already been colored in and on and other parts are ready for our own definitions and markings. We are both the made and the makers. The adorned and those who adorn. We fasten, we draw, we gather, all in the hopes that we can make something that will somehow mean something to us and to those around us.
In her essay “Beauty Laid Bare: Aesthetics in the Ordinary,” bell hooks writes: “…among the traditional Southern black folks I grew up around there was a shared belief in the idea that beautiful things, objects that could be considered luxurious, that were expensive and difficult to own, were necessary for the spirit. The more downtrodden and unfortunate the circumstance, the more ‘beauty’ was needed to uplift, to offer a vision of hope, to transform.”
We all need beautiful things. What things we consider beautiful will be different for each of us. For me, I have begun to appreciate beauty in the small things I used to consider ordinary: the shape of my spoon, the way light shines through the colored glass of a candle holder, the new turquoise curtains that cover my windows. And also the floridity that can happen in just one person’s visage and how many looks—the tip of a laugh, the bathed eyes and soft brow of someone moved, the focus held in the corners of a mouth—can be contained in just one face.