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My grandmother moved from the Dominican Republic to Spain when she was nineteen and fell in love with a half Moroccan, half Spanish farmer in Andalusia before she fell in love with a Catalan brewer. My grandmother nicknamed her first daughter Anisa, “Lavendula,” lavender, when she was six years old, seven years before she would die on her daughter the same way her daughter would die on me. Andalusia was full of flowers, particularly Spanish lavender, just one of the many species of Spanish flowers in the mint family. My mother was much darker than my grandmother would have liked— the child’s hair was unmanageable, thick with tight wheat-textured curls that frizzed and stretched toward the sun in every direction. My abuela would cut it down to an inch short to avoid the long wrestle of woman verses afro and breaking yet another wide-toothed wooden comb, and she would clip a small piece of lavender above her daughters ear to preserve the child’s femininity. Spanish lavender looks a bit different from regular lavender and in that sense it was appropriate for my grandmother to name my mother after the flower. My mother was only one quarter Spanish, and so, she too looked much different from the girls and boys she went to school with in the Spanish countryside. My mother shared so much in common with lavender. Spanish lavender has long slender stems, much like my mother who inherited the lengthly legs of her African roots. At the top of the Spanish lavender spike, unlike typical lavender which bears their purple florets to their peak, are a number of large wild leafs, stretched toward the sun in every direction. Other things they shared in common too— they flourished near a hot, sunny border, were capable of enduring difficult conditions but easily withered indoors, and they were attractive to butterflies. My mother, even in her most inebriated midday wanderings with moonshine tinged lips, was keen to enticing a butterfly to her finger. But there is one difference between my mother and lavendula.
Spanish lavender was drought-tolerant.
When my mother passed, I was spared no details of her death by my Aunt Lolita. My mother and I had been back and forth living with Aunt Lolita and her daughter Rhapsody for as long as I can remember. The four of us girls lived in one of the many small underground shacks in the african slums of Barcelona. Rhapsody, five years older, would take my hand as we hid under our sheets as the sisters threw half broken clay mugs and plates at each other, pulling hair and fighting with teeth, both searching for proof that one of them is a true whore and the blame for their mothers death.
Aunt Lolita was lighter skinned than my mother as they shared separate fathers and therefore she believed herself to be more beautiful. But Aunt Lolita’s face was oily and portly and her defined chin protruded past her lips. The sharp features of her chin directly contradicting the roundness of her face and gave her face a troll like appearance despite her slender waist and large, full breasts.
My mother died at twenty five, and Aunt Lolita, five years years older than her, stood above me on the sidewalk on the day of hear death, her head blocking the sun behind her and the light illuminating the silhouette of her frame.
"She is dead Nina." My aunt Lolita explained. " They found her at the train station, she choked on her throw up. I loved my sister but she was as selfish as an old cat."
I cried in my cousin Rhapsody’s arms for weeks at the viciousness of the world, and she would rock me back and forth while patting my oily hair and she would cook us canned paella. Aunt Lolita was rarely ever home, and she would leave Rhapsody and I alone for days at a time, but one day she came back with hot chocolate and a fistful of lavender. She sat down next to Rhapsody and I on our shared bed and put her hand briefly on my back, uncomfortably attempting a moment of affection. She took a breath and began to tell me a small story, with her head down at the bouquet in her hand.
"When your mother and I were young, even younger than you two, we would run to the beaches of El Palmar every day in the summer. Its nothing like the beach here in Barcelona. Here you can see trash floating and the water is brown. Disgusting. You need to shower forty minutes to get the piss and grit off of your body. Repulsive that these people get inside of it, traveling from the edges of earth to bathe in shit for water and then call it a holiday. In El palmar the water is fresh and blue and cleanses the skin. Well anyway, one year Anisa convinced mama to not cut her hair short. Anisa promised she would comb it, she begged and begged "aye, mami, please let it grow!" Well mama said okay and it turned out your mamas hair was as wild as she was. I can see her now, chasing the waves with her skinny, long legs, her crazy hair resisting the water. It was so strange to me how fast her hair dried, it was as if her hair was immune to wetness. Beads of water would drip right off and her hair would pouf right up again. We would splash each other in the ocean and I would tease her hair and say "Nah, Nah, even water runs away from your hair!" and she would shout back over the waves, "Lavendula hardly thirsts!" Can you believe she said that? She must have been only seven or eight. She was so clever, your mother… She was much smarter than I ever was."
Our shanty room rattled as a group of African men shouted next-door at a soccer game on the only small television in the slum. The three of us sat there in silence on the bed as my Aunt Lolita stared deep into the bouquet of lavendula in her hand and contemplated her admission.
She got up and pulled out a chipped mosaic vase from the top shelf of our only pantry and filled it with water and bought it back to the bed, setting it on a small table next to our lamp.
"Whenever you see lavendula, know your mother is near Nina." Aunt Lolita told me. It was the only time I had ever seen her express a quiet love for her lost sister.
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I am officially the Blog Manager and Content Curator of the Venice Art Crawl blog! Grow with me and visit the blog as I post daily on the art happenings and inspirations of Venice Beach, California. And don’t forget to join us at the last art crawl of the year, December 19th!
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Check out my newest article for traveling yogi’s on Seek Retreat!
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