Sunday, June 27, 2010

Honeysuckle blond...

The honeysuckle is so dense this year that the weight of the leaves and flowers has broken the trellis, and the smell in the evening is incredible. The pale yellow of certain parts of the flower contrasts with the richer gold on this particular plant, but in fact there many variations in colour as 180 different varieties of honeysuckle exist, half of these are to be found in China.

The lawn in the garden is looking very green at present, so I couldn't understand why there were a few bleached 'scorch' marks upon it... Then I remembered that I had told the children to "just use the garden" while we were waiting for the plumber to do some vital repair work recently....
This reminded me of what I had once heard about the bleaching capacity of urine; both bleach and urine being strongly alkaline they are able to dissolve or distintegrate biological matter. Urine has apparently always had a key role in the dyeing & tanning industries (the Romans even imposed a urine tax in the 1st century A.D).
The legend of the noblewomen of Renaissance Venice going to great lengths in order to achieve the desired 'strawberry blond' or 'Venetian blond' hair colour has persisted, yet whether actual urine was used as the bleaching agent (elixir) is a little more difficult to ascertain. Although the elixir recipes differed in composition, they all contained tannic acid whose high ph level would strip the hair of its original colour. To accelerate the process, women would position themselves in direct sunlight, a procedure which took on the trappings of a ritual in 16th century Venice.
Indeed, in La Serenissima, an altana, meaning a veranda or terrace, was built on the tiled roof between the characteristic high funnel chimneys (fumaioli) and often these altana would be extended beyond the edge of the roof. The women would wear specific garments for the bleaching procedure, namely a schiavonetto - a Dalmatian silk gown, while a solana, a light, broad-rimmed straw hat protected the wearer from the direct sunlight, yet the open top enabled the gentlewoman to spread the hair onto the rim to maximize the exposure to the sun. The ladyfolk dampened their tresses with elixir at regular intervals using a sponge attached to a long stick, meanwhile admiring themselves, chatting and observing those below. The woodcut above, by Cesare Vecellio, 1590 (British Library Board), portrays this particular pursuit of the Venetian ideal of beauty.

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