The second issue of "Latvia's got personality": Encounters with intriguing Latvian characters…
The metropolis in full bloom
Over a century ago, Riga’s Art Nouveau architects brought nature to the city, creating a sculptural menagerie of fauna, flora and beautiful human figures. That dream lives on today in the “Elizete” flower shop in the heart of the Jugendstil district, where floral artist Sanita Cipruse presides over a sweet-scented wonderland.
Set in a basement on pulsing Elizabetes iela, “Elizete” is an inspiring retreat from life’s blues and foul weather – I first ducked in during a howling rainstorm a few years ago and was instantly hooked by the exquisitely stylish-yet-warm ambience. A trio of cats lounges gracefully amidst a sea of potted plants, cut flowers and bouquets in the making. And one feels if Mikhail Eisenstein were around today, auburn-haired beauty Sanita could be a model for his stone divas.
But it’s her hard work and sparkling creativity that puts smiles on faces.
“Elizete” has been around since way back in 1998, and when Sanita, jobless in the wake of the GFC, was re-training as a florist back in 2010, she did a three-month internship there. She felt a deep connection to the place, so when the proprietor called five years later to say she was selling up, the opportunity was too good to miss.
Latvians are flower-mad, and Sanita caught the bug early when at the tender age of seven she started collecting marigold blossoms for her mother’s pharmacy. “Elizete” stocks both imported and local flowers in season, and Sanita adds unique touches to every bouquet, like incorporating old vine branches from the world’s northernmost vineyard in Sabile, Kurzeme.
Lately, she has been literally turning flowers into art. For the Riga Biennale, currently underway in the post-industrial sprawl of Andrejsala and following the theme “and suddenly it all blossoms”, Sanita has teamed up with Estonian visual artist Jaanus Samma. He has created a gallery of enlarged “postcards from Riga” from the 1970s and 1980s, complemented by Sanita’s typically Soviet flower arrangements – gerberas, roses and tons of carnations. While these locally grown species reflected the narrow horizons of Soviet life, the arrangements have a simplicity and purity perhaps lacking in today’s slew of exotica, Sanita reflects.
Floristry competitions in Italy, France and Russia are another outlet for her energies, as well as an excuse to get out of the shop. She’s currently preparing for one in Tartu at the end of September - fingers crossed the Estonian border stays open – where the entrants have to conjure up a composition inspired by Brothers Grimm fairy tales.
Flowers - for every occasion
Meanwhile, the annual cycle of flower giving marches on. Sanita has just finished a “weddings marathon,” as couples who missed their big day due to the lockdown rushed to tie the knot at the end of summer. Now the first day of school looms, as kids traditionally give flowers to their teachers. Chatting with me late on a Monday evening, Sanita chuckles and reads out a text message requesting a bunch of dahlias: “they can be like grandma’s flowers – with snail bites and all!”
So, does she like receiving flowers? Of course, although the ex-boyfriend who plied her with yellow roses and nothing else got short shrift. She prefers more intriguing arrangements – hepaticas laced with wild strawberries, perhaps?
“When you give flowers, it’s like you’re giving someone a little piece of the universe,” she sighs.