Unreal Nature

May 13, 2017

Air That Shows

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… “I used to wonder why the sea was blue at a distance and green close up and colorless for that matter in your hands.”

This is from The Primary Colors: Three Essays by Alexander Theroux (1994):

Blue is a mysterious color, hue of illness and nobility, the rarest color in nature. It is the color of ambiguous depth, of the heavens and the abyss at once; blue is the color of the shadow side, the tint of the marvelous and the inexplicable, of desire, of knowledge, of the blue movie, of blue talk, of raw meat and rare steak, of melancholy and the unexpected (once in a blue moon, out of the blue). It is the color of anode plates, royalty at Rome, smoke, distant hills, postmarks, Georgian silver, thin milk, and hardened steel; of veins seen through skin and notices of dismissal in the American railroad business.

[line break added] Brimstone burns blue, and a blue candle flame is said to indicate the presence of ghosts. The blue-black sky of Vincent van Gogh’s 1890 Crows Flying over a Cornfield seems to express the painter’s doom. But, according to Grace Mirabella, editor of Mirabella, a blue cover used on a magazine always guarantees increased sales at the newstand. “It is America’s favorite color,” she says.

Paradoxically, it is the only one of all the colors which can be legitimately seen as a close neighbor to, as well as essentially symbolic of, dark and light both, oddly black in the night and almost white at the horizon by day. (“… deep blue air that shows,” observes Philip Larkin, “Nothing, and nowhere, and is endless …”) It can darken, it can obscure, it may float to and fro like a mist, evoking serenity and power. Mirroring each other, the sea takes its color from the sky. As Helen Hunt Jackson observes in “My Lighthouses,”

I look across the harbor’s misty blue,”
And find and lose that magic shifting line
Where sky one shade less blue meets sea …

It might be said to be not so much a color as a state of the light. It is also the Void: primordial simplicity and infinite space which, being empty, can contain everything or nothing. “I saw Venice turn blue because she forgot to care,” sings lovelorn Charles Aznavour.

[ … ]

… Incidentally, blue water is invariably salty, warm, and deep and speaks of the tropics, where evaporation is great and dilution minimal — the Sulu Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Gulf Stream. Green water, on the other hand, is cool, pale with particles, thin with river and rain, often shallow. In the tropics it means land, just as in the north, with white jigsaw ice, it means a frozen bay is not far away. Water is always mysterious. “I used to wonder why the sea was blue at a distance and green close up and colorless for that matter in your hands,” writes Sr. Miriam Pollard, O.C.S.O, in The Listening God. “A lot of life is like that. A lot of life is just a matter of learning to like blue.”

… Mary Pickford, “America’s Sweetheart,” played many love scenes in front of rolling cameras, but she insisted they never excited her. Discussing “the disillusionment of screen lovemaking,” she observed disdainfully that in the blinding glare of the bright blue calcium lights back in the 1920s, a screen lover bending to kiss her suddenly had purple lips and blue teeth.

-Julie

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