Posts

Blue-Pencil

\ˈbl-üˈpen(t)-səl\ vt

Sometimes when we sit down to write, we realize we’ve researched a topic too much. We’ve uncovered lots of fascinating tidbits. Our heads are jammed with precious facts, like jewelry boxes brimful of lapis lazuli or chests bursting with indigo garb. However we can, we try to fit every detail into our first draft. We just can’t live without seeing all those treasured finds in print. But let’s be honest. We’ve accumulated too much. Some of it has to go.

Time for a blue pencil–wielding (or blue Track Changes–using) blue penciller to blue-pencil our manuscript! We need an editor who specializes not only in grammar, spelling, and punctuation, but also in shortening text or deleting extras that simply don’t belong.

Before posting Blue, the Color, I did the job myself. I’d read tons of material—books, articles, and museum brochures—without even consulting the internet. Blue is a popular subject. The week after I offered my take, the New York Times published an article and a sidebar on it.

Can you guess why I didn’t include the following views on blue?

  • Although blue and green are found in nature, they are absent from Paleolithic and Neolithic art.
  • Fourteen centuries ago, the sculptors of the Buddha of Bamiyan were the first to use lapis lazuli as paint.
  • Probably unaware of native Indigofera species, Eliza Lucas (later Pinckney) had the first successful Indian indigo harvest in the United States in 1744.
  • In 1917, Mahatma Gandhi staged his first act of civil disobedience by supporting Indian farmers who wanted to grow rice, not the indigo demanded by English planters.
  • Only in the late fifteenth century did mapmakers color the seas blue. And even today, as Radiolab made clear, not everyone thinks the sky is blue.

You see? By writing a second post, I got to keep all I knew on blue!

And now I fear we must bid blue and this how-to adieu …

Blue, the Color

The mood. The hue of things Hellenic, Jewish, and Marian. Of Krishna and the Buddha’s peace of mind. Color code of health and health care, the United Nations.

Blues. The music. The “beyond the seas” ultramarine of lapis lazuli and the blue-black indigo of cultivated woad and wilderness weed. Ice, Wedgewood, sapphire, royal, navy, and Prussian—rainbow blues of superstition and awe.

Blue is for sky and water. It describes blue cats, blue sheep, and blue whales. It tints blue spruce and graces blue gardens. In blueberries, bluebirds, and bluebonnets, blue is true. Chicory is blue, too.

It’s the “azure” of Persian that Arabic brought from Afghanistan to France, then Europe, through Andalusia in Spain. In English, there are well-born blue bloods and hardworking blue-collar workers. Once in a blue moon, blue-nosed moralists turn blue in the face when their friends curse a blue streak of blue language.

And once upon a time, a creamy-bright ultramarine pigment came from crushed lapis lazuli. Lapis is a rock (an aggregate of minerals), not a gem. It still hails mostly from nearly inaccessible mines in mountainous Badakhshan, Afghanistan. For centuries, traders shipped deep blue nili, azure asmani, and turquoise sabzi lapis loads down the Indus River by dhow to Egypt, where Cleopatra shadowed her eyes royal blue. Some of the haul travelled along the western Silk Road through Aleppo, Syria, to Venice and the palates of Michelangelo and the younger Titian.

Between lighter shades of blue and violet lay indigo—according to Issac Newton, who placed it on his spectrum of seven colors. Indigo comes from many species of Indigofera, which grow in Latin American and Asian tropics. Indian indigo, after much political drama, displaced European woad (Isatis tinctoria) in the seventeenth century. Indigos and woad are magic. They produce a yellow that turns blue only when it hits the air. They can make blacks blacker and whites whiter, until they turn blue. Anglo-Saxons, Aztecs, Germans, Indians, Omanis, Yemenis, and Yoruba have died cloth, even themselves, shades of indigo to ward off evil from infancy to death.

Some years ago, on a warm winter day in a soup kitchen, I tested the power of blue. Steaming more than the cooking pots, I took off an indigo-dyed Touareg scarf. My neck was perfectly blue, alarmingly so. A beyond the seas, beyond the world—blue.