Sunday, September 18, 2016

Scattergories as a writing framework

I turned a silly Facebook game into a writing exercise.

Scattergories are harder than you think. Every answer must start with the last letter of your previous answer. No fair Googling!

Name - Maureen
Animal - nudibranch
Girl’s name - Helen
Name a color - Naples yellow
Movie - Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Something you wear - yamaka
Drink - apricot juice
Food - eggs
Item in the bathroom - soap
Place - Petaluma
Reason to be late - absorbed in a good book

Now use them all in a sentence, a paragraph, or a poem.

Maureen, a nudibranch unfurls its finery at the sea where Helen's face launched a thousand ships, against a Naples yellow sky. Incongruous music from an old movie—what was it? Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. When's the last time you watched that? Can you still sing the songs? Who wore the yamaka? Yehiel was drinking apricot juice, the color of eggs. He carved a whistle from a bar of soap. Said he had to meet someone in Petaluma but she was absorbed in a good book, and didn't notice him leaving.

Name - Mo
Animal - ostritch
Girl’s name - Hermoine
Name a color - eggplant
Movie - To Kill a Mockingbird
Something you wear - dress
Drink - sambuco
Food - orange
Item in the bathroom - earrings
Place - Sausalito
Reason to be late - out late, slept in

Mo always wanted to ride an ostritch named Hermoine. Her thighs were the color of eggplant. You couldn't explain the significance of To Kill a Mockingbird to a bird that big, even if her eyelashes were a foot long—sans Mabelline. With that plumage, she was always dressed to kill. Mo took a sip of sambuco, and watched the orange orb lunge into the ocean like a high diver. She twisted her earrings, thought of the days when they raided the Trade Fair in Sausalito. Little thieves they were. She was out late, slept in. Insomnia came in the form of orange orbs floating just out of reach.

Now to change the categories:

State of mind, or feeling -sorrow
Animal or plant -wombat
Color, or a flower - turquoise
A line from a book nearest you - every step you take
    or a line from a song
An article of clothing - ermine cloak
A sound, or a musical instrument - klaxon horn
Something odd in your purse, wallet, 
   or on your nightstand -  name tag
A place, city, or country - Grenoble
Reason to be late/early - exercise
Famous last words - never a dull moment

The princess wore an ermine cloak over her gown of spun silver and turquoise. The klaxon horn sounded the battle cry. Sorrow was a wombat, the sea was restless. The banner unfurled and snapped to attention. Grenoble seemed so far away. Oh well, time for some exercise, a walk along the ramparts should be safe enough. Never a dull moment. Every step you take, brings you closer to the end of the story.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Seeing Blue is a Modern Concept? Bah!

Tech Insider is flogging a video version of that annotated Radiolab post (a takeoff of a 2011 BBC production) on the newness of the idea of the word origin for blue by proclaiming: "No one could see the color blue until modern times." Wait a minute! They cite the research of Jules Davidoff, a psychologist from Goldsmiths University of London, on a Namibian tribe. His area of expertise is object recognition, color, naming, cognitive neuropsychology. Not art. Yeah, right. Are we having a leap of logic?

Tech Insider's coffee table video pompously opens with that famous, yet troublesome Homeric image, ἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον, epi oinopa ponton, the wine-dark sea. As if that phrase alone were proof-positive that no one in the ancient world could actually see, let alone, name the color blue. They (Grace Raver and Kevin Loria) built a hypothesis upon that harebrained notion:
Zeus had blasted and shattered his swift ship with a bright lightning bolt, out on the wine-dark sea. —Homer, The Odyssey, Book V
Homer was using metaphor, or rather, metalepsisἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον, translated as the wine-dark sea—was not meant to represent blue. It was translated into English from the Archaic Ionic Greek. Things get lost in translation. According to Homer's modern translator, American poet, Robert Fitzgerald, the literal translation is ''wine-faced (or facing) sea.'' From οἶνος wine + ὄψ 'face. But when he translated The Odyssey, Fitzgerald went along with Andrew Lang's 1880s prose interpretation, the wine-dark sea—because it sounded good. And wine dark sea has been with us ever since.

Homer, reputed to be blind, named the iridescent metallic sheen of the sea—eruthrós, a tawny-red hue of bronze, and the copper coloured sky, which paired nicely with the wine-faced sea. Homer's literal color palette was named after things of extreme value in the ancient world: bronze, copper, wine. It was about evoking the personification of wealth. Oh, and the Bronze Sea is also an euphemism for the Red Sea.

And while we're quibbling, The Odyssey wasn't a book, it was an epic poem from the oral tradition. In ancient Greek, there was κυάνεος kyaneos a dark shade of blue, and Γλαυκος, glaukos, pale blue with a pastel hue. (Minos' son, Glaukos, builder of Jason's ship, the Argo, who loved Scylla, ate a divine herb and was changed into a blue-skinned merman with verdigris hair.) Modern Greek also uses thálassi, from the word for the sea, θάλασσα, which stands in for the color blue. So maybe Θάλαττα! θάλαττα! Thálatta! Thálatta! also stood for the color blue and homecoming in Homeric Greek.
Then the
Tech Insider (aka Business Insider) video goes on to claim that we—none of humanity—couldn't possibly perceive the color blue until modern times. I'm upping my knee-jerk facepalm reaction to flat-out fisticuffs. Someone please tell Tech Insider and Radiolab: It's linguistics, Stoopid! Or maybe semantics. Or maybe it's a bad case of Linguistic relativity gone awry. But not the ancient world's inability to perceive or comprehend blueness. 

So, fast-forward: according to Tech Insider, the Middle Ages are now Modern Times? OK.... Oh, look! The first written usage of the word Blue dates back to ca.1300 AD. We have: bleu, blwe, etc., from O.Fr. blo "pale, pallid, wan. (Merriman). I won't go into the 98 synonyms for blue, in English alone. But I've compiled a list of some pre-industrial kinds of blue:
sky blue, midnight blue, azure, ultramarine, aquamarine, cobalt blue, bice blue, indigo, woad, sapphire, zaffre, lazurite, ice-blue, slate blue, turquoise, beryl, duck's egg blue, robin's egg blue, peacock blue, smoke blue, cornflower, gentian, hyacinth, periwinkle, madder blue, blueberry, teal, turquoise, cerulean, mazarine, livid (as in black & blue) or dead blue, aka mortuary blue... Pompeii blue, Persian blue, Aegean blue...

Who doesn't know Something borrowed, something blue, folkloric devices used to baffle the evil eye. equated with ancient wedding customs—when it was first notated in 1871. "Belief in the evil eye dates back to Classical antiquity. It is referenced by Plato, Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch, Pliny the Elder. In the Aegean,  people with green eyes, and especially blue eyes, are thought to bestow the curse. Thus, in Greece and Turkey amulets against the evil eye take the form of blue eyes." (Wiki) Apotropaic charms (nazars), dating from the 6th c. BC, are still used in the Mediterranean, the Levant, Egypt, and Morocco, the Middle East, and Afghanistan, to repel the evil eye. Blue eyes are still painted on the prows of Mediterranean boats. And even on the tails of airplanes.

A  tree armed with nazars in Turkey. Maybe they should've used goats.—Wiki

The quest for a stable true blue pigment has been a going concern since antiquity, and has been documented since the foundation of Christianity to the 19th century, when aniline dyes were invented, because the Virgin Mary always wore blue. Always. Byzantine images (ca. 500 AD) of the Virgin Mary depicted her wearing her signature dark blue mantle (usually made of precious lapis lazuli stone, or pigment.)

Keeping the Virgin's mantle blue, or the blue sky—blue—in a fresco or a painting, has been a going technical concern for artists—since like forever. Apparently it's not easy being blue. Most minerals make unstable, or fugitive pigments. Azurite (copper carbonate) aka mountain blue or Armenian stone, azurro della Magna, blue bice or blue verditer, was commonly used since antiquity. It was the chief source of blue during the Middle Age, but it has a nasty habit of turning green.  

Leonardo da Vinci complained mightily to the Almighty about having to use azurite (but it was waaay cheaper). Hans Holbiein the Younger painted a field azurite for a blue sky which is slowly turning teal. The mantle of the Madonna in Raphael's Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints has been turning green over the ages because the azurite is weathering into malachite. 

Oil turns azurite green. Bright light, heat, and exposure to air will reduce the intensity of azurite, which can also go completely rogue and turn into black copper oxide. Treatises were written on how to stabilize azurite—or why paintings are varnished. My favorite cure—rub garlic on the sky before varnishing it to keep it blue.

Michelangelo couldn’t afford ultramarine, and refused to finish his painting The Entombment, because he couldn't get his hands on the prized pigment for love or money. Readily available azurite just wouldn't do. Vermeer mired his family in debt in his quest for the ultimate blue. Lapis lazuli, which literally means beyond the sea, was more valuable than gold

Azurite was often substituted for ultramarine blue, because "...the lone source of ultramarine was an arid strip of mountains in northern Afghanistan. ...the color was traditionally restricted to the raiment of Christ or the Virgin Mary." —True Blue, Paris Review.
Blue remains a muse precisely because it is a mirage. “Among the ancient elements,” writes William Gass in his treatise On Being Blue, “blue occurs everywhere: in ice and water, in the flame as purely as in the flower, overheard and inside caves, covering fruit and oozing out of clay.”...Eastern spiritualists have long associated deep blue gemstones, such as lapis lazuli, with the sixth chakra, or third eye, the seat of elevated consciousness in the human body. The Egyptian Book of the Dead recognizes lapis lazuli, carved in the shape of an eye and set in gold, as an amulet of inestimable power. Cleopatra, in common lore, wore powdered lapis lazuli as eye shadow.—True Blue, Paris Review.
Cobalt blue, used to make imitation lapis lazuli, wasn't cheap either. Cobalt ores were mined in Azerbaijan, Baluchistan, and Rajputana, India, but "Persia was the chief source of cobalt ores in the ancient world until the late Middle Ages; although there are also minor cobalt deposits in the western desert of Egypt south of Cairo." (Cobalt) In the early Middle Ages, cobalt oxide was used to color the stained glass windows of cathedrals. Cobalt is unique in that it is stable under both low and high heat conditions. Underglaze blue and white porcelain was made in the 8th c. T'ang dynasty; the Ming Dynasty (1400s) was famous for its cobalt underglaze ceramics—precursor to our Blue Willow pattern.

Blue faience hippopotamus, Middle Kingdom (2033-1710 BC)—Wiki

Clearly the ancients had a sense of color, and a real fondness for blue. The Sumerians used rare lapis lazuli on artifacts long before the Egyptians who first developed blue faience (they used copper oxide, not cobalt to color the sintered quartz). Egyptian faience was widely exported to Europe—as far away as Scotland. What was the Picts' favorite color? Blue woad, of course.

Egyptian blue or hsbd-iryt (calcium copper silicate), which means fake lapis lazuli, was the first synthesized pigment (1350 BC) was known to the Romans as caeruleum. The word, derived from cael(um, sky, heaven is embedded in the name. Clearly Romans and Egyptians knew what blue was. It was popular until the 4th c. AD. 

Another color, the wadjet eye was blue, blue-green, or sometimes the green of the Nile in summer. To suggest that the ancients couldn't perceive blue, (because we assume that they had no name for those colors? or they called it green because they couldn't see the difference?) is preposterously shallow thinking. They knew what blue was. And they knew how precious it was. The color of the heavens.

Greek and Roman temples and marble statues were painted in gaudy colors, including azurite-based blue. (See the blue-maned lion of Loutraki 550 BC). Ancient Classical mosaic tile murals used blue for sky and water, etc., not for trees. I won't mention Maya blue because I'm sticking to Old World examples of blue.
Ladies in Blue, Palace of Knossos, (Heraklion, Crete) —Wiki

The Minoans, who predated the Greeks, were excessively fond of blue.
(The Aegean Bronze Age murals, the bull leaping frescoes. the dolphin, or flying fish frescoes, or the Ladies in Blue—lots and lots of blue was used.) Blue fresco color could shift, but not blue glazed pots. Or mosaic tiles. Copper oxide, iron, or cobalt oxide was used. Cobalt glass (smalt) was ground up and used as pigment.

Ancient glassware of the Levant was often colored blue. We're not talking of the natural green hue of iron in glass, but real cobalt blue. Ancient Greek κυανός, transliterated as kýanos, means "dark blue". What color is dominant in Greek villages? Green lintels and doorjambs? Nope. Blue, bleu, blau.

Another Greek word for blue is sappheiros, blue stone—probably meant lapis lazul as the modern word for sapphire is hyakinthos
; from the Sanskrit śanipriya, beloved of the planet Saturn (which is bluish in the sky.) The ancient Greeks also used a specific word for pale blue, γλαυκός glaukós, blue-green, blue-grey which also appears in Homer. ( Proto-Indo-European *gleh₂w-ko.) True, there were fluid boundaries between blueness to greeness or even yellowness. But that's true of many colors. And bruises too.

What evidence is there that blue was a predominant color? Well, let's see, the entire foundation of the Bronze Age was built upon the extraction of copper ore—and copper ore yields azurite,
"a soft, deep blue copper mineral produced by weathering of copper ore deposits." They went through many workarounds to stabilize that blue in faience, glass, and pigment.

Fresh mined azurite crystals from Špania Dolina, Slovakia —Wiki

Of course people could see that color wedged between green and violet. Blue is an integral part of the color spectrum. Rainbows never lie. Sure, Xenophanes described the rainbow with only three bands of color: porphyra (Tyrean purple*), khlōrós (light green), and eruthrós (ruddy red). But the Greeks also believed the entire universe was composed of three elements: Air, Earth, Water (Fire was a reaction). Purple and red were considered the most costly of royal colors. Besides, it sounds like Xenophanes was describing the interference pattern of a supernumerary rainbow (pink, purple and blue-green hues).

We tend to conventionally acknowledge seven colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet (ROYGBIV), because Sir Isaac Newton in his prism treatise, Opticks (1704), said so. But the lensmaker was a bit blind, and originally named only five colors of the visible spectrum. "The originall or primary colours are Red, yellow, Green, Blew, & a violet purple; together with Orang, Indico, & an indefinite varietie of intermediate gradations."

Goethe's symbolic colorwheel (1809) —Wiki
Bowing to the ancient Greek sophists, Newton later threw in orange and indigo so it would be analogous to the number of notes in a musical scale (which in turn bowed to the Sumerian love of seven.) Plato was pretty keen on the idea of math and music defining the "harmonies of the cosmos." Natural philosophers were not afraid to shoehorn science into popular thought processes.

German poet and artist Goethe wrote a psychological study on the nature, function, and psychology of color in his 1810 treatise, Theory of Colours. "Blue still brings a principle of darkness with it. This colour has a peculiar and almost indescribable effect on the eye.... As the upper sky and distant mountains appear blue, so a blue surface seems to retire from us. ...light and its absence, are necessary to the production of colour.... Colour itself is a degree of darkness.") Maria Popova, Atlantic Monthly

Then there's the pursuit of royal blue, and later, royal purple in the cloth dying industry.
In Mesopotamia, a 7th c. BC cuneiform tablet preserves an indigo recipe for dyeing lapis-colored wool (uqnatu). The Greeks imported ινδικόν indikón, indigo dye from India. The Romans Latinized the term to indicum. Indigo was in high demand across the ancient world. (During the Edo period, silk was forbidden, so the Japanese dyed cotton with indigo.) In North Africa, to this day, cloth dyed with indigo signifies wealth.

Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in Tyrian purple, 6th-c mosaic,  Italy

The Phoenicians of Tyre made an indigo dye from a species of marine snail, but Tyrian purple dye from murex shells was a rare commodity. Phoenicia, from the Greek, phoinós means the land of purple, or, dark red. Tyrian purple was also called Tyrian red. The ancient idea of purple was more of a violet-maroon color. They sometimes over-dyed indigo with purple. There are records of the dye in Ugarit and Hittite texts ca. 14th c. BC, but the Minoans may have invented the process of making Imperial purple ca. 20th–18th c. BC, centuries before the Tyrians (ca. 1570 BC).

Then the video claims re was no word for blue in Hebrew.  Really? What color is the tzitzit on the tallit /prayer shawl again? According to a biblical commandment (15:38), a blue threadtekhelet (תְּכֵלֶת) is included in the tzitzit (תכלת), and that blue (or blue-violet) is the same color mentioned 49 times in the Torah. A sea snail, Hexaplex trunculus, produces a blue which could be tekhelet. (But it was excluded from this video as a synonym for blue because it can also represent purple or black.)

In Irish, one of the oldest Indo-European languages, gorm is the word used for the color of the sea, and for blue eyes. (Proto-Celtic *gurmos.) Sometimes glas (green) was also used for blue. Or glastum the color of blue dye extracted from dyer's woad (cabbage family—they also used whortleberries for blue dyes). Glas may refer to grey-blue eyes, or green grass, but not bright dyed green, uaine (uaithne). They combined words for more blue shades: gormghlas for azure, gormuaine for blue-green. They also distinguished between gorm and glas and uaine. (Líath means grey or light blue.) Why? Because there are words for blue.

What color was Krishna again? Oh yeah, blue. Blue symbolizes divinity in many cultures.

Krishna, from Sanskrit Kṛṣṇa, dark or dark blue, has jambul-colored skin.—Wiki

You can see things without specifically naming them. Aren't we really flogging another version that horse, can one think without words? "Steven Pinker notes that we are not born with language, so that it is not likely that we are engineered to think in words alone." But that's another argument.
Yes, Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote extensively about how color patterns were connoted in ancient texts. Light/dark, red/yellow; green, purple. Then blue. But if we look at the light/dark idea, colors tended to be divided along that system, vs. names. Blue can be either light or dark. Maybe instead of looking for ancient words to represent blue, we need to look at synonyms for darkness.

The video asks: Can you see a color if you don't have a word for it? Apparently certain animals can see blue. Satin bowerbirds and chimps can see blue—even owls and pigeons can see blue. So the ability to see blue predates speciation and also language. The human eye can detect a million colors, (and some women, who have four types of cone cells, can see even more colors), but the ancients couldn't perceive the color blue in days of yore? Hmmmf. Not buying it.

Then the video claims that blue is exceedingly rare in nature. What?
There are wild blue aenonomes, asters, baby blue eyes, bellflowers, bluebells, blue camas, blueberries, chicory, cornflowers, campanula, crocus, delphiniums, flax, gillia, hydrangea, hyacinths, irises, indigo, larkspur, lobelia, lupine, nigella, periwinkle, rosemary, sage, scilla, bluejays, bluebirds, cerulean warblers, blue buntings, indigo buntings, lazuli buntings, azure tits, blue tits, kingfishers, macaws, quetzalbirds, the oceans, lakes, oh yeah, the sky. Rainbows too.
Jules Davidoff's logic is either seriously flawed or it's misinterpreted. His study was based on one primitive African tribe who were probably freaking out just by looking at a computer monitor... Cathodes emit a mixture of three color frequencies and trick the eye into assuming other color exists via interpolation. Had the Namibian tribe been showed something borrowed, something blue from their native environment like a Where's Waldo experiment, instead of using a pinwheel on a phosphor screen, the study might hold some merit.

As it turns out "
This striking "experiment" was a BBC dramatization, and the description of its "results" was invented by the authors of the documentary, and not proposed or endorsed by the scientists involved." In other words, bad popular science strikes again.

Some of this stinking thinking dates back to 1858 when politician (4 x Prime Minister) who championed Irish Home Rule, and Classics scholar, William Gladstone
(1809 - 1898) conducted a survey of ancient written languages and noted that the speakers did not name colors precisely or consistently as modern English speakers. In other words, they didn't use the names of colors as abstract nouns. He erroneously concluded that because there was no consistent word for blue in Greek, " ... that the organ of color and its impressions were but partially developed among the Greeks of the heroic age." And apparently we've been parroting that idea ever since.

Winding back to Goethe's emotional equivalences, here's another take on the wine dark sea:
Homer describes the sea as wine-dark following a tragedy. Odysseus mourns the death of his men after a shipwreck, when they’ve been swallowed up by the wine-dark sea. Achilles mourns the death of Patroclus looking out on the wine-dark sea. 'The idea is that the sea is dangerous, it's captivating, it's intoxicating, just like wine', he says. 'It's much more than just the colour, it's more about what the object-metaphor is encouraging us to think about'. —Were the ancient Greeks and Romans colour blind?
What makes this all rather funny is that before Newton's Opticks was published, European poetry was a bit bland on the naming of colors.

Oh, and BTW, those green traffic lights are actually blue. We just call them green.

Lapis lazuli, lazulum, stone from heaven's skies. —Wiki

All this talk of blue and I am reminded of Robert Francis's poems: 


Pick any blue sky blue   cerulean   azure
cornflower   periwinkle   blue-eyed grass
blue bowl   bluebell   pick lapis lazuli
blue pool   blue girl   blue Chinese vase
or pink-blue chicory alias ragged sailor
or sapphire   bluebottle fly   indigo bunting
blue dragonfly or devil's darning needle
blue-green   turquoise   peacock   blue spruce
blue verging on violet    the fringed gentian
gray-blue   blue bonfire smoke   autumnal
haze   blue hill   blueberry   distance
and darker blue   storm-blue   blue goose
ink   ocean   ultramarine   pick winter
blue snow-shadows   ice   the blue star Vega.

and his


Winter uses all the blues there are.
One shade of blue for water, one for ice,
Another blue for shadows over snow.
The clear or cloudy sky uses blue twice-
Both different blues. And hills row after row
Are colored blue according to how far.
You know the bluejay's double-blur device
Shows best when there are no green leaves to show.
And Sirius is a winterbluegreen star.
Robert Francis


No one could describe the color 'blue' until modern times Tech Insider, video by Grace Raver, 2016.

Why Isn't the Sky Blue? Radiolab, 2016.

No one could describe the color 'blue' until modern times 2015, Kevin Loria, Business Insider.

Humans didn't even see the colour blue until modern times, research suggests  from Science Alert. 2015

Were the ancient Greeks and Romans colour blind? 2014

Horizon: Do you see the same colours as me? BBC TV, 2011. The Himba of northern Namibia - who had never even set foot in a local town - call the sky black and water white, and for them, blue and green share the same word. In having fewer words than us for colour, it seems that their perception of the world is different to ours - it takes them longer to differentiate between certain colours, and so we can determine from this that they see the world a little differently. The tribe found us a bit of an oddity - they hadn't been filmed before - so when I played them back the footage we had filmed they thought it was the most hysterical thing they had every seen.

The Himba and the perception of colour Jules Davidoff "The Himba are an ethnic group from northern Namibia closely related to the Herero. They have 4 colour category names in their language. Recognizing different colours and hues are supposedly universal. What the study attempts to find out is if the Himba truly see the world in a vastly different way or are merely describing what they see differently... What is clear though is that concepts like colour itself and the categories for colour have to be translated and codified in such a way that is intelligible to an English speaking audience."

Himba color perception "These papers, however, only reported that subjects experienced slower reaction times when distinguishing the oddball colour (or made errors regarding the extent of perceptual distance when it crossed one of their language's colour boundaries)... the prism of tv slightly exaggerates the reality… The BBC's presentation of the mocked-up experiment — purporting to show that the Himba are completely unable to distinguish blue and green shades that seem quite different to us, but can easily distinguish shades of green that seem identical to us — was apparently a journalistic fabrication, created by the documentary's editors after the fact, and was never asserted by the researchers themselves, much less demonstrated experimentally." The slowness was due to where the color was placed on the screen.

Colour words in Irish Omniglot  gormghlas - blue-green, azure, gormuaine - blue-green

Color term, Irish uses two words for green: glas denotes the green color of plants, while uaithne describes artificial greens of dyes, paints etc. This distinction is made even if two shades are identical.

The Wine-Dark Sea: Color and Perception in the Ancient World  argues the point that there is no word for blue, but also discusses synaesthesia, and the fact that some of us have more color receptors in our eyes than others. " the Torah [blue] is questioned (there are two words argued to be types of blue, sappir and tekeleth...Homer’s palette limited to only five colors (metallics, black, white, yellow-green, and red), Empedocles, believed that all color was limited to four categories: white/light, dark/black, red, and yellow. Xenophanes, described the rainbow as having but three bands of color: porphyra (dark purple), khloros, and erythros (red)."

OK, I beg to quibble here, but the ancient Greeks were really into reducing everything down into three basic elements (basis for our modern periodic tables: Air, Earth, Water (Fire was a byproduct, an action, not a base element.) Also, since when is sapphire not blue?

Colours in Homer #2: the wine-dark sea A list of color terms in Greek based on surviving texts. There's kyaneos -- conventional translation for blue: porpoises, a swallow's feathers, black hair—a medium grey-blue ranging towards dark shades; not vivid. Porphyreos (in Homer porphyrios) — the 'purple' of flowers and murex dyes; blood, blushing cheeks, and rainbows; the indigo-lavender-violet part of the spectrum. Porphyreos doesn't have an equivalence in English. And glaukos—greyish: the dull blue or green sheen on olives, grapes, vine leaves; (blue) eyes, the sea, a clear sky. Ancient technical descriptions suggest it's a light hue of kyaneos; see Plato. So light blue to dull green, or greenish-grey. Like porphyreos, this term doesn't have a one-to-one equivalence to any English. We use glaucous for yeast bloom on fruit. Chlōros is vivid green, as in leaves, plants; frightened people—also means unripe. In artists' terms, kyaneos would be a shade, and glaukos would be a hue, or pastel.

HOMER'S SEA: WINE DARK? NY X Scholars have puzzled over ''very odd'' color tones used in classical Greek writing. 'They don't reflect the same division of the color spectrum. Dr. Cattley said the notion of the Greeks' color- blindness to blue was ''patently unlikely'' because the ancient Greeks diluted their wine with water alkaline enough to change the color of wine from red to blue. Dr. Cattley believes the phrase the wine-dark sea was a poetic device. Formulaic stock phrases gave the audience time to absorb information. "Besides, in Greek the phrase wine-dark sea made a perfect flourish at the end of the hexameter line used by Homer. Dr. Cattley dismisses the suggestion that Homer, being blind, made an unreliable witness in such matters. ''It's a tradition, that's all. In fact, some people argue that there was no one person called Homer.'' Robert Fitzgerald, the American translator of Homer, noted that the literal translation is ''wine-faced sea.'' Still, he uses ''wine-dark sea.'' As a romantic expression, he said, it ''can't be improved on.''

Cobalt The earliest known object containing cobalt is a blue glass lump dated to about 2000 b.c.e. from Eridu, in southern Mesopotamia (Garner, 1956, pp. 147-49). Cobalt has also been identified in blue glass from Egypt of the late 16th century b.c.e. (early Eighteenth Dynasty; Farnsworth and Ritchie, pp. 158-61), from the Aegean area at about the same date, and from Roman Pompeii and Syria (Sayre, pp. 4-11), as well as in late Parthian beads from northern Persia (Oda, p. 46). The Chinese were coloring blue glass with cobalt under the Chou dynasty (1122-221 b.c.e.; Ritchie, p. 219). The earliest Chinese cobalt glazes date from the T’ang period (618-907 c.e.; Gettens, p. 29), but perhaps the best-known use of cobalt on Chinese ceramics is the underglaze-blue decoration on blue-and-white ware of the Yüan (1279-1368) and Ming (1368-1644) dynas­ties (Young, pp. 43-47).

Tyrian Purple

Rare Dyed Fabrics Found in Israeli Cave Analysis of 2,000-year-old pieces of fabric found in the Wadi Murabba'at caves,  had been dyed using a pigment extracted from the murex sea snail,

True Blue Paris Review Michelangelo couldn’t afford ultramarine and didn't finish painting The Entombment. Rafael reserved ultramarine for a final coat,  his base layers were common azurite; Vermeer proceeded to mire his family in debt for the ultimate blue of blues. Ultramarine is superlative blue, the end-all blue. The name means “beyond the sea”—a dreamy ode to its distant origins. Lapis lazuli pigment was far more precious than gold.

Original Treatises: Dating from the XIIth to XVIIIth Centuries on the Arts of Painting

List of Aegean frescos Wiki. Mostly Knossos.

19th-Century Insight Into the Psychology of Color and Emotion  Maria Popova, Atlantic Monthly, 2012.

Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution  Brent Berlin and Paul Kay’s famous 1969 study: is color cultural, or innate?

Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis. theory of linguistic relativity, by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf

Linguistic relativity and the color naming debate  linguistic relativity concerns the relationship between language and thought, specifically whether language influences thought. Among the most popular and controversial theories is the theory of linguistic relativity (also known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis).

Scientists have found a woman whose eyes have a whole new type of colour receptor  Most humans are trichromats, which means we have three types of cone cells in our eyes. Each type of cone cell can see 100 shades, so three cone cells means we can see a million different colours. But there's a doctor who has four cone cell types, taking the potential number of colours she can distinguish up to 100 million colours.

Certainly the 1300s were not considered to be modern times. Yet we have references to blue that date back to the middle ages:

blue c.1300, bleu, blwe, etc., from O.Fr. blo "pale, pallid, wan, light-colored; blond; discolored; blue, blue-gray," from Frankish *blao, from P.Gmc. *blæwaz (cf. O.E. blaw, O.S., O.H.G. blao, Dan. blaa, Swed. blå, O.Fris. blau, M.Du. bla, Du. blauw, Ger. blau "blue"), from PIE *bhle-was "light-colored, blue, blond, yellow." "The exact color to which the Gmc. term applies varies in the older dialects; M.H.G. bla is also "yellow," whereas the Scandinavian words may refer esp. to a deep, swarthy black, e.g. O.N. blamaðr, N.Icel. blamaður 'Negro' " [Buck]. Replaced O.E. blaw, from the same PIE root, which also yielded L. flavus "yellow," O.Sp. blavo "yellowish-gray," Gk. phalos "white," Welsh blawr "gray," O.N. bla "livid" (the meaning in black and blue), showing the usual slippery definition of color words in I.E.  From early times blue was the distinctive color of the dress of servants, which may be the reason police uniforms are blue, a tradition Farmer dates to Elizabethan times. Many IE languages seem to have had a word to describe the color of the sea, encompassing blue and green and gray; e.g. Ir. glass (see Chloe); O.E. hæwen "blue, gray," related to har (see hoar); Serbo-Cr. sinji "gray-blue, sea-green;" Lith. yvas, Rus. sivyj "gray.

Some Musings on a Color Thesaurus Chart
No Word for Purple

How Color Came to Be—teaching notes

Such utter bullshite. First, Homer was using metaphor, wine-dark is not meant to represent blue. It wasn't in a book. It was part of oral tradition. Wine-dark is a stormy sea. He also wrote of the rosy-fingered dawn. Someone please tell Radiolab: It's
linguistics, Stoopid! or maybe semantics. Ancient Greek κυανός, transliterated kýanos, means "dark blue". What color is dominant in Greek villages?
What evidence? Of course people could see blue. It's part of the color spectrum. You can see things without naming them.
The Sumerians used lapis and turquoise long before the Egyptians who developed faience. They had no name for those colors? (Or called it green?) I think not. Greek and Roman temples and statues were painted gaudy colors, including blue. Ancient Classical mosaic tile murals used blue for water, etc, not trees.
Then there's the cloth dying industry: indigo was in big demand, and the development of purple among the Phonecians was based on indigo. The word Sapphire means blue stone.
Yes, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Dimuzel (sp) wrote extensively about how color patterns were connoted in ancient texts. Light/dark, red; green, then purple. No word for blue in Hebrew, yet how many times is blue mentioned in the Torah? What color is the prayer shawl again?
Can you see a color if you don't have a word for it? Blue is rare in nature?? What? There's chicory, hydrangea, hyacinth, lobelia, bellflowers, bluebells, blueberries, bluejays, bluebirds, blue buntings, macaws, the ocean, lakes, oh yeah, the sky, too.
Yes. Davdoff's logic is flawed. Based on one tribe who were probably freaking out just looking at a computer monitor... Had they been showed something from their native environment, it might hold some merit.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Jason, at Binkley Elementary School, Santa Rosa, CA, circa 1981

It was during the early 1980s when developmentally disabled kids were being mainstreamed into the public schools. Not because it seemed like a cool idea, but because we had a governor who decommissioned the state funded mental hospitals, and there were all these kids who were formerly institutionalized, suddenly foisted into the classroom.

Marilyn Stocks was a brilliant 5th grade teacher who was able to successfully integrate Jason, who had Downs Syndrome, into the classroom. He was a big lumbering hulk in an 8th grader's body, and I thought my God, how will I ever teach poetry to him? She said give him a job, he was the class pencil and paper monitor, and he also collected the poetry journals at the end of class. He was the best classroom helper ever. He never forgot, never missed a beat. She said, now take it a step further, have him write poetry too. And so I did.

So I tailored CPITS lessons so that he too could write, and write he did. (We took dictation too.) She said treat him just like another student. The magic began to happen was when he had a poem typed up. The class cheered him on. I try to type up eight to ten kid poems per workshop and then we revise them in class. So by the time I've seen the students five times, the entire class has had a poem typed up, 1.5 times. At the end, we made an anthology of student and Jason proudly read his poem. The class went wild.

Ten years later, I was giving a poetry reading in Santa Rosa, and this man got up to read at open mike, he was celebrating a new chapbook, with a handmade red cover. It was Jason, still writing his poetry a decade later.

Friday, August 19, 2016


  first draft

The sunlight, tinged orange
Smoke roiling through the bowl of valley
Blue shadows, curl of spine
An engine whine in a pocket canyon
A one note song for lost kin
Harbinger of the fall with chainsaw choruses
But the trees are dying, they are dying
It's not about the smoke,
or the fires raging to the four directions
A Black Death, the trees weeping,
their sap collects in amber lakes
Is this what happened when
Precambrian amber was new?
Did the trees die off then too?
Did they weep lachrymosal tears,
where insects clamored
And became stuck in time?
Our tears, the ones unshed, fossilized inside the heart
Like occluded smoke, frozen in time
The hum of an air conditioner keeps the smoke at bay
But the trees visit us, they cost our cars with the secret heartwood
As if ladies at their toilette, escaped from the war years,
Dusting themselves with lilac-scented talcum
But the powder is gritty, as if from a volcanic eruption
I write my name in the dust on the back window of my car
And taste its acrid ash, the carbon sum of trees
Unshed tears and grief, how do we manifest in in this century,
stuck and frozen in time? The parched earth summons.
At summers end, naked ladies at the pond
All face east towards the sun. Belladonna,
beauty by any other name Amaryllis,
the scent of funerary offerings.
The sound of a bird singing in the classroom.
Eva cups the phone to the shell of her ear
And talks in low earthtones
only the mountains will understand.

Ellen Bass workshop


       first draft

She says to write about the things I've forgotten
But if I've forgotten them
how can I possibly remember what was forgotten?
She says the poet wrote an entire booklength poem
on what he remembered, and when he reached the end,
he committed suicide.. He had remembered enough for a lifetime.
And in this way I realized that the things we've forgotten
have committed an involuntary suicide of memory
The synapse, gone I imagine the ganglion as large rubber bands
like sergeants standing to attention yelling hoorah
What we remember, what once was forgotten,
gathering proverbial dust on the shelf of memory.
snapping to attention like the nuns with their match boxes,
as we lined up for confirmation, all in rows,
with our blue capes, the color of the sky.

Ellen Bass Workshop

Thursday, July 28, 2016

La Garúa

My friend Nels in Lima commented about the unusually clear weather. Having been on the coastal plateau of the western slope of the Andes in winter, all I can say is, make the most of that sunshine. You may not see it again for six months. Because: La Garúa.

La garúa is a thick sea mist caused by warm tropical winds interacting with the Pacific ocean chilled by the Humboldt current. A thermal inversion. La garúa is a persistent low-level cloud cover, or fog, that blocks out the sun on the western Andes for months on end. Officially, it's winter from May to December. No matter that you're close to the equator. No sun means it's cold and damp and gray.

At sea level, la garúa drizzle evaporates, so there's no rainfall. It's an odd sensation. You can feel some dampness on your face, but if you sit on the ground, it never reaches you. Sort of like San Francisco's June Gloom on steroids. La garúa is bone-chillingly SAD—as in Seasonal Affect Disorder. A soul-smothering purgatorial greyness seemingly without end, without benefit of the delightfully earthy odor of petrichor.

The greater Atacama Desert is the driest place in the world—3 million years' worth of extreme hyperaridity. A rainshadow desert caused by the extreme height of the Andes. There is almost no rainfall along that entire thin strip of coastline that stretches the length of South America from Chile to Perú. It hasn't rained in some places in over 400 years.

The Peruvian Coastal Desert and the Sechura/Nazca Desert are northern extensions of the Atacama—by right it should be called the Sechura-Atacama desert. Bolivia lost its coastline in a Chilean-British conflict over guano during the War of the Pacific, (1879–83). Normal precipitation (in the from of fog) in the Atacama is about 0.07 inches (1.7 mm) a year.

When it does rain in the desert, the ground is so dry and hard as pavement, even an inch of rain can cause colossal flash floods. Like in 2012 and 2015. A freak snowstorm in 2011 dumped 31" of snow. I'll leave you to imagine the catastrophe that caused. (see my post Atacama Floods). Less than an inch of rain in March of 2015 (first rain in 80 years), caused not only mudflows, but an aftermath of colossal bloom of desert mallow (malvia).

Even the driest desert will bloom. The Atacama after a freak rain—a once-in-a-lifetime malvia bloom —Washington Post

But I digress, lost in the dizzying tracts of flowers... on the lower slopes of the western Andes, where the cloud cover kisses the mountains, a heavy fog drizzle also creates some biomes, or lomas —seasonal oases of unusual flora. A desert cloud forest.

La garúa makes Lima a damp place to be in winter. So if you've got sunny skies, pack all that sightseeing in, pronto.

What the travel guidebooks don't tell you is that la garúa makes it difficult to handwash your clothes—unless you have access to a clothes dryer. We never found any laundromats in Lima. Try drying your clothes on the clothesline during la garúa. Not gonna happen for at least six months. I melted a hair dryer trying to dry my clothes. Nae knickers and I was one cross camper.

Most people don't have washing machines, let alone clothes dryers. Some natives wear their clothes until they can stand up on their own, and just buy more when the dirty clothes run off on their own. The region is dry and dusty to boot, and aquifer water is scarce. Everybody else uses the drycleaners.

Going to the drycleaners at rush hour qualifies as a contact sport. My feet never even touched the ground as that seething mass of humanity inexorably pushed us forward to the counter to pick up our clothes. Added a whole 'nother dimension to Take me to the cleaners. I must admit I felt sheepish taking my underwear to the cleaners. But I was a much happier camper with clean knickers.

There's not much online about Lima's La garúa. The Wiki link, er, stub doesn't make much sense. In Argentina, la garúa does mean a light drizzle (llovizna in Spanish). In Brazilian Portuguese, the word garoa also refers to a drizzle, but not in Lima.

All I could find on La garúa were two blog posts. I guess mine makes it three.

La Garua, Lima's fog This post equates fog drizzle to rain, confusing precipitation with rain but there are rarely rain clouds, no storm cells, ergo, it's not rain.

A Year in the Fog  Surfer dude journal

Atacama Floods I discuss the fallout of that freak rainstorm that dumped less than an inch of rain in March 2015, and mention what the desert's like. I also mention la garúa.

Atacama Civilizations  a bit of armchair research on my part on the downfall of ancient Peruvian civilizations where I took a slovenly New Scientist journalist to task—that led me to discover the research of the delightful Cambridge archaeologist, Dr. David Beresford-Jones, and his 2004 PhD thesis. There I delve in depth on the formation of la garúa. 

Chilean Miners a post about my reaction to the the heroic rescue of Chilean miners trapped underground, the San José mine  is in the northern Atacama Desert. Someone actually lifted this post and pasted it in her own blog. Weird form of flattery.

If you want to know more about those garúa-related ephemeral seasonal oases, called lomas, see this new paper by David Beresford-Jones, et al  Re-evaluating the resource potential of lomas fog oasis environments for Preceramic hunter–gatherers under past ENSO modes on the south coast of Peru 

2nd draft, original post:
La Garúa is a thick sea mist caused by warm winds interacting with the cool Pacific ocean, a low-level cloud cover, or fog that blocks out the sun for weeks. There is almost no rainfall, but on the lower slopes of the western Andes, where the cloud cover touches, a heavy fog drizzle creates unusual flora. At sea level, la garúa drizzle evaporates, so no rainfall. La garúa makes Lima a damp place to be in winter. So if you've sunny skies, pack all that sightseeing in, pronto. Try drying your clothes on the clothesline during la garúa. Not gonna happen. I melted a hair dryer trying to dry my clothes. Everybody uses the drycleaners. Going to the drycleaners at rush hours qualifies as a contact sport. My feet never even touched the ground as that seething mass of humanity inexorably pushed us forward to the counter.

Those Irish-Iberian Connection

There's an article on a webpage, Signs of the Times (—The world for people who think) from 2013 that gets trotted out regularly on Facebook,  DNA shows Irish people have more complex origins than previously thought, that, for some reason, pushes my buttons. I suspect that it's the way it's written that froths my dander, more than anything else.

This is my off the cuff response to the article: I need to go back and synthesize it, until I find my way with it. Now I don't have a through line. Working on it.

I wrote: This article/writer needs to be taken with a grain of salt (or read carefully) in that what it's trying to point out, and what it actually does point out, seem to be two different agendas. It's a bit of a rehash. Or maybe a mishmash.

RE: the statement that "The blood in Irish veins is Celtic, right? Well, not exactly.... the Irish are close genetic relatives of the people of northern Spain." OK, here's the argument she's making. Thesis statement, if you will.

However, there needs to be a qualifier: yes, there's a link with Galicia, a known Celtic country, not with Spain, nor Basquelands, either. Bronze Age Iberia was mostly settled by Celts who spoke Gaulish, fergawdsakes, of course there would be genetic links. Ditto that with Northern Portugal too.

The Irish are not related to the Spanish (or Portuguese), they're related to an ancient group of Celtic  peoples (pre-Spanish), some of whom who still inhabit the northern parts of the Iberian Peninsula. 

The minute you mention Spain, everybody immediately jumps to Basque links—no, they're not related, and certainly not linguistically related. Then they jump to Black Irish, and ridiculous Spanish Armada links. The persistence of myth is hard to eradicate.

The author goes on to say: "the latest research into both British and Irish DNA suggests that people on the two islands have much genetically in common."

Yes. We're still talking about Haplogroup 1 (or Rb1—related to the redhead gene) here. Same as the Keltoi of Central Europe. Didn't she just claim the opposite?

My main gripe: there has never been a conclusive genome map done of the entire British Isles by one scientific group. Not like what was done in Iceland. That needs to be done first, before sweeping conclusions can be made. Not isolate genome bits here and there, with piecemeal theories pastiched together.

"Many people still refer to Irish, Scottish and Welsh as Celtic culture." (This is what I think she's trying to refute via ethnicity).

They still are culturally related, this article proves nothing. Culture is defined by many signatures, and not all need to be present at once: language, ritual/religion, DNA, etc.

Let's look at the larger use of rhetoric. The scope of the article. Her stance: Irish are not the same as British. Therefore they're not directly descended from the Keltoi of central Europe. Ergo, also not related to the British. This article was written in 2013, by someone in Northern Ireland. So what is her point? The case she's making? Otherness? Why? What purpose?

FWIW, I have books on the history of the Celts dating back to the 1990s and earlier that acknowledge that there's an Iberian (not Spanish) connection with Ireland. But it's not the only Celtic connection. I don't think the Central European Keltoi La Tene artistic links came from Iberia. Just sayin'.

Also, there's linguistic evidence in Ireland of both P-Celtic and Q-Celtic languages, via tribal and placenames, which suggests a much more complex picture of Celtic migrations than what's painted here. But it's a start.