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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Colour My World

Originally uploaded to Flickr by on April 14, 2007by Pieter Musterd

Originally uploaded to Flickr on September 3, 2008by Merelymel13

Originally uploaded on Flickr on June 5, 2009by seanmcgrath

I've just finished reading my beautiful Folio Society edition of 'Colours: Travels Through the Paintbox' by Victoria Finlay which Tom's Mum and Dad gave me for Christmas. Although it weighs a ton I have happily carted it around from room to room as I read compulsively about the author's amazing adventures in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and the Americas. Here are just some of the fascinating things I discovered while reading:
  • In the nineteenth century, grey lead pencils were first painted bright yellow for the American market as a subtle marketing tool. The graphite in the pencils came from a mine near the Chinese border with Siberia and and the yellow was a reference to the Manchu imperial robes and hence the mysterious East.
  • White lead paint was still in common use on/in houses as well as in works of art until just before World War 1 when titanium paint was invented.

  • Cochineal bugs live on prickly pear plants.

  • The recipe for the orange varnish used on Stradivarius violins has been lost.

  • The first analine dyestuff (that's pretty much all we use now) was not invented until 1856 when William Perkin made 'mauve' while trying to find a synthetic alternative to quinine to cure malaria.

  • Denim is so called becaused it was cloth from Nimes (serge de Nimes). The pants later became known as jeans after the Genoese sailors who transported the cloth.
  • The sky is blue because the blue/violet rays have the smallest wavelengths and bounce off the hydrogen and oxygen molecules in the atmosphere whereas the larger red wavelengths sail right through

Isn't the world an amazing place? I could go on (and on and on...). It made me realise (again) that there is so much that I do not know about the world and how we have arrived at the point we are today. Many of the places Finlay visited are plagued by wars and proverty. Many of the people she spoke to have lost touch with their own cultural heritage in just a few generations which means that even more of these amazing inventions and discoveries are being lost. Being the good story teller that she is, however, she always manages to track someone down who knows someone who knows someone who holds the answer to the riddle.

If you feel like expanding your historical and geographical knowledge of the world give this book a whirl!


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