Friday, April 30, 2010

Blue people

When I was out in Western Australia with my son François, in 1987, at the time of the fabulous America's Cup regattas, we collected various trivial souvenirs… including three Louis Vuitton bags and a stock of Moët Hennessy champagne that were awarded to me as a prize for my having predicted (with the help of software I wrote specially for my Macintosh box) the winner of the cup for contenders. A classy trophy was a sky-blue wind-jacket as worn by members of Bruno Troublé's organizing committee. François had picked this up from one of his girlfriends employed in this committee. Since it wasn't the sort of jacket he wished to wear around Fremantle, François promptly gave it to me… as is often the case with corny clothes he picks up. (That's how I acquired a fabulous yak-wool jacket from Siberia. I once created a sensation by wearing it to a meeting of local folk in Choranche… and that, I believe, is how I came to be respected, if not feared, in this one-horse cowboy village. You've got to be careful when you're dealing with a guy in a yak-wool jacket. Thanks, François.)

Well, getting back to the Louis Vuitton yachting jacket, I once wore it to an outdoor concert at the Jacques Brel festival in the Dauphiné village of St-Pierre-de-Chartreuse, where I was settled for three months in the summer of 1993. A vicious Parisian stand-up comic named Merri was in search of a victim for his next act: "Hey, I need a volunteer up here on the stage. How about that guy down in the middle of the tenth row, the Schtroumpf." [In English, the exotic term Schtroumpf is rendered by a duller invention: Smurf.] I realized immediately that, thanks to my fine sky-blue Louis Vuitton jacket, it was me, the Schtroumpf. So, I schtroumpfed up onto the stage and allowed Merri to make a fool of me. The following morning, I tossed that jacket into the trash can alongside the ancient church in the middle of the village. I didn't wish to be recognized as Merri's Schtroumpf for the rest of my stay at St-Pierre-de-Chartreuse.

Recently, Schtroumpfish blue skin and four fingers (unless you're a hybrid avatar, retaining five fingers) have become quite fashionable.

On the other hand, people have said that this extraordinary movie gives certain viewers the blues (weak pun intended). A Romanian woman has even claimed that her daughter committed suicide after seeing James Cameron's masterpiece. Maybe the kid was depressed when she realized that she would never be able to look like lovely Neytiri, and romp through tropical jungles floating in the clouds. For me too, after watching that movie in a cinéma at Romans, it was a letdown to get back into my old Citroën and drive home to Gamone.

A few days ago, I saw an intriguing article about a Californian fellow, Paul Karason, who's a victim of an ailment called argyria. His skin turned blue because of his use of colloidal silver as a dermatological product. If, like me, you did not know that silver was once used as a medical agent, then click here.

This story rung a bluebell in my childhood memories. At a pharmacy in South Grafton, in the 1940s, one of the employees was a blue man. As a child, I was intrigued by this phenomenon, but I never learned exactly what had produced this strange situation… apart from "health problems". A few days ago, when I brought up this topic with my sister Anne Skyvington-Onslow (who's an expert on all things weird and wonderful in our birthplace), she informed me that this man had been a patient of the great local physician and statesman Earle Page, who was a surgeon and gynecologist with his own private hospital in the heart of South Grafton.

Out in Australia in 2006, I took a photo of the miraculously-surviving glass panel with the name of this obstetric clinic in Through Street, South Grafton, where Earle Page (a future prime minister of Australia) had given birth to my mother Kathleen Walker in 1918.

If I understand correctly, Earle Page had removed a diseased lung from the South Grafton pharmacist. Bravo! Apparently, the patient was treated with colloidal silver, as an antibiotic, which explains why he developed argyria and turned blue. A recent distinguished commentator (the Australian academic Carl Bridge) suggested that this blue-skinned pharmacist in South Grafton served as a constant colorful reminder, to customers, of the surgical excellence of Earle Page. Today, I would prefer to consider that this poor blue man was a living monument to an age of archaic medicine.

As I pointed out to my sister Anne, that same blue pharmacist once sold me a little brown-glassed bottle of silver nitrate, enabling me (at the age of eleven) to test a hobbyist formula for the production of photographic paper. Happily, I never posed any industrial threat to Kodak and Ilford… and I washed my hands well after my experiments. So, I'm still basically white… or pinkish in summer.

Some people would say that blue is a rather unnatural color, because it doesn't occur very often in nature. But Christine tells me that neighbors in her Breton village are growing blue-skinned potatoes. And there are a couple of marvelous lines in a poem, Le Dormeur du Val, by Arthur Rimbaud [1854-1891].

Un soldat jeune bouche ouverte, tête nue,
Et la nuque baignant dans le frais cresson bleu.

A slain soldier lies open-mouthed, naked-headed, and his neck is shrouded in crisp blue watercress. The color of that watercress has intrigued generations of literary critics.

Finally, the major evangelist of blueness was surely the painter Yves Klein [1928-1962], for whom it was a fetishistic hue… long before our discovery of the people on the planet Pandora.

1 comment:

  1. Susan SkyvingtonMay 2, 2010 at 11:50 AM

    Thank you brither William for another excellent blog!

    I am also interested in the colour blue in the windows of Chartres Cathedral - a unique blue, I understand. I was intrigued to learn of it 30 years ago from another Australian woman my age who'd lived in Chartres for some years as a child, her father a scientist from Sydney University who went there to study that blue.

    Your sister Susan