Thursday, May 10, 2007

Purple ( with a whiff of Grand Marnier )

Purple patch, purple prose. There was purple, of a kind, in sea and sky, in the spiny forms of sea holly, in the striations of grass on the dunes, in the reflections in the brackish pools behind them. And there was also blue and blue-green, and dull gold and copper and pink in the sun and sand, and black in the shapes of things; our tangled black dog like a moving part of the tangled clumps of seaweed and flotsam and jetsam.

What colours are there? I asked.

Grey. But not a simple mixture of, a point somewhere between, black and white, but grey that contains every other colour.

But words for colours, whether plain or lyrical, are only cyphers, saying nothing of the experience of colour, which is the experience of light.

We had driven down from the small granite town a mile or two inland, so much more solid, handsome, self-assured than the rough workaday harbour settlement; the more prosperous citizens in former times must have removed themselves from the beatings of the salt winds and the smell of tuna and seaweed. We had eaten fish and shellfish: soft white grainy flesh carefully pulled from the pleated cartilage of skate wings, swallowed with hazelnut brown butter and the green taste of capers; grilled clams hot from their open shells with garlic and brown bread; roundels of scallops, the shell of St James, the pilgrims' ensign, crusted and sweet outside, tender inside, with beurre blanc, unctuous and slightly sharp. We had followed signs simply to les plages, with no more expectation than to walk the dog. The road had ended at a spread of dunes and grassland, a haphazard loose picket fence marked the path to the shore.

No camera, I regretted. But the camera would have probably recorded nothing in essence, only served to remind us of what could not be recorded: a light whose alchemy derived from its tenuous elusiveness and our perception of it. We walked along the path and over the dunes, pulling our light eating-out clothes close about us, as the thin wind off Biscay caught us and set the clouds aslant, and the star Sol hung low over the salt water mass. Sand and shingle got in through the punched holes in my flimsy Indian leather shoes, so I took them off.

The viscous line of sea on shore moved and changed, and two fishermen, the only other humans visible, stood far off, silhouetted against the western light on a high bank of stones. We had seen people fishing on the concrete quayside at the port that afternoon; they had been cheerful and gregarious, but also coarse, irksome. One of them had an artificial hand, a strong, canny pincer of plastic and metal. He pulled out his catch, a starfish, blueish, draggled, shapeless, and unhooked it. " I've even got the baby!" as he prised its arms apart and extracted a tiny, coral-coloured pentagram. " He'll throw it back, I'm sure." I said to Tom's anxiety. But he didn't, or not that we saw, but left it to open its five limbs helplessly in the wind and sun on the bench next to his mate's girlfriend, who paid it the merest cursory attention, before continuing to fiddle with the extending lead of her small white dog. I heard somewhere later that starfish are predators of the farmed oysters which are the economic staple of the region, so perhaps they aren't spared.

Yet the fishermen who stood like statues against the evening sky on the cool and wndswept miles of empty beach had a heroic, nearly sacred air. Far behind them on a headland in the hazy distance stood two great vertical radio masts, seeming to hang in the sky like portents. Their role, doubtless, to spin a few threads in the vast global tissue, from Spain up and down the Atlantic coast, across the bays of Biscay and Quiberon, to laptops and lifeboats and mobiles and meteorologists, but at that moment they, like the fishermen, seemed to be liminal, numinous beings, possessing mystery and meaning in the purple-grey, twilight, salt-misted, mussel-shell and sea holly air of Dis and Whipperginny and a land beyond the waves.

The sand and stones and broken shells pummeled and abraded my feet, we walked just so far then turned back. Partly from the cold, it's true, but also because we'd no wish to put this wild and adorable god, who has cast such momentary magic over this world, to the test.

In the shelter of the car, I held the bottle from the restaurant holding the last two glassfuls (Alsace Tokay; we always ask for the cork ) between the arches of my sandblasted feet. It was cool and smooth. We pointed the car inland, but didn't recognise the roads, they didn't appear to be those we took outwards. But trusting our sense of going home, we soon got there. Home is always temporary.

11 comments:

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Not purple, but twilight blue, and thank you, Lucy, for these lovely sights, tastes, sounds, colors, the small granite town, the white grainy skate, the light-jacket wind, the tragic starfish pieta, the numinous radio masts, and -- an inspired choice of words -- not the sun but the star Sol. It's all echoing in my memory as if I'd been there.

marja-leena said...

Breathtakingly beautiful writing, Lucy, that swept me right there.

herhimnbryn said...

L,I was transported to another part of the world. Your words needed no camera.

Granny J said...

In Chicago, one can experience the color of grey in the winters. Old commercial buildings show in pink and blue and green and even yellow greys. Beautiful, as is the experience you shared.

leslee said...

Lovely. Thanks for taking us along - at least coming along virtually we can't crowd and spoil that pristine scene!

Lucy said...

Thank you, dear transatlantic and antipodean ones, you're sending me back to work happy this morning!
Richard, there is a certain way the sun appears low in the sky and partially obscured which has always made me very aware that it is our particular star; I wasn't sure if it sounded odd to say it, so thanks for confirming it!
GJ - lovely to think of the canyons of buildings in a city glowing with the same kind of colours as a sea-girt, rocky landscape... while I was there I was reading Melanie Mcgrath's 'Motel Nirvana', and enjoying her descriptions of desert light and colours (she mentions Prescott in passing too!). Green and flowers are great, but we mustn't forget to appreciate the mineral colours and landscapes, natural and human.

Plutarch said...

Sometimes the absence of a camera helps the words. I think it must have here.

MB said...

This is a rich and sensory verbal painting that needs no camera to transport me there. Beautifully written.

And in places on the verge of channeling a bit of Dylan Thomas: in the purple-grey, twilight, salt-misted, mussel-shell and sea holly air of Dis and Whipperginny

zhoen said...

sigh

Tall Girl said...

Dump the camera...write girl, write!!!

Tall Girl said...

Maybe not dump...
But, do write...