Monthly Archives: February 2007

Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay

(Ballantine Book, Ballantine Pub. Group, 2002)

I came across this title on a blog that I can’t recall.  It is a library book that I started reading last week and I’m finding it is more than just a good informative read, but an entertaining one as well.  I wasn’t expecting the latter at all.

It reads like a travel diary of the author and I feel like I’m going along on the trips with her as she discovers historical use and of colours in various regions of the world by different cultures of people.  After the preface, entitled The Beginning of the Rainbow, and the introduction, The Paintbox, successive chapters are divided by colour name.  The first colour is Ochre because it was the first colour paint.  I’m still in this chapter and while reading I keep seeing the ground upheaved at the construction site down the road from where I live.  Before I started reading this book I wanted to photograph the mounds of dirt because of the colour…a deep brown with red/orangey tones.  Last summer when I dyed fabric I kept playing with these colour ranges and in the fall I attempted a quilt design about my great grandmother’s house that used some of these fabrics.  Every time I drive by the construction site I regret not having my camera.  Now, since I’ve started this book, I’d like to get about a quart of the dirt to bury some fabric in to see how it will colour.  I don’t know if I will or not…the intersection is kinda busy.

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I finally had a hallelujah moment

with Pushkin and the Queen of Spades!  It came in the last 1/3 of the book during Windsor’s turning of perspectives.  A moment she was filled with questions and reconcilliation.  I found myself engaging Windsor in imaginary conversation to the point in which I had to close the book and call a girlfriend who I knew would quickly grab all this internal wrestling over motherhood and Black male children into adulthood.   This line sums up part of the struggle:  “Truth,” says my mother-in-law, “is a peculiarly risky proposition for a black mother.”  She states my case exactly.  But then she adds something:  “A boy requires protection. A man requires truth.”  Maybe that’s why so many black mothers seek to keep their sons as babies. (page 5).

This particular passage endeared me and not for the reason it mentions my city, but for the act, an initiation, if you will, into African American culture for a young child:  I drove Pushkin to Louisville to have his first haircut in the barbershop where Muhammad Ali got his hair cut.  It was four hours there and four hours back, time I didn’t have midsemester and money I didn’t have midmonth for gas.  If I had no father to offer him, I was determined to give him the ceremonies of men.  (pg. 58)

This passage is an indication of the world Windsor wanted to protect her son, Pushkin from:  I never wanted Detroit to whisper its hard truths into your ear. …about a place where all it takes is forty dollars nailed to a dope-house door to get somebody killed.  I was just a little girl when Daddy explained that to me, as if it was something I might need to know.  “There’s always another junkie who will kill a name at an address for his or her next fix.  When you can’t rely on anything else, you can rely on that.”  (pg. 64)

It was in chapter 18 that I begin having my halleujah moment…loving Windsor, hurting for Windsor, shouting victory for Windsor…pouring her bourbon on the rocks and toasting the madness and tears we have lived through!  Windsor’s personal motivations are described here:   I was a baby having a bay, a burden to the state, worthlessness breeding worthlessness.  I looked for solace close at hand.  I took my already needy love of Pushkin (the Russian writer) and made a discipline of it.  I tied my stereotypical fat pregnant ass to an identity that exploded stereotypes–Russian scholar.  I was afraid there wasn’t enough high culture to balance out all my lowness….I went crawling after that Harvard honors degree to keep myself from slipping back into the pit of worthlessness from which I had been expelled at birth….and you, my son, have reached for low culture and stereotype because I all but drowned you in high culture and eccentricity?  I would not have you locked down into other people’s narrow expectations.  Perhaps this should include my own.  (pg. 198)

For me, it was the liberation of self that came through absorbing writing by Black poets and writers and expanding that to be inclusive of Pan African views.  It was my belief that this would inoculate any children I would have from the pains of a living in a racist world.  That they would have the gift of knowing their selves at an early age and magnifying their talents as adults.  Additionally they would have the armour to defend and expel racism from penetrating their core.  I can hear a friend saying “if ANY ONE of us had the answer, NONE of US would be in this mess”. 

Alice Randall, the author as hit gold with the character of Windsor.  She is someone I hope Randall will give us more of in future novels.

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