Blue Tuesday/Wednesday

Shades of blue in the Atlantic Ocean and distant mountains in an inlet on the west coast of Ireland – E. Jurus

I started writing this post on Tuesday, which stretched into today due to the complexity of the subject, so the title was adapted for my own reality 😊

The colour blue is wildly popular around the world, but I have to confess that it’s not one of my favourites. I find it generally cold, and never decorate with it. There are a handful of shades I like, and may occasionally dress in them, but most blues don’t suit my colouring at all and usually make me look ill, unless I supplement them with another shade like white or orange.

I find shades of blue in nature fascinating, though – blue skies and blue flowers, the varied shades of water and midnight blue sapphires. In fact, this post was prompted by the gorgeous Hyacinth Macaws I saw last week at the Nashville Zoo. These birds come from central and eastern South America, and are both the largest macaw and the largest species of flying parrot. Sadly, their beauty has made them increasing victims of the exotic pet trade, and they’re listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature‘s Red List.

Hyacinth Macaws, Nashville Zoo – E. Jurus

Blue is considered a primary colour, i.e. one of the colours that, along with red and yellow, is a parent of all other colours. You can mix blue and yellow to make green, or blue and red to make purple, for example, but there are no colours to mix to make blue. Different shades of blue can be made by mixing colours, and Mother Nature still has incomparable skills in creating wonderful shades of a colour that can be considered anything from soothing to depressing.

Skydivers in a vivid blue sky at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – E. Jurus

We see blue via light with a dominant wavelength between approximately 450 and 495 nanometres. All blue is said to contain tinges of other colours, from the purplish-blue of flowers to the greenish-blue of the sea.

Shadings of blue; I like Morning Blue, with its greyish tones. It’s supposed to represent the colour of the morning sky. – E. Jurus

For millennia artists have strived to capture shades of blue. One of the most challenging has always been the blue of the sky. Mother Nature hasn’t made it easy to copy her. “Sky blue” as a colour we can reproduce officially has a Red/Green/Blue (one of the coding systems for producing colours) value of 173, 216, 230, as illustrated in the graphic below. But our skies are fickle, changing shades from almost white to deep blue and violet at their whim.

A limpid blue sky reflected in the waters of Lake Naivasha, Kenya – E. Jurus
The moodier blues and golds of an autumn sunset over Lake Muskoka, Ontario – E. Jurus

Our perception of blue, as well as other colours, depends largely on our reference point. The farther away an object is, the more blue it appears, such as the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque, New Mexico. This effect is called atmospheric perspective – the farther away an object is from the viewer, like mountains, the less contrast there is between the object and its background colour, as in a blue sky. It makes for wonderful photos. In paintings, cooler colours, like blue, seem more distant, whereas warmer colours like red appear closer. For taking photographs, if you want the sky to be more blue in your resulting picture, make sure you have your back to the sun; if you shoot into the sunlight, your background sky will be bleached of colour.

Blue-tinted Sandia Mountains to the east of Albuquerque, New Mexico – E. Jurus

A survey through ten countries found that blue is the most popular “favorite color” for people in the world. It seems that men preferred the color blue more often than women, which may partially explain its historic use in high-ranking professions (religious, military, business…), which were up until modern times held exclusively by men. Color psychology tells us that:

  • Because blue is so popular, it’s often viewed as non-threatening.
  • Blue is often described as peaceful, tranquil, secure, and orderly. It can feel calming and relaxing.
  • Blue is considered both conservative and traditional. As such, it’s seen as a sign of stability and reliability, and is used in advertising by businesses and organizations that want to project an image of security.
  • Some shades of blue, depending on how they’re used, can create feelings of sadness or loneliness. Our culture often refers to moments of feeling down as feeling ‘blue’.

The earliest shade of artistic blue was made by the ancient Egyptians, who valued the colour highly. With the scarcity of minerals containing the colour, such as azurite, they sought a way to produce it artificially. No written records were left of how they did it, but a Roman writer from the first century BC described approximately how it was produced by grinding copper, natron (a naturally-occurring deposit that, with its preservative properties, was also used in the mummification process), and alkaline sand that contained lime. The mixture was then heated in a furnace to produce the colouring material. Sadly, the original process was lost, but scientists have worked to approximate it in modern times.

Blue faience saucer and stand, Egyptian New Kingdom (1400–1325 BC); By Anonymous (Egypt) – Walters Art Museum: Home page  Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18791249

Interestingly, the ancient Greeks and Romans didn’t have a word for the color blue. If you’ve heard of the Greek writer Homer’s prose in his famous Iliad, describing the sea as ‘wine-dark’ or ‘wine-red’, now you know why. For Homer, the sea was “wine-red”. Nevertheless, blue was clearly all around them, including the Romans’ conquest of the Celtic tribes of Europe, who tinted their bodies blue with dye from the woad plant when preparing for battle. Descriptions of rainbows omitted the colour blue, but there are examples of blue-tinted clothing from that time period in artwork found in places like Pompeii.

Blue dye for textiles in antiquity came from the crop Indigofera tinctoria, a plant in the bean family that was cultivated in East Asia, India, Bangladesh, Egypt, and across the ocean in Peru. It was transported via the ancient Silk Road.

During the Renaissance, ultramarine blue was made by grinding the stone lapis lazuli into a powder. If ground too finely, however, it turned a dull grey. As a result, it was so expensive that it was worth more than gold, and was the finest shade used by painters, reserved for only the most important subjects, generally those with religious merit like the Virgin Mary. There was even a shade called Marian Blue that was used for her garments.

For the same reason, blue was often used in illustrated manuscripts and stained glass windows to denote holiness. The artist Cennino Cennini gushed that “Ultramarine blue is a colour illustrious, beautiful, and most perfect, beyond all other colours; one could not say anything about it or do anything with it, that its quality would not still surpass.”

“Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer features ultramarine pigment;
By Johannes Vermeer – https://www.mauritshuis.nl/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55017931

One of the most beautiful examples of the use of blue is found in one of the most famous extant books from the Golden Age of illuminated manuscripts. In the Middle Ages, following the fall of the Roman Empire, books were created out of hand-lettered sheets of parchment or vellum, with hand-painted decorative flourishes, often in the margins and borders but sometimes throughout the page. The sheets were then bound into books called codices (or codex for a single book).

Originally books typically served a religious purpose – psalms, Bibles, and a very popular collection of prayers used to mark the observance of canonical hours (regular times throughout the day to spend praying) that was called a Book of Hours. Wealthy patrons could commission richly-illustrated Books of Hours, often from a monastery (produced by the labour of its monks over several weeks), but also by independent illustrators.

One of the historical characters in my upcoming urban fantasy series, The Chaos Roads Trilogy (Book 1 to be published soon on Kindle and other suppliers), is a young monk who becomes just such a manuscript illustrator at an obscure priory in Wales, then ends up travelling the world after the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII leaves him without a job or home. The protagonist of the books is herself a professional archivist, specializing in illuminated manuscripts.

The most famous Book of Hours is an incomplete folio produced for the Duke of Berry, a bibliophile who commissioned a lavish Book from a Dutch trio of brothers. The manuscript, called the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, was made on vellum (fine quality calfskin), and painted in vivid colours, particularly multiple shades of blue. Below you can see one stunning page, The Nativity of Jesus, folio 44v, with Mary’s robes in brilliant ultramarine and white, and the Lord looking down from a deep-blue celestial perch. The book was never finished because the brothers and the Duke all died, possibly from the plague.

By Limbourg brothers, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=108882

The Coat of Arms of St. Patrick Cathedral in Dublin contains rich shades of blue. I haven’t been able to find a description of the Coat of Arms and what it represents; the nearest information I was able to uncover is that, apart from the frequent use of blue to denote holiness, according to a 13th century manuscript, St. Patrick wore blue robes.

Coat of Arms, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Ireland – E. Jurus

In the age of sea voyages, Spanish explorers discovered an American species of indigo and began to cultivate the product in Guatemala, spreading to English and French colonies in the West Indies. It was then introduced into colonial South Carolina in the U.S. and became a valuable cash crop upon the backs of the slaves who were forced to cultivate it. It made up more than a third of the value of all exports from the American colonies before the Revolutionary War changed things.

One of the most famous colours of blue, which has become ubiquitous in modern society, is Navy Blue, named after the dark blue worn by officers in the British Royal Navy, and then adopted by other navies in the world. All of these use Indigo dye as a base, and navy blue has become a symbol of authority, even in modern business settings, where it’s considered a ‘power colour’ to dress in.

There are four different classifications of indigo colour. It’s mostly associated with a very dark blue, as seen in the denim of blue jeans, but a more purplish version called Electric Indigo (see colour chart above) has become the colour of Spiritualism because it sits between blue and violet and thus represents colours of psychic abilities as well as the sixth chakra, which is said to include the Third Eye.

In the 18th century, someone finally discovered a way to manufacture a blue pigment, called Prussian Blue. It’s believed that Prussian Blue was synthesized for the first time around 1706 by a paint maker named Johann Jacob Diesbach in Berlin, and was the first stable and relatively light-fast synthetic blue pigment since the knowledge of making of Egyptian blue was lost. Prussian Blue became widely used by Japanese artists, particularly Katsushika Hokusai in his famous Great Wave. Famous contemporary artist Pablo Picasso used the colour during his ‘blue period’, when he was suffering from depression over the suicide of one of his close friends.

By Katsushika Hokusai – Metropolitan Museum of Art, online database: entry 45434, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2798407

Blue is considered to be a rare colour in nature, but every time I look up at the blue sky (although as I write this my sky is a dull winter grey) that hangs over us I feel I might dispute that assertion. Included below are some of the many other places I’ve found that Nature likes to use blue, and these are just a small sampling that I have photos of.

Blue and white columbine – E. Jurus
Nature uses shades of blue liberally in cabbages at the Niagara Falls Botanical Garden, and blends them expertly with greens and golds – E. Jurus
The vibrant tropical blues of a beach on the island of Tahiti, French Polynesia – E. Jurus
Male vervet monkeys have startling turquoise-blue testicles; Okavango Delta, Botswana – E. Jurus
Yellowfin Surgeonfish, Tahiti, French Polynesia – E. Jurus
Stunning shades of blue on the famous Lilac-breasted Roller, Botswana – E. Jurus

The colour blue can reflect many moods, from the happiness of a bright sunny sky, to the serenity of soft blue living and working spaces, to the murky and frightening darkness of deep ocean and the heaviness of melancholy.

At the Titanic Museum in Belfast, Ireland, signs marking the stages of the great ship’s sinking use deepening shades of blue to represent both the deep ocean waters off the coast of Newfoundland as well as the somberness of the incident – E. Jurus
Blue lighting can convey a sense of eeriness, as used here at the Bram Stoker Castle Dracula Experience, Dublin, Ireland – E. Jurus
Blue lights at the Glow event in Nashville, Tennessee in 2019 are used to make sections look icy and wintery – E. Jurus

The colour blue can reflect many moods, from the happiness of a bright sunny sky, to the serenity of soft blue living and working spaces, to the murky and frightening darkness of deep ocean and the heaviness of melancholy.

Blue and white is a combination regularly used in anything associated with the marine world, as in this workaday life preserver – E. Jurus

Its production has gone through many phases and turns of politics and economics. Blue gems have always held a certain mystique, particularly sapphires. (You can read about seven famous sapphires in history here.)

Blue eyes are a recessive trait, which means that both parents must carry the gene for blue eyes. Even then, if the gene for brown eyes is present, brown eyes will always dominate unless the child gets the gene for blue eyes from both parents. Blue eyes are particularly striking when we see them, although pale blue eyes can appear cold and calculating. People with blue eyes are somewhat luckier than those with darker eyes because studies have found that they release less melatonin in the winter and accordingly are less prone to winter depression.

Blue contrasts and compliments several other colours.

A surrealist photo of blue walls against the distant red walls through a doorway at a convent in Peru – E. Jurus

Blue has been a tried-and-true burst of colour in the decorative arts, even in outdoor spaces.

A startling blue doorway in a brick wall at Kylemore Abbey, Ireland, conveys a sense of mystery about what lies beyond – E. Jurus
Summery painted Adirondack chairs, shore of Lake Ontario – E. Jurus

For novelists, blue is a colour that has a wide range of connotations, and is part of the rich collection of words and descriptions that we have as one of our tools to bring our stories to life. I hope you enjoyed this brief look at a fascinating colour, and for more information about the publication of my first book, including sneak previews of the cover and contents, as well as more fascinating tidbits about writing and inspiration, please sign up for my upcoming newsletter (check back for the opt-in form, coming shortly!)

All photos are by me unless otherwise specified, and may not be used without my express permission.

Myriad shades of blue in the tumbling waters at the Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls Ontario/New York State – E. Jurus
The landscape of Killarney Provincial Park, Ireland – E. Jurus

On hiatus this week

Hi everyone. I’m taking a break this week, as I had to have some minor surgery yesterday and am recovering. In the meantime, for your viewing pleasure or possible inspiration, the photo above is one that I took at the Bottomless Lakes in New Mexico recently. See you next week.

All photo rights are reserved by me.

A Taste of Culture

Best Sopa Azteca ever at the Antigua Cocina Mexicana restaurant in Roswell, New Mexico

Eating good food is, for me, one of the joys in life. I especially love to explore the cuisine of the different places my hubby and I travel to. We’ve doing this for many years, and it’s really come in handy since I started writing novels.

I can provide ambience just by describing what a character is eating, or being served. My parents, and my in-laws, were all European, and put out very representative meals, for example – very different than what we’ve eaten at our Italian best friends’ place, or Middle Eastern households we’ve been to. Since I love to cook myself, I’ve learned a lot about a variety of cuisines and can write about them with a fair amount of confidence.

In October hubby and I spent a couple of weeks in New Mexico. As it happens, we love southwestern food, and we made the most of it. Chilies, both red and green, are ubiquitous, of course. The state has turned their take on a classic cheeseburger – a good quality beef burger topped with chopped roasted green chilies and melted white cheese – into an official culinary experience. The New Mexico tourism website provides a map of selected restaurants on the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, but most of the places we went to made their own version. Below, you’ll see a photo of the GCC slider stack that I tried out at the Shark Reef Café in the ABQ Bio Park in Albuquerque; it was superb.

Chilies are native to Central and South America, although they’ve now spread around the world as many countries cultivate their own varieties.

Apparently wild peppers grow upright, to attract birds that will spread their seeds out the other end, but through the process of domestication the peppers droop downward. Chilies all start out green, but can be allowed to ripen until they turn red.

A high-res photo of this image, and other selected images from the trip, can be purchased in various formats through my photography site on Fine Art America.

At the annual Santa Fe Harvest Festival, we learned that green chilies are hotter, but they don’t keep as well. For preservation purposes, the chilies are allowed to fully ripen, and then are picked and knotted by their stems into long bundles called ristras. The ristras are hung outdoors to dry out, and can then be used bit by bit throughout the winter until the new batches grow.

If used fresh, the chilies could be roasted in beehive-shaped adobe ovens. The ones shown in the photo here are what would have been used by early settlers in New Mexico, but these ovens are still really popular today; many people build them in their back yards. On the afternoon of the festival, two of the docents were baking fresh bread and rolls, for which they heat the ovens to 700 degrees F inside. The pans are set on the brick bottom and the opening is sealed shut with a wooden door soaked in water, with water-soaked rags around the edges to complete the seal.

Samples were given out for free, and my hubby and I spent a most enjoyable hour or so waiting for the hot rolls to come out and chatting with another couple from the northern part of the state around Taos. Every sample was delicious, especially the rolls studded with dried fruit.

After that, we sat down to rest and bought the last two homemade tamales being sold by another docent sitting across from us out of an insulated bag on a little walker-style cart. Tamales are basically a savory stuffing wrapped in a masa (corn) dough and steamed inside husks of banana or corn leaves. They made steam come out of our ears, I think. I asked the vendor what was in the filling and she listed only two ingredients: pork and chilies. Wahoo!

But there’s more to the experience than just consuming the food. Entire cultures are build around the sharing of food, whether it’s years of tradition in a family home, or the communal wait for fresh buns at a festival, sharing a little bit of your life on a sunny afternoon with people you may never see again. It might even be the conversation you strike up when you’ve sat on a bench next to two women eating tamales that they bought from a couple of bright-eyed women across from you, and you decide to take a chance on a pair of foil-wrapped bundles that emerge from an insulated bag on a little cart.

The kind-hearted vendor even gave us a courtesy bottle of water to wash our impromptu lunch down with. Between that and the sweet rolls, we had a complete, and completely unexpected, meal.

As travellers, hubby and I live for these unplanned experiences – they’re often the best memories. As a writer and photographer, I pay attention and take lots of photos so that I can recapture the details long after we’ve gotten home, either as a piece of artwork, for a meal for friends/family, or as a sample of authentic culture in my novels. The different styles of food and food production might even make their way into a tale on a different planet – maybe it’s a less-developed civilization that still cooks in earthen ovens, or grows unusual plants on its farms.

Whichever the case, you can’t beat an authentic actual experience to understand what a different culture is really like, from the myriad varieties of potatoes (over 700) that are served with every meal in Peru to the cups of tea made famous in English novels of all genres to the little chilies that have caught on so much that they even get hung up as decorations.  For all travellers and aspiring novelists, our world is a rich source of cultural inspiration — don’t forget to make time to stop and smell the ristras.

All photos were taken by me, and all rights are reserved. E. Jurus