History of 11


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I am Black. Like my twin brother White, they often call me a non-color, because neither of us shows in the rainbow. White frets no end about it. I don't.

They say that I eat all colors, that I'm greedy, that I'm scary like a bogey-man. Let them! They're right; if they want to get a fright out of me, they're welcome.

You can find me all over the place: by night I'm everywhere, even though nowadays, as soon as I come together with the Night, men switch on lights by the million! Fools! All they do is to show off my gloom.

I'm the black, starry sky above you, showing and hiding the endless universe. I'm the dark depth of the oceans. I'm the black cat crossing the path of that superstitious, finger-crossing old fool. I'm the black livery on the back of the raven, the blackbird, the spring-bringing swallow. I'm the hue of the coal, painfully dug out amidst the screech of the cart, of the tar coating the roadways, of the obsidian that volcanoes spew.

But I also dwell much nearer: I like to go to classic concerts, dressed like the musicians and their conductor. Or to escort fine ladies wearing silk crêpe, yes, because I'm stylish, always.

In many places I'm the color of mourning, just like my twin White is elsewhere. We both do it well, this harsh job, perhaps because we are all-pervading colors, colors of air and time: he is in the pure, wind-ridden clouds; I'm in the dim clouds of gathering storms.

And if you really want to try one of my scents, and one of my tastes, then try to smell thoroughly a bit of licorice, and then taste it. You'll let me know what you think of me now, and I'm sure none of you will ever be scared of me again!

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My favorite place is the gleaming, snow-covered top of the highest mountains. But the foam of the ocean's waves makes me quiver with joy too. Do you think I'm too hard to catch? The truth is, you see, that I'm the light, no less. The light at the beginning of the Universe, and the glow of dawn every morning. I'm proud, yes! I have no qualms telling you that no color inhabits as many places as I do: can you think of peace? A white dove! And a swan's long neck, mirrored in the clear water. Together with Black, I'm in the breast of the swallow. Even the desert at noon is sheer light: white!

I'm the tiny daisies crowding in the meadow, the chaste, and proud, and heady lily of the Lady's Annunciation. I am the color of the Angel.

But don't be mistaken, I can be humble too, and then you'll find me in the freshly laundered sheets on your bed, or in the whispering dress of a bride, blushing under a sheer white veil, with her bouquet of orange blossoms.

I'm also the whipped cream on your cake, the milk you sucked when you were babies, the milk that feeds the lamb and the kitten. Do you see how close I can be? I'm even in your toothpaste tube, or in dad's shaving foam, spraying out of my can every morning.

If you want to know me, I have the scent and the sweetness of icing sugar with just a touch of vanilla.

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Nothing to say to that: I am THE color!

Ask anyone, do try: "what is the color?" If they don't tell you Red, I'll blush red with shame, I swear.

I'm Red, yes, the orb of the rising and setting sun, painting the night with hope for the next day.

Slanderers will say that I'm violent and fiery. I won't deny it: sometimes I shout, and run like blood, but it's never, believe me, never by my choice. Men always foist this part on me.

I myself, would rather dwell in the poppies in the field, perhaps even in the big and gorgeous opium ones, in the roses to make bouquets for loved ones, in the living coral, that deep, invisible waves stroke, together with the sea-fans, on the uncorrupted bottom of the sea. I'm the color of summer fruit, the cherries, the fresh watermelon, and the tomatoes: who ever remembers that I came from the New World, when I'm everyday in the kitchen. Also, I'm the color of autumn, of the changing leaves of the creeper covering the garden wall. The color of wine in the clear crystal tumbler. Red like the flame and the embers in that fireplace around which you sit to eat roasted chestnuts, and to listen to those "Once Upon A Time" tales.

Red like a crazy horse, like a rooster's comb, and the hair of some weird friend. Maybe Pippi Longstockings, do you remember her? Or that other one, Rapunzel. But it could be a Scarlett, a Ruby, a Ginger.

I could be now the red apple you rub with your sleeve until it shines, and have for a snack. But to prove to you my inner sweetness, my closeness to your steady, comforting heartbeat, I chose for you the scent and the aroma of the strawberry. Try me, and I dare you say I'm not tender!

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“ I wandered lonely as a cloud,  That floats on high o’er vales and hills,  When all at once I saw a crowd,  A host of golden daffodils;  Beside the lake, beneath the trees,  Fluttering and dancing in the breeze”.  William Wordsworth (1770 -  1850). Golden daffodils, yellow daffodils! Wonderful! I’m Yellow, yes!

Moreover, I'm just like gold, and therefore I'm precious, like saffron powder.

Mind what you say, or I'll peck you! So many birds have yellow beaks. To pointy, you say? Oh come now, think of a chick: can you think of a fluffier or tinier creature?

Precious, that's how I feel: topaz, Chinese raw silk, a dragonfly trapped in clear amber, even polished, translucent jade.

All right, I'll come down, and be a rose, a wild tulip, the sweet-smelling calycanthus, that blossoms on the edge of winter, and the sturdy dandelion and the cute mimosa with its spring-like fuzzy little globes.

Try and wear yellow: you won't go unnoticed. I believe they are right when they say that I'm cheerful, that I make people happy, like an omelet for a picnic, good even served cold!

Put a couple yolks in a small bowl or a cup, add two spoonfuls of sugar, and whip until you can't feel the sugar anymore: just like that, plain on a slice of bread, I'm a great Yellow. If you are feeling grand, add in a cup of milk (no, I won't catch anything, never fear!), some lemon peel, and keep stirring as you cook it: I'll be your yellow, thick, fragrant cream.

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Hello, let me introduce myself: I'm Green.

Spring and jealousy: nice pair! Of course, no fault of mine. It's always men's business, just like the mad joker's three-pointed hat, in those old courts. Hear my silver bells? And the music of the banquet? See what I have to bear? And what did I do to deserve it? I'm neither mad nor conceited, although the peacock's wheel is green indeed. Myself, I like to dwell amongst leaves, in quiet woods, on lawns all cool with rain: take a run there, barefoot and yelling at the top of your lungs, and see whether you don't feel all alive!

Well, yes, you'll find me in a jeweler's shop as well, amongst the most expensive rings, in the emerald that so often mixes lights with the diamond.

But I'm also the frog in the pond, and the duckweed that ducks will munch so heartily, bending down to rake the water's surface with their beak.

And you'll find me in your salad bowl: lettuce, cress, and dandelion leaves, that your granny gathers in the fields just before dinner, and valerian for sweet dreams, and spinach that will make you strong, and thorny artichokes… and I could go on because, you know, I'm the King of the Vegetable Kingdom.

I also make Mars and the Moon green with envy, and no wonder, since I am the color of life: where I am, there is water, and water, as you all know, is where life began.

I'm cool, I'm soothing: try me in the chilly taste of peppermint, as brisk as a waterfall.

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You know the sky's vivid coat, wrapping this celestial body you call Earth? That's me, Blue. A little more light, and I become Light Blue.

All right, I heard you: you grumble, and you are right, because I'm a cool color, and know reason when I see it: White light, and I'm Light Blue- Black Darkness, and I'm gone. But as long as I'm Blue, sea itself looks like me. And blue gems, azure gems, lapis-lazuli, for the rarest mosaics, or ground into pigment powder for those painters who, once upon a time, painted Madonnas' mantles or a temple's ceiling, flecked with golden stars.

In a way, I'm hard to catch: try and grasp the see, and I'll slip from your fingers, all clear and colorless, and only when I'm back down do I get Blue again!

Blue silk for ribbons and decorations on proud breasts. But, also, the color for a baby boy.

Then, methylene Blue, good for you and a remedy for poisoning.  So, you see, don't come telling me I'm the color of poison, unless you want to see me mad. That's just old hags' babble!

Blue butterflies, rather, tiny fairy-tale birds! And what do you think? Pinocchio's Fairy, is nothing but a Blue Fairy!

Then, my darling flowers, like forget-me-nots, (and who could ever forget them?) cornflowers and lobelias, and Greek hyacinth, with its heady scent, and shy, modest bell-flowers.

Blueberries can taste sharp. Add a little sugar, if you want, but I'm sure you'll seek my taste untouched, either in the woods or at the grocer's.

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I'm ashamed, all right: I'm Brown, the color of dirt. And… stink. Can't you help me? Do you think that mud is that filthy and mucky when you play with it? And manure is brown, but do you know how it's called in Latin? Laetamen, which means happiness, and wealth, ha! I'm not kidding you: I'm a well-read color, I even know Latin!

And then, what is chestnut, beside a shade of Brown? The name of that shiny, round fruit, within its prickly husk, that you like so much roasted, don't you, with its cheerful autumn scent. And even if it's just horse-chestnuts, didn't you ever put one in your pocket, against cold, or back-pain, or just for good luck?

Look how many animals choose my hues: they feel safe, and, I think, stylish too, because I'm so much at home in the world of fashion. Just think of the poor mink: no luck with brown, there! Not only do they make mink coats, but mink oil too, and no: I'm not kidding! Try me, for shiny hair… if you dare!

Sure, you won't find me on high, at least not in the natural way of things. But at ground level, I rule together with Green, who knows how to give me my due: we make jujube fruits together! And tree-trunks, and the tastiest mushrooms, the penny buns you search amongst the moist fallen leaves.

Your well-done steak, (healthier than rare, if you ask me), is brown, isn't it? And so is your jacket potato. "So, what's knew, it grows underground", I hear. Aw, come on!

And yet, there must be a way, because I really don't want to come out with p… to put it under your noses, I mean, much less in your mouth!

"You ninny! What about theobroma?"

"Thin broom?"

"No, not thin broom! Theobroma!"

"Right, Green, my friend: you tell me!"

"Cocoa. Rings any bells?"

"And what does it have to do with… thin brooms?"

"Theobroma, I said: Gods' food!"

"Ah, yes, but Mayan Gods, and even more Aztec Gods, nothing to do with your ancient Greeks, buddy. Can't you speak plain English? And don't shout at me, I get it!"

"And so, my dearest friends, here is ready for you, Chocolate!"

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A gloomy color, dull, too staid… yep, that's me, Gray: I know, you say "gray days", and you mean not just fog, and a sky full of heavy, flat clouds, but gray to the core.

I'm unpretentious, synonym with modest, middle-aged, bent heads, with a few strands of limp hair hanging, like that old man I see every morning, wearing gray, dragging his feet and shopping bags to the nearest bench.

Then again, they started on me pretty soon: "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return", and so on. You ask me? If I agree? Well, yes and no. Granted, gray tarmac isn't a beauty, or cigarette ash, for that matter. Still, in by-gone days, they used ash to do the laundry, or to bake cakes. And well, I'm a stylish color too, you know, the understated/classy sort: gabardine for the tailor-suited Wall Street lady, and a pin-striped suit for the gentleman.

And yet, enough's enough! I'll have you know, that with just a little light I get silver lamé, fit for any black-tie affair. Just picture me together with one of those long gray pearl necklaces, and the longest cigarette-holder, dry cologne, some jazz music in the air… How do you like me now?

Squirrels choose me, and often those shiny inlaid marble floors, gray-white-gray-black, almost an artwork, with a red-haired diva leaning against a grand piano and singing Brecht. Or the tabby cat, mixing my shades and curling on a yellow couch: stylish or what? 

And then, there's that gray-blue hue: Persian cats, silver foxes, and blue firs in the park, standing out in the snow.

Oh, right, and here's a surprise for you! Put your nose just here, and try some of this on the tip of your tongue! I'm hot, eh? And… atchoo! Pepper, my dears! Gray and so lively!

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My name is Pink, and I'm hopelessly starry-eyed. I see everything through rose-tinted glasses: past and future are pink, and pink are my dreams, that I'd love to share with you!

I love pink frills for a baby girl, and a ballerina's tutu and dancing shoes, and pink candy. The icing on the biggest, simplest cake just had to be pink, like the Pink Panther, and every girl's happy birthday candles. Other colors make fun of me: "there goes Pink, our never-fading rose, with pink sunsets and pink dawns, pink-edged clouds, and pink flowers in spring, and pink dolls in pink dresses, sitting on pink beds, in pink bedrooms with pink curtains…"

And do I get mad? Not at all. I'm the color of the happiest time in life, provided it is happy, of course!

And anyway I do my best to keep my delicate hue from fading away even from grown people's lives. I'll give you strawberry ice-creams, and the rarest peau d'ange coral, and heart-shaped, pink quartz ear-rings that any woman can afford; a low-cut little dress, a drop of Anais Anais de Cacharel, and there you go: a vision in pink! And then, I dyed pink the flamingoes on the Nile: perched on their long legs in the low water, or flying in flocks, they are sure to make even the most level-headed biologist gape in wonder! And get yourself a pink silk slip, finger it, stroke it: there's nothing smoother! Pink is the shiny inside of the big sea-shell you hold to your ear to hear the waves. Pink the lullaby that rocks us to sleep.

Never listen to the grouches and the know-it-alls who say the real world is all black!

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Violas, violins, and cellos. My voices. I'm violet Purple. I'm quiet and classy, difficult and versatile. Provided you don't go and cry bad luck and misfortune. If you are that sort, please go, and close the door behind you. Those who like amethysts, and the scent of freesias, who are not afraid of a few darker bars of Persian music, are welcome to stay.

Velvet and silk suit me, I believe, and the softest wools, and ostrich plumes, and powder, and the great Marlene, crooning in her gravelly voice. Granted, you won't wear me to go shopping at the mall, but please, please, please: no funerals! Either you love me or hate me. That's me: no bargaining with Purple. If you like me, you love me, don't you?

Granted again, I won't go everywhere, I'm not easy to please, thank you very much! Sometimes, but not too often, I'll flood some sunset clouds, provided I can have proper golden linings, and then I know I make for a breath-taking sight. I am, I'll have you know, a clever color, and no, not a snob, as I hear you muttering. You don't believe me? Think of a shiny eggplant, or the hues of a turnip at the grocer's. See? You didn't see this coming, did you? You could have thought of eggplants, but turnips, rabbit's food… come on!  You'll find me in a lawn, in the form of flower-bells, but I also paint orchids. Why, if you mind your shades and soil, you can even coax your hydrangeas to blossom purple.
And if you are asked for a tea-party, bring twenty candied violets to your hostess. If you want, you may add some brown marrons glacées: we go well together.

At the end of the day, though, the ones I feel closest are the purple violets, hidden along ditches and in the dew under the garden walls. May I offer you some? The gentlest scent and taste!

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I am the eleventh one: Orange. Your squashed orange for breakfast, the apricot, the sweet orange-tree in the garden, and the bitter-sweet orange marmalade. And candied peel, perhaps bathed in dark chocolate.

Hibiscus flowers, just to name one. Fairytale mushrooms, or real-life golden chanterelles, to enjoy in autumn, with Vivaldi in the background.

But I'm an Eastern color: the gauze robes of the Buddhist monks: "Ohm!" And what comes in the Eastern sky, after white and pink dawn? When the sun peeps over the horizon, I walk with him for a while, before it brightens up and rises to full daylight. This makes me the color of waiting, of promise, of happiness. And I'm a color of peace too, the peace of inner meditation, of a voice that makes your body quiver and raises your mind to a sky full of light.

So, wherever you want some harmony and happiness in your house, there I am at home: I can be the cushions on the floor, where you sit to smell your incense, or a designer's couch. But I won't disdain some everyday tablecloth, perhaps together with Blue in a tartan pattern. Flowers, now? Too many to name. And orange-flecked butterflies. Perhaps you won't know these too well, but I'm also the lantern-shaped bladder cherries, and ripe loquats, that traveled long, long ago from the East to the whole world.

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