Book Report: A Perfect Shade of Red

Even with all this knitting, I am still reading a lot. This one will not be the last in my color series for a while, because I think there’s a yellow book in the queue at the ranch. But on to this one. A Perfect Shade of Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire, by Amy Butler Greenfield (2005), was recommended in the Master Naturalist session I took on cochineal. I’m glad I picked it up and read it, even though I’ve already read two other books on the color red. The history part was a lot of fun.

The book, along with the back of the stole I’m working on.

This book concentrates on the ups and downs of using that little Mexican insect, cochineal, to dye things red, starting from the very beginning and continuing to current times. One thing I learned is that, unlike the wild cochineal that grows out at the ranch, the kind that has been developed in Oaxaca to produce the most dye is a finicky thing. No wonder Spain held on to its secrets for so long and monopolized its import (when those pesky English pirates weren’t stealing it). They just couldn’t get it to grow well other than its native territory for hundreds of years.

I wonder if they used cochineal to dye the leather for my journal?

Without the exact right climate with not too much rain, not too much wind, and not too much cold, they keel over pretty fast. The other books I’ve read didn’t go into as much detail about how many places tried to grow cochineal. It failed spectacularly all over the world, and was particularly unsuited to being grown by slaves like sugar cane, corn, or cotton. Oh well.

Random red objects for you to enjoy.

I did learn that eventually, patient people finally got it to grow in the Canary Islands and Guatemala, of all places. They even surpassed Mexico toward the end of the popularity of cochineal dye.

Another thing the other books didn’t tell me was that thanks to Red Dye No. 2 being identified as so poisonous, cochineal began coloring foods in modern times again, but it’s not popular with vegans and there ARE people allergic to it, too. Huh.

The book kept insinuating that red clothing can be gaudy. I don’t know where they get that idea. This is my holiday shirt for this year.

Even if you’re less than fascinated by dyeing things red with little insects, this book is a fun read, because you get an interesting perspective on European history from it. Much of the book makes England seen like a pretty nasty place, but the descriptions of Hapsburgs and their jaws made me rather sad for European royalty. What an inbred mess. All the intrigue between kings, queens, pirates, merchants, chemists, and others is a lot of fun.

It appears I have another race book and a novel ahead of me, though there IS a memoir I may sneak in. Thanks for bearing with me on these book reports.

Book Report: Red—The History of a Color

I talked earlier about how fond I am of the color red and how much I enjoyed the session on cochineal, a red dye, last week. So, naturally, the first of the series of color books by Michel Pastoureau I just got that I’m going to report on is Red: The History of a Color.

Beautiful book!

The quality of this book is drool-worthy. Each book in the series is hefty and dense. The paper for the pages is so thick, and the printing is sublime. The illustrations are so interesting that I’ll go back to this book over and over.

Example of one of the illustrative images. This is by Jan Van Eyk.

While I did get lost in the photos, I also learned a lot about how red figured throughout European history. It was the most important color up until the last few centuries, when blue took over. Boo, blue (I guess I’ll be more on Team Blue when I read the blue volume).

My kitchen is Team Red, too.

The author teaches us a lot about how color has been perceived by humans, which I learned from earlier color books, but the focus on red and how it was perceived earlier than colors other than black and white made the history pretty memorable. it turns out names for many colors show up quite late, as the chapter on pink showed.

Pink and red at my house. Also, roosters were revered because of their bright red combs!

I enjoyed learning a lot about how people dressed through European history, and not just the royalty and rich people. Peasants always liked red!

Sapphire points out that her breed had particularly red combs, and eyes.

Any book in this series would be a nice gift for an artsy or crafty friend. A high-quality book on your favorite color that’s also a work of art in itself—what’s not to love? And red’s the color of love!

Seeking Comfort and Seeing Red

This morning I’ve been thinking so hard about what the families of my friends and acquaintances are going through, losing loved ones and dealing with the COVID-19 thing in their families. You can’t rally around people as easily as you normally would in situations like this. And you know these people could use some comfort, along with the wider circle of loved ones. Lighting my candle and sending loving-kindness out counts for something, I guess.

A candle for loving-kindness.

But what’s good is that today we do have ways to reach out and comfort people. Kind words in chat, video calls, and social media posts can reach hurting people immediately (while sending a card is also good, just takes longer). I’m seeing this unfold as groups rally around to support each other. One group has scrapped an organizational meeting, just to be there for someone who lost their best friend. Another group is right there in their Facebook group when someone gets a new wave of grief. It’s so comforting to see this love manifest.

We may feel confined and alone, but our support network is out there. If you don’t have one, I’m here!
Three of my friends, experiencing joy at our class reunion a few years ago.

Yesterday, when I asked that people reach out to those they care about, my little group of friends I’ve had since my early teens jumped right in to remind each other how much we care, even if many of us are far apart. I can always count on these women if anything happens to me. And one of my favorite bloggers even checked up on me. The world is our community! Thank you ALL.

That, along with some kind check-ins from my local friends and family who noticed I was down, really helped me remember that death is a part of life and we all have connections that will go beyond artificial boundaries like life, death, space, and time (or at least I can hope that!).

(Note that me being down is small change compared to what the close friends and family of my friends who passed on are dealing with; it’s certainly NOT all about me, but it is my dream that similar outpourings are happening for them.)

The Comfort of Red

Today, though, I decided to comfort my own self. I did this by surrounding myself with what has become my favorite color in my later years, red. I even dragged out my old red glasses (I can see okay in them still).

And I even smiled. Had to look perky for work meetings, ya know.
Sooo much red.

I looked around my office (you know, the red, pink, and orange explosion of colors and objects), and all the red things comforted me. My red lamps, my little leather notebook, ah. Redness.

Then the mail arrived. It reminded me that red’s been on my mind since that Master Naturalist talk on cochineal! Two books on the color red showed up (plus two other colors, and a book for work book club). I’m definitely needing some red in my life.

So, yeah, I’m really grateful for so many supporting people in my life who are holding me up yet not telling me not to be sad. I passionately believe it’s important to tell them how grateful I am, often and sincerely. I’m feeling surrounded by invisible arms right now, with a red glow. What brings YOU comfort when there is much to be sad about?