the perfect red-amy butler greenfield

“Those who turned to the Bible to reconcile the controversy were disappointed. Although the Vulgate used the word vermilion, or ‘little worm’, to describe the color produced by grain, lending credence to the idea that the dyestuff had animal origins, the Bible made no definite pronouncements either way.” (127)

“If cochineal satisfied the desire for color in Europe, among Mexicans it met even deeper needs. More than a marvelous dyestuff, cochineal for them was a living legacy from their ancestors, a gift that connected past and present, and a critical source of strength in the battle for personal and cultural survival.” (101)

“Sold free of bug parts, in liquid or powdered form, cochineal appears on European labels as additive E120, and elsewhere as cochineal extract, carmine, carminic acid, or simply as ‘coloring added’. It can be found in products as diverse as candy, Popsicles, sausages, yogurt, fruit juice, ice cream, apple sauce, pudding, cheese, cough syrup, rouge, lipstick, eyeshadow and Campari.” (244)

this one was recommended by a customer over a conversation about a natural tinted lip balm not being so tinty because it was not made by crushed beetles, as red dye #5, and i was schooled on the word “cochineal”. i sense that i am on the cusp of an etymological entomological obsession, as i thought for many minutes on the streetcar when i read the first quote about “vermilion=little worm”.

the book is subtitled empire, espionage, and the quest for the colour of desire and it certainly delivers on all of those fronts. i’ve always been a firm believer that we don’t have that many moves as humans, but sometimes, i am floored by how different things are. it’s usually the small things, but little things mean a lot (appreciate what you got).

“A dyer caught using colors outside his chosen specialty could be fined and thrown out of his guild.” (16)

i mean, the recounting of the fact that certain people could not wear certain colours-and it was regulated by the government-this is beyond gang wars, and we just take this so completely for granted that we can wear pretty much whatever the fuck we want.

“Dyers had to crush thousands of snails to extract enough imperial purple for a single garment, making it a fabulously expensive dye……Largely due to its expense, imperial purple became one of the preeminent symbols of power and prestige in the classical world.” (20)

“Cochineal-dyed cloth was probably carried to Africa as well, where red fabrics were a prized item of exchange in the slave trade, worth as much as a man’s liberty or even his life.” (81)

“Trained to think in ducats, florins, and pesos, the bankers assessed Spain’s losses primarily in financial terms. For many Europeans, however, the struggle over cochineal had a symbolic dimension as well. To possess cochineal was to possess the color of military prowess and imperial glory-a metaphorical triumph that meant everything to Protestant England.” (117)

“After Ypres, the Allied armies made every effort to catch up with the Germans, and soon they, too, were producing and deploying poison gas on the battlefields of Europe. But Germany’s prewar dominance in the dye industry gave it a head start in the production of the toxic compounds. Dye companies like Bayer, Hoechst, and Badische became the kaiser’s war machines, churning out poison gas by the ton. They also produced another kind of war material closely related to chemicals used in the dye industry: explosives.” (239)

and so, the reveal of yet another face of the scientific experiments of the germans in world war II.


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