I may be imagining things but colours mean more to me now than I can ever remember. I have always been aware of colours, and of patterns in particular, but now they feel vibrant, defined and captivating. In addition, over the summer they have started to demand my attention. From the simplest to the most elaborate, all have become important, although with those that are particularly subtle the pleasure is that much greater.
Oddly, my new awareness started on Saturday mornings. These are wash days in Tréguennec and I would find myself mesmerised by the fluttering colours on the line (see first illustration). These colours are in no way special but nevertheless, when I went past, I would often stop to stare, puzzle and enjoy. As silly as it may sound, seeing these blocks of bright colours in no particular order was a new treat.
More lasting, and to an extent even thrilling, have been colours that need discerning, that interact both with one another and with their surrounds. It was just such an arrangement that I found myself staring at when visiting an exhibition of traditional costumes of our area – le pays Bigouden.
There must have been some fifty or so exhibits – dresses, skirts, coats, blouses – all of which would have been worn on special occasions such as weddings and birthdays. However, as I walked round it was a man’s hat that caught my eye. It was a beautifully crafted replica of a hat worn in the early 1800s and its attraction for me came from a set of three fine gold, red and blue chenille silk threads looped around its black crown (see second illustration).
Although I looked at all of the exhibits, none had the same appeal. Indeed I went back several times for a close inspection – I did not want to miss any details – and memories of its colouring still linger. Interestingly, in the past I would probably have missed the hat altogether, and had I seen it, I doubt if I would have registered its colouring. All this is new to me.
Unexpectedly, my new awareness of colour, and with it a feeling of confidence has introduced a conflict. A few weeks ago Rohan repainted our front door and its shutters (see third illustration). Together we had chosen the colour and when the paint had dried I commented how much I liked the ‘blue’ we had bought. In response, Rohan said how much she liked the new ‘green’. Neither of us is colour blind but it was clear that we saw the colour differently – a difference that remains unresolved. In keeping with the demands of the digital world, the label on the paint pot didn’t help – it just gave the paint’s name as ‘178C’.
While our views on the colour have not changed, it is worth noting that such a disagreement could never have happened if Rohan and I spoke only Breton. In this language, there is no distinction between blue and green with just the one word used for describing them both – ‘glas’.
While some readers may see my improved ability to see and enjoy colours as the product of wishful thinking, I believe it to be a real change. Nine months ago I had my cataracts removed. Cataracts are well known to impair vision, not only is focussing difficult, colours often become faded. Prior to the operation I had not realised how much fading had occurred and immediately afterwards, seeing the shimmering greens of the leaves was a wonderful surprise. It is likely that other colours will also have faded and it has taken months for my brain to register and adjust to the new clarity. Only now are the colours seen in their fullness.
While to some the changes in my vision may seem fanciful, to me they are very real and the vibrant images I now see are a delight. I just hope my colourful viewing will last.
The first illustration is a photo of clothes drying on our washing line in Tréguennec earlier this summer.
The second illustration is a photo of the decorated black hat mounted above the top of its matching coat; both were displayed on a mannequin at a recent exhibition of traditional Breton clothing. It was the colours of the three bands around the crown that I found mesmerising.
The third illustration is a photo of the recently painted front door of Ty Poas, our home in Brittany. Is the colour blue or green? For years the house had neither name nor number and to help direct deliveries and visitors we had the name ‘Ty Poas’ engraved on the lintel above the door on the advice of the mayor. Ty Poas actually means ‘Burned House’, so we assume that our house, which is probably over 200 years old, was built on the site of a house that had burned down.
For helping me write this blog I would like to thank Sarah, Armelle, Rohan and Vivien.