Friday, 26 October 2012


 Excerpts from The Colourist

Carefully I arranged the paper-wrapped cones of spices on the scuffed dressing table and poured some tepid water from a jug to try and remove the red stain. It was stubborn and would require more scrubbing. I had cinnamon and turmeric, paprika, rose petals and a bag of cloves. Mixed with a little water they’d make intense but transient pigments. This is how I spent every spare minute; unearthing new colours, coaxing them out of the mysterious substances from the souk. Cinnamon and the turmeric; yes, there was a honeyed orange that I hadn’t quite mastered but could see in my mind’s eye. Yesterday I’d created a quite beautiful dusty yellow, like powdered sunshine. Nutmeg gave a rich melancholic brown, paprika brought a drumroll of coral red. 

For a few blissful moments of every day, I was able to let go of the fetid room and the braying aunt and lose myself completely in their bright magic.

 I thought, as I sat on a low divan plump with cushions in the rooftop garden of Mustafa Kamut’s perfumed house, that I had never been anywhere so lovely in my life. Above my head fluttered a rectangle of orange silk, strung across four pillars that marked the edges of the roof. Narrow steps led down to the third floor, up and down which trotted an endless succession of people bringing intricately carved silver trays laden with delicacies, deftly placing each upon the round central table and removing others so that the table was always full. They poured mint tea from swan-necked copper teapots from high up, so the liquid caught the sun and became a waterfall of gold. Spiced pastries, almond biscuits and little rosewater cakes appeared, a procession of gazelles’ horns and sugar plums borne high on ornate platters; far too much for three people, and I didn’t dare eat until the men had. Two women sat in the background for a little while before disappearing in a swirl of white down the stone steps and I didn’t see them again. They were not introduced, although Xavier inclined his head toward them in a similar fashion as M Kamut had done to me.
 As the hours rolled by and the endless stream of food did not abate, I had to keep myself from slumping back on the divan and staring at the beautiful orange silk as it billowed in the breeze that had sprung up as the afternoon drew on. The light of the sun moved slowly across the canopy, intensifying the orange to white, so bright it was impossible to regard. Its penumbra radiated out and deepened to a more saturated effect near the edges. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

It’s such a jubilant dance of a colour, orange. Give it time and you’ll see how rewarding it can be. Said to stimulate appetite and activity, it lacks the aggression of red and the hard stare of yellow. It reminds me of a welcome houseguest, the sort that always brings a small gift and remembers to send a thank you card afterwards. I felt full of health and cake and happy plans as I sat there on the roof and let the inside of my mind be painted with a warm orange glow.

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