The Color Purple by Honey Sharp and David Lippman
All over the town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the jacaranda trees are in full bloom. We owe their presence to the late 19th century Japanese imperial landscape designer, Tatsugoro Matsumoro. While not originally from Japan but Brazil, they are as much of a signature piece here as bougainvilleas, also native to South America. Matsumoro, first invited to consult in Peru, was then invited by President Porfirio Diaz to design and enhance parts of Roma, (now on the map thanks to the film) as well as Chapultepec Park, both in Mexico City.
By my husband David Lippman:
In Alice Walker’s remarkable book, “The Color Purple”, we learn of the persistent attributes of color, of race, and of wonder. Following my wife’s blog posts, “Red!!!” and “Casa Azul, Dazzling Blues”, their combination was a natural— especially with the jacarandas at their peak in San Miguel.
Simon Winchester, a British author living in the Berkshires, MA. begins his book “The Atlantic” not in Rio, Rhode Island or Belfast, but in Lebanon, the country of my wife, Honey’s adolescence. The early Phoenicians were the first known sailors to venture out beyond the Pillars of Hercules, and abandon the relative calm of the Mediterranean for Mogador, on the modern day coast of Morocco. Their quest is shown on Morocco’s 200 dirham note: a razor sharp snail, which could be crushed to bring out a vibrant purple dye. It came to be called Tyrian purple, valued higher than gold in the Near East and Byzantium where it was donned by royalty and priests.
Like most colors, it has a panoply of shades: lilac, lavender, violet, amethyst, magenta. Flower colors predominate – as seen in the botanical photos below by Honey. Did the late Jimi Hendrix refer to a psychedelic plant when he sang “Purple Haze”?
Purple seems also to be the color of our patriotism, witness purple hearts, given for bravery in wartime. Finally, recall our “second national anthem”, America the Beautiful” with the words: “purple mountains’ majesty”.
Is it lèse majesté to wish that our US government were less divided into red and blue, and more “purple”? I think this is what Alice Walker would have wanted. So do I.
A now a few words from me but not about patriotism or politics …
As the jacarandas begin to fade, we will soon be even more immersed than usual in the chiming of church bells at various times of the day as Semana Santa or Easter is upon us. In San Miguel we will be entranced by the flapping of purple and white flags strung along streets and greeted by shiny purple ribbons hung above old wooden doors. Church altars and statues will be draped in deep purple fabric, often velvet, while purple candles will be burning and large papier maché flowers will adorn the town.
Why purple? In Catholicism, this color is associated with penance, prayer and the personal sacrifice expected during Lent. And while purple may signify pain and mourning, it is ultimately associated with the celebration of Christ’s resurrection and sovereignty. Contradictions abound in religion…
We can also look back to Judaism for the significance of purple in our cultural color palette. According to Wikipedia: “Purple gets its symbolism in Judaism from the combination of two other colors, red and blue. In the Jewish tradition, red symbolizes sin and blue represents the glorification of God, and when the two combine to form purple, the meaning is transformed into one of redemption and purification.”
Clearly David was onto something more ancient and profound than he might have thought. The combination of red and blue might prove to help us heal in 2020.
Finally, on a less religious note, we have plenty of purple shades to relish in visually. This can range from a young woman’s dyed hair as she gazes from a rooftop upon the jacarandas to amethyst painted walls in the colonia of Guadelupe.
To check out my pieces on red and blue, feel free to visit: