The irrepressible travel writer Jan Morris, at the age of 90, decided to keep a diary. Each entry is a gem, unique in subject matter, and her observations are whimsical as well as incisive. Over the next few weeks we’ll share some of our favourites.
Some novels I fear, are just too clever for me or, rather, I am not clever enough for them. Sometimes, though, it seems to me that they are just too clever for their own good. Of course, I relish the challenge of a superior artistic intellect, even if I need help to understand it.
For eighteen years I failed to get through Joyce’s Ulysses, until I was delightfully converted to its genius by Harry Blamires’s key to it all, and since then I have never looked back. I am still of the impertinent opinion, though, that such a great masterpiece would be even greater if it could be scoured of unnecessary obscurities, while its successor Finnegan’s Wake, since nobody I know has ever succeeded in reading it all the way through, seems to me a perfect waste of the master’s time.
All this is because I have now reached, with muddled feelings, page 38 of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). I am reading it, a bit late in the day, because I feel I ought to. The New York Times, I see, says it should be required reading for the whole human race. I shall soon know whether all of it is going to be required reading for me.
The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colourless, shallow water appears to be the colour of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water, the deeper the blue.
The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the colour blue.
For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that colour of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The colour of that distance is the colour of an emotion, the colour of solitude and of desire, the colour of there seen from here, the colour of where you are not. And the colour of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains.