Wine-Dark Sea, revisited

I’m going to show a photograph I took. Hundred bucks if you can guess what I saw that blew my mind.

On Black Friday weekend (pure coincidence), my parents and I took a day trip out of Barcelona to the wine region of Penedes, just to the west. The valley is stunted, the sun is bright, and the entire region looks like a quilt from space.

Vilafranca de Penedes’ highlight is the town square (Placa de Jaume I), which, aside from the obligatory gothic-dressed-in-romanesque cathedral, has a place called the Vinseum– both a museum of the region’s wine industry and a wine bar and tasting room. Where do you think we gravitated?

At the table, my parents and I were chatting about the differences between Catalan and Castillian Spanish, when the waitress asked us what we wanted. I blurted out in Castillian Spanish “vino tinto” because that’s what I had become accustomed to. But as I looked down I saw no obvious equivalent on the Catalan menu. All I saw was “vi negre.”

Hang on. Back up a moment.

One of my favorite books is Through The Language Glass by Guy Deutscher, and the fascinating story about descriptions of color in language. William Gladstone, a 19th century British politician and Homer fanatic, famously discovered that the way the Greek poet used color in his epics was strange. The emblematic example is the “wine-dark sea,” an image that will change how you read the Iliad. Guy Deutscher himself was inspired to try an experiment on his young daughter, and avoid telling her that the sky was blue for many years, then asking her the question out of the blue (boom) well after she had acquired language. Apparently, the girl fell speechless as she searched for a color match, and eventually settled on “black.” Radiolab features this same story in their Colors episode. Red seas and black skies have stayed with me for years.

Sitting there at the bar, I realized that “tinto” in Castillian means “ink.” And “negre” obviously means “black.” The connection was clearer with Catalan, which it turns out is linguistically descended from Latin and NOT from Castillian Spanish (of which it is more like a sibling). Did the Roman settlers of this land, those profligate consumers of wine, also describe their wine as black? Is it possible that the peculiar texture of wine, its slight viscosity, its iridescence, its manifestation of growth and decay in nature, all of the things it embodies as an object (shout out Timothy Morton and OOO), all give it a depth of meaning which in ancient times could not be simplified to a color more associated with blood?

Is it possible that wine was ORIGINALLY black?

True true blue

If you Google most words (I tried “apple” and then “death”) the mosaic of images has a fairly consistent palette.
You consider, then, the now-known innovations of Google’s search engine– piggybacking what people are actually visiting, bumping up on the list websites most-linked-to– and one can say that what you see (after a torturous 0.35 seconds of waiting) is a sort of consensus.
You’ll see where I’m going with this– in the meantime I tried “desire” with hilariously one-sided results.
So it occurred to me when tinkering with the RGB bar on a rendering how gooey everything is and how nobody really knows anything about anything– in other words, as Goethe said, colors are just manifestations of light, which is really depressing to imagine (“Van Gogh went crazy thinking about it and cut his ear off. Get it?” “Yeah, yeah, totally…”). Not only is it depressing, it makes color quite subjective. Is the sky blue, or is this link blue? Sometimes, lying in bed on one side for too long, I find that my left and right eyes will see colors in different shades. Is there a definitive blue? Well, insofar as we exist in and depend on Google, I’d say the mosaic of images Google gives under “blue” must be the true true blue, and same with “red” and “green,” thus forming the basis of our additive color spectrum.

Back to an earlier thought: Google “fetishism”, and the results are more varied than I expected. Without a doubt there are the inevitable ass shots and stockings and heels, but the consensus is fuzzy. Of course, it is the nature of the word itself. From Marx to Voodoo we have considered fetishism’s evolution both as a term and a phenomenon (of course, “fetishism” is an example of fetishism: the creation of a proxy, a votive figure, a replacement, which is then worshipped disproportionately. Gettin’ meta enough?). But what does it mean when Googling something gives you so many disparate results? Could this be an accurate aggregate of data on words, terms, and topics which are being currently debated? Or do I need to just adjust my parental controls?

One thing there should be no debate over at all (EHEM, Mitt) is the use of the word “marriage” in the US Constitution. There IS NO SUCH MENTION.
Why can’t folks accept that two people with different views want the same civil rights and mutual benefits under lifelong partnership as they do? Geez, if I were president I’d take focus off the word “marriage” entirely (“Fine, conservatives, you can have your semantics. But for this time and this time only, I am putting the substance the word pretends to represent ahead of the word itself!“) by naming all lifelong unions civil partnership or something inoffensive and undefiled like that. Heck– the key here seems to be to find a term that hasn’t been debated over yet, so that it carries no baggage. This, I suppose, is the crisis of every innovation: to find a name for it that is sounds new and exciting, but not too new so as to sound foreign. Sham-WOW. Un-real.
So what’s a good new name for [marriage]?