February 12, 2009

The Purpler Tree and the things you talked about last night.

Last night's purple tree opened a flood of conversation. Curtiss said:
Purple is the color of death.

But you know that, don't you?
I said:
I think men don't like the color purple. Women love it to excess, and men don't really understand. Death, indeed!
Palladian said:
I don't like anything Alice Walker ever wrote.
Instead of transcribing my laughter, let me give you a newer and purpler version of the tree that opened the canyons of your minds:

The Purpler Tree

When I stopped my starry-eyed laughing, I said:
But quite apart from [Alice Walker], I think visual perception is partly deeply biological and there's serious sexual discrepancy about purple.
Then Meade said:
"I think men don't like the color purple. "

The professor speaks truth. And she does so in a most colorful way.

I, however, as a man am an exception to the rule: I love purple. In fact, I wear a purple hat and a purple scarf. Men leave me alone while women can't seem to keep their hands off me. That is, as long as I wear the hat and scarf.
Meade inspired me to make the new tree the color of his scarf. And to give him this advice — in case we should ever meet IRL.

Subsequently, Meade asks the guys a great question, and Curtiss gives a great answer. You'll have to go in there and find those things, but don't trip over the things Titus says he's having trouble finding.

Professor Palladian had to step back in and cool us off with this historical lecture:
The word "purple" comes to us from the Greek (via the usual circuitous route through Latin and Old English) πορφύραν, porphura, of the mollusk that produced the only bright, deep, color-fast purple dye available in the world until the mid-nineteenth century. Walk through any art museum and you'll see no bright purple color in any painting produced before then. The color to which the name "purple" referred has changed many times depending on the time period and the culture being discussed. The "Prince" sort of purple that most people think of is not the color of the purple of antiquity. The ancient purple, Tyrian purple, is more akin to the color of a fresh Welch's grape juice stain on a white cotton shirt, only much more intense. Tyrian purple is made from the fresh mucous secretion of a big sea snail that is variously known as Murex brandaris and Haustellum brandaris. It requires harvesting and killing 10,000 of these gastropods to produce one gram of the dye, hence the astronomical price and rarity of the color.

I have a sample of the dye, about 50 milligrams, which cost me nearly two hundred dollars. To put that in perspective, an extra strength Tylenol pill contains 500 milligrams of Acetaminophen alone, not counting the weight of the other ingredients.

As I said, there was no other bright, color-fast purple dye or pigment available to artists until the 19th century. The use of Tyrian purple pretty much died out by the 11th century in the West. Artists could mix purple hues by glazing blue pigments with red pigments, but as there were only three bright red pigments available to artists until the 19th century, two [1; 2] of which faded rapidly and one of which is both too opaque and too orange to actually produce a mixed purple, not many artists bothered.

What changed everything (and by extension, the world as we know it) was W.H. Perkin's discovery and production of the world's first synthetic organic dye: 3-amino-2,±9-dimethyl-5-phenyl-7-(p-tolylamino)phenazinium acetate, or Mauveine, later known as the color mauve. Perkin was, on a challenge from one of his professors, trying to synthesize quinine and failed, producing a black lump. While he was trying to clean the lump out of his flask, he discovered that a portion of the lump dissolved in alcohol and produced a bright purple. Voilà! The first aniline dye, which changed not only the world of fashion and art, but as I said before, changed the entire world. It was through Perkin's discovery and subsequent manufacture of Mauveine and the resulting proliferation of aniline dye research and industry that the first antimicrobial drugs, the sulfonamides (the early examples of which were dye-based) were invented. Not to mention Tylenol, Polyurethane and the whole synthetic chemical industry.

Not bad for a chemical that started as an accident involving a substance (aniline, phenylamine) that stinks of rotting fish. An apt smell for the chemical that was responsible for the rebirth of purple in the modern world, the olfactory memory across the millennia of those vast piles of dead, rotting mollusks that yielded the color of Emperors.
Sex, science, and art — all night long, all because of purple. And trees. You know I'm an Ann Arborist. Here in Madison.

51 comments:

Norm said...

I love purple ! Whenever I see purple I am reminded of being in college and my favorite sorority. Purple was their color, and I dated quite a few of the sisters. I am looking to seeing some of their purple jackets again at our reunion this June.

Bob said...

Squint your eyes a bit and the tree becomes a mushroom cloud of purple radiation, dyeing everyone within a five-mile radius.

ricpic said...

You left out the most interesting comment of all, by William, in which he said, among other things, that the purplish tinge of mens' nut sacs might account for most mens' aversion to purple; an interesting and plausible proposition. This got Palladian all in a dither and he charged out in defense of the beauty of purplish nut sacs.

Palladian said...

"This got Palladian all in a dither and he charged out in defense of the beauty of purplish nut sacs."

That's not actually true, dear ricpic. I told William that he should see a doctor if his nut sac is purple.

Palladian said...

Ha, can you tell from my purple lecture that I'm writing my "materials and techniques of western art" class"?

*Hopes his chemistry is correct. Hasn't re-read his Perkin materials yet*

traditionalguy said...

The Horned Frogs salute your favorite color for conversation. But I assure you that no TCU graduates have ever felt compelled to die their Scrotums purple. Then again Bull Riding may cause severe bruising over at the School of Ranch Management.

Skeptical said...

I salute Palladian's historical lecture. Not what I planned on reading when I showed up here, but I was captivated. Very nice.

Michael H said...

Makes me wish there was fog in the photo....

Purple haze all in my brain
Lately things just dont seem the same
Actin funny, but I dont know why
scuse me while I kiss the sky
Purple haze all around
Dont know if Im comin up or down
Am I happy or in misery?
What ever it is, that girl put a spell on me
Help me
Help me
Oh, no, no
[faint, spoken lyrics...all questionable]
Hammerin
Talkin bout heart n...s-soul
Im talkin about hard stuff
If everbodys still around, fluff and ease, if
So far out my mind
Somethings happening, somethings happening
Ooo, ahhh
Ooo, {click} ahhh,
Ooo, ahhh
Ooo, ahhh, yeah!
Purple haze all in my eyes, uhh
Dont know if its day or night
You got me blowin, blowin my mind
Is it tomorrow, or just the end of time?
Ooo
Help me
Ahh, yea-yeah, purple haze, yeah
Oh, no, oh
Oh, help me
Purple haze, tell me, baby, tell me
I cant go on like this
Purple haze
Youre makin me blow my mind...mama
Purple haze, n-no, nooo
Purple haze, no, its painful, baby

Jimi Hendrix

Bob W. said...

In the united states military, purple is also used frequently when referencing joint operations, or military operations involving two or more services working together. "Going Purple" used to be something said to a person going to work in a Joint Assignment (like on the Joint Staff).

Curtiss said...

The artifact in the upper tree canopy of today's photo looks like an image of .......

I won't say it.

Ron said...

So we've got purple, we've got Ann Althouse, we've got Ann Arbor, and does anyone, especially Ann Althouse mention Minnie's Co-Op which has been a purple Co-Op since Ann Althouse was a student here in Ann Arbor?

MadisonMan said...

What SHOULD have been talked about: Who among the 36 finalists should not be there?

Michael H said...

/off topic briefly/

I'll buy a beer for anyone who goes over to Trooper York's blog today and votes for Strawberry Shortcake on the cake poll on the top right corner of his blog. Then hurry back here and resume normal operations. Thanks.

/back to topic/

onparkstreet said...

Hmmm, I'm a dissenter from the 'women like purple' ranks, I don't like purple unless it's one of those periwinkle-lavendar-barely there-washed-out colors.

'Here in Madison' reminds me of here in Lake Woebegon, or something.

The Elder said...

"Meade inspired me to make the new tree the color of his scarf. And to give him this advice — in case we should ever meet IRL."

That is good advice for Meade.

I've seen his haircut.

The Elder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Darcy said...

Michael H! That's really...unfair, but quite clever of you. Damn it.

Ron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron said...

Michael_H: Done! Anchor Steam, please!

Darcy has been known to wear purple hats when she goes skeet shooting...

Ron said...

Wither the purple prose of Sir Archy?

TitusLetTheSunshineIn said...

I don't like purple because I think it looks gay and feminine. As a youngster I was very feminine and I have worked hard my entire life to not be feminine. I believe I would regress if I wore purple.

Ann Althouse said...

It's misogynistic to say that it's regression to become more feminine. You should find your true self.

Crimso said...

"Ha, can you tell from my purple lecture that I'm writing my "materials and techniques of western art" class"?"

That makes sense, but I was starting to think that perhaps you were an organic chemist.

Shanna said...

I dislike purple, but I love plum. Does that count?

Also, does the colorblindness many men suffer from make them less interested in purple (it being red and blue)?

traditionalguy said...

We all now love purple and will notice it everywhere. TCU graduates are also forever into Purple everthing. Just when we can no longer color code people as 7/8's white etc., the new trend is into school uniforms here in Atlanta. A Group's shared colors is always a useful acceptance tool. The PurpleTreeHouse looks like it will become this blog's nickname. Someone should design a PurpleTreeHouse Coat of Arms, complete with purple Unicorns and overbearing Trees.

Ron said...

I inflame the commentariat with a purple tree.

No worries; there's a cream for that I think. Instapundit probably has an Amazon link to it somewhere...

Meade said...

The Elder said...
"That is good advice for Meade.
I've seen his haircut."

At his advanced age, that Meade has any hair left at all to cut is enough to make most (especially elderly) men purple with envy.

Meade said...

...which works in elderly guys' favor because, you know, chicks dig purple.

Beth said...

Purple Iris - one of my favorite flowers.

"Mauveine" - Palladian, what a great drag queen name (it would have to be southern, and pronounced Mo-veen).

Darcy said...

Oh, me too, Beth! Especially the wild sort.

Beth said...

Especially the wild sort.

Wild sort of drag queens? Or irises?

Meade said...

And for all you Bissage wannabees out there: Purple Siberian Iris is one of the most low-maintenance bang-for-your-bucks perennials there is. It's also extremely deer-resistant.

Tom Jones' Prison Beeyatch said...

Palladian neglected the long line of Byzantine Emperors surnamed "Porphyrogenitos" or "born in the purple."

Not to mention this:

http://vrcoll.fa.pitt.edu/stones-haa0240/Justinian/justinian/SanVitale-Images/I02.jpg

If it's good enough for the Son of God, it's good enough for any man.

chuck b. said...

S'funny, this is such old news to chemists, one fails to realize what would be considered interesting to most people.

Darcy said...

Hee! The wild purple iris, Beth.

MadisonMan said...

For example, why the hell were those two drama queens, Tatiana and the Bowie wannabe put through? Gag me.

sonicfrog said...

Purple - The name of the Bridget Joyce album my little brother played drums and sang backing vox on.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Purple Siberian Iris is one of the most low-maintenance bang-for-your-bucks perennials there is. It's also extremely deer-resistant.

And lilacs! They smell so nice in spring, with their big bunches of purple flowers. Grow like weeds, too.

former law student said...

As one of the wildcats, who of course eat wolverines and badgers, I have to point out that purple has been one of Northwestern's colors since 1879, and has reigned alone since 1892

But it's a pallid sort of purple.

Hail to Purple!

This is the only Youtube video featuring both the Alma Mater, and the color purple:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKmUDMa6JG8

chuck b. said...

(Also, $200 for 50 mg of a specialty chemical is cheap for specialty chemicals.)

chuckR said...

Aniline dyes in older rugs and carpets are often referred to as fugitive dyes. They bleed and run and they also fade away. Doesn't matter with (relatively short lived)clothing, but if you see an old rug ca 1880-1920 with an area faded to the color of old congealed oatmeal or worse, that might be an early aniline dye. Then too, I find the synthetic colors to be too pure to be interesting. If Professor P cares to post his lecture and let us know where, he'll find at least one outside reader.

k*thy said...

I believe purple is the liturgical color for Lent.

HelenParr said...

Smoke on the Water.

chickenlittle said...

I like the way blue links turn purple after you click on them.

jdeeripper said...

TitusLetTheSunshineIn said...I don't like purple because I think it looks gay and feminine.

Yeah, I like purple sometimes. It's a mood thing. It's a good color for women. But it just doesn't look right on me.

A white shirt over dark pants is a basic masculine look.

Cedarford said...

Good treatise by Palladian.

I would add that outside a purple dye that would take to clothes, the color purple was well-coveted in the ME, Asia and was inexpensive to semi-expensive in other varieties - like purple lapis lazuli and amethyst jewelry. Used in both Catholic bishops rings and Buddhist rosaries. Japanese liked breeding purple flowers. People in the Mediterranean appeared to have favored more purplish wines as healthier, and attributed health-giving qualities (correctly) to the purple gentian, iris, and black currant (which makes a strong purple juice).

Purple glass and ceramics and especially purple tiling was common. In fact, we confirm that purple clothing was rare and high status from looking at depictions on Roman, Byzantine, Arab mosaics.

JohnAnnArbor said...

"I want to go back to Michigan, to old Ann Arbor town,..."

blake said...

'scuse me, while I kiss this guy.

Wait, what?

Palladian's bit was very interesting; if it translates live, he must be an enjoyable lecturer.

BJM said...

The Purpler Tree is a very powerful image. Jung's primordial imagery? Pranic awakening? The symmetry suggests The Vajra. However, the intense color recalls youthful evenings imbibing herbs and listening to "In Search of the Lost Chord" from a bank of very large speakers cranked to 11.

TitusJustHadAGreatPump said...

Purple reminds me of the cartoon Barney.

I think I am getting a little horny.

Ralph said...

You should find your true self.
He's more interested in attracting manly men.