Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Blue Blood

We humans are more than a bit silly, don't you think?

In Houston, for instance, I was humored to discover that many an Asian woman donned arm length gloves while they drove to protect their "porcelain" white skin from becoming dark, thereby preventing them from looking like commoners.

The practice evokes the language of "blue blood" that in turn captures the class and status of nobility. The English first used the term in 1834. But, unlike many a fantastic thing (e.g. MINIs, afternoon tea, and clotted Devon cream), the British did not engender the term but--GASP!--borrowed it!

From the Spanish no less (no condescension should be interpreted): the very same noble class of peoples who, in their mighty galleons, symbols of fortitude and world power, were defeated by pesky little English in smaller, more easily maneuverable ships.

Apparently, the Spanish thought the blood of nobility was sangre azul, for superficial veins would appear blue through the pale, pasty white skin of those who did not toil in the fields, as opposed to the less prominently colored veins of those who worked in the fields and thus had darker skin.


And even sillier because sangre azul was initially used to differentiate those descendent from the Visigoths, from the North African Moors who conquered the southern half of the Iberian peninsula (and created, incidentally, one of the most spectacular gardens in the world at Alhambra in Grenada). Apparently, noblemen would expose their moon-burned arms to reveal their blue blooded veins as a signification that they were not "contaminated" by the darker skin (and presumably lesser) peoples. And I am sure if we delve back farther we will discern that those "identities" too were silly fabrications.

{There is another historical explanation for the appearance of sangre azul: the Spanish royal family was afflicted with the "Royal Disease" of hemophilia, which apparently casts royal skin in a bluish hue.}

Ah yes, we humans constantly need to differentiate ourselves from (often, sadly, as superior to) others in the most ridiculous sorts of ways.

And yet, admittedly, I am no better.

[Whatever happened to my snob alerts of earlier entries? When did this become a confessional of the most unflattering sort?  I mean, revealing my weaknesses...really.]

In any case, take my Nikko Blue Hydrangea. The first year it was trampled by a sizable branch that fell from the neighbor's unkempt tree. The second year, it was pink. Pink: in my garden. The very color I banished. That prompted me to learn that acidic soils produce the blues, while alkaline soil produce the pinks. And Delaware, with its heavy clay, is alkaline all the way. So last year I, with reckless abandon, treated the soil around Nikko Blue with organic sulfur and voila: my deep blue, Nikko blue, hydrangea.

All in an effort to assert the Nikko nobility of my hydrangea...

Pinks be damned in my garden!  (Though my snobbery has faded and I admit I am becoming more smitten with pinks... DAMN IT. Snob alert:  -2.  Unflattering Confessional: +2).
Nikko began to open about a week ago, and the prominent early color (as last year) is white. As the days wore on, the white shaded to pale blue, then a deepening blue, and then, in some parts that absorbed apparently an excess of sulfur, a near purple. It was magnificent.

This year I have some pale blue, but mostly white.

So out I ventured into the garden this morning, armed with a liberal dose of sulfur.

And despite washing my hands twice, I still occasionally catch the unmistakable odor of sulfur clinging to my skin.

See, snobbery does have costs, costs that in the end reveal how silly we really are: for the royals, hemophilia; for the gardener, the smell of rotten eggs.

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