Fall 2013

Colors / Aquamarine

No past, no future

Carol Mavor

“Colors” is a column in which a writer responds to a specific color assigned by the editors of Cabinet.

Aquamarine is the color of clean.

Aquamarine is the refreshing color of glaciers. (Americans pronounce glacier as glay-shure, but the British say glassiére, emphasizing the word’s chilly etymology as sourced from the French glace, meaning ice, ice cream, mirror, or sheet of glass.)

Aquamarine is the color of the rivers in New Zealand, which flow like Listerine dreams. Aquamarine is the color of the thermal pools in Yellowstone National Park, which look cool but are actually hot.

Aquamarine is the color of the sea surrounding Ni‘ihau, Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Moloka‘i, La-na‘i, Kaho‘olawe, Maui, and the island of Hawai‘i.

Aquamarine is the delicious color of a frozen cocktail called a Blue Hawaii, made of light rum, vodka, blue Curaçao liqueur, pineapple juice, and sweet-and-sour mix. (Barely past adolescence, vacationing in the Aloha state, where the legal age for drinking was only eighteen, I lawfully ordered my own Blue Hawaii at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, the hotel where the drink was invented in 1957.) A Blue Hawaii, minus the orchid, looks and tastes like those frozen icicles of blue-green sugar water in clear plastic tubes (Fla.Vor.Ice, Otter Pops) that we ate as children next to the swimming pool. (In the bright world of kiddish gastronomy, red tastes red; aquamarine tastes aquamarine.) Aquamarine is the color of swimming pools, even of the clean, chlorine smell.

Aquamarine is the color of the underwater erotic South Pacific somersaults shared by fifteen-year-old cousins (adolescent merman and slim, budding mermaid) in the 1980 film Blue Lagoon, starring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins. (Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s Paul and Virginia, set in Mauritius, is the eighteenth century’s Blue Lagoon.)

The Portuguese man-of-war (Physalia physalis), sometimes called a bluebottle, can be a lovely aquamarine blue: both its translucent gas-filled bladder (its pneumatophore or “sail”) and its long, dangerous stinging tentacles. When washed up on beaches, bluebottles can look like aquamarine gems: the emptied contents of a mermaid’s treasure chest. Of special interest is an exquisite, fragile Physalia physalis made by the German glassmakers Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the father and son made exquisite models of marine invertebrates and botanical specimens for scientific study. Their little model man-of-war appears in a seemingly exaggerated range of colors, but the creature’s famed long, long stinging tentacles are aquamarine: tantalizing string of glass tears, like delicate necklaces fit for a mermaid. Likewise, its feeding polyps appear like a mermaid’s fancy collar, as if made of sea anemone, and are also aquamarine, if of a deeper hue.

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