05 June, 2006

13. Collecting the garbage: Part 2

When I was still in Primary School, for a Christmas present - or perhaps a birthday gift, I forget which – somebody gave me my first set of oil paints, ten or a dozen small tubes of wonderful smelling paints with exotic names like 'Alizarin Crimson', Gamboge Yellow', 'Hooker's Green', 'Ultramarine Blue', and my all-time favourite, 'Venetian Red'.

The name meant nothing to me then, but I loved that rich and earthy crimson brown. The old masters used the pigment, called Venetian red because it was derived from almost pure ferric oxide supposedly quarried on the mainland in the Veneto district, to create their soft warm shadowy skin tones and rich velvety crimson and purple fabrics. Tints and shades and amalgams of this colour pervade and define the city of Venice itself; in its painted walls, its faded stone washes, in its brickwork baked from iron oxide tainted clay – even in the uniforms of the municipal workers.

The official city colours of Venice are this gorgeous red, together with this harmonized and almost perfectly complimentary green. Where else could winter protective clothing for garbage collectors also be a fashion colour statement?

Interestingly, the only municipal workers I ever saw trundling their garbage carts (when they weren't leaning on them talking into their cell phones) over the bridges and through the alleyways and side streets were young women, like these two, on their way back to the garbage barge.

Only in Venice.

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