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Colors of the World

March 06, 1994|Colman Andrews

Colorful. Now there's an overworked adjective, especially in the travel-writing game. The festival is colorful, the old quarter is colorful, the populace itself is colorful, the surrounding hills and meadows are just one big blaze of color. . . .

Still, sometimes it's hard to know what else to say. Some places are just more brilliantly or more beautifully painted than others--and the paint often proves unexpectedly indelible. Long after dimmer memories have stopped echoing through our synapses, we're likely to recall the hue and dye of here or there. Color, simply put, is more immediately sensual than shape. It burns straight into the brain, not bothering with the mental algebra and geometry we need to make sense of, say, the form of things.

Sailing past a forest on a Russian riverbank, our mind records the deep green and golden chiaroscuro of the sun-dappled trees, not the height of the trunks or the vein patterns on the leaves. Back from a voluptuous tropical Mexican seaport, we may not recall the stylistic period or the architect's name, but we can still feel the radiating colors of the buildings--cobalt blue, hot pink, lurid purple, a green that could have been invented by Matisse. Even a city best known for sound and flavor imprints a gaudy souvenir of motley visual images (costumes, foodstuffs, faces) on the traveler's mind. Color isn't just immediate, it's fast.

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