One of the wonderful things about Bonaire is the splendid variety of colors on the island. Color is who we are. Just look off shore to that lovely sapphire blue water. Below it are crimson squirrelfish, multihued octopi and totally tubular soft coral pipes in vibrant purple. And the rainbow display continues on shore. Flamingos strut their stuff in proper pink. Troupials sing away the day in bright orange tuxedos. And the loras, our endangered parrots, boast a vivid feather collage in green, red, yellow and turquoise.
This explosion of chroma has a strong effect on the people of the island. Just look at how folks adorn themselves for events like Karnival or Maskarada. But color displays can be witnessed every day just by looking at island houses. Bonaire is historically famous for its mustard yellow that graces many of the older homes. Plus, households of today have broadened the palette to include happy blues, reds, and greens—just about any hue one can imagine. I like the personal statement. It reflects our culture and it is, oh so Caribbean.
However, there has been a disturbing development lately that has caught my eye. I call it the graying of Bonaire. No, I am not referring to the aging of our population. Rather, this deals with many of the new buildings that are now painted in bland gray. From the bustling boulevard of Gobernador DeBrot to the shady lane of Kaya Pos Di Amor (the Well of Love street) this monochrome menace, this architectural impetigo if you will,appears to be increasing. Lighter shades of pale are on the rise and boy, is it ever boring.
Gray is a non-color, a mixologist’s compromise between black and white. It is considered by scientists to be an achromatic color, which literally means a ‘color without color’. As color historian Eva Heller, an author of numerous scholarly books about the effects of color on humans explains, “Gray is too weak to be considered masculine, but too menacing to be considered a feminine color. It is neither warm nor cold, neither material nor spiritual. With gray, nothing seems to be decided.”
But some people on Boniare have decided to make gray their ‘color’ of choice and I am baffled by this. Why paint something in a somber tone on an island that celebrates color? Gray reminds me of oppressive Rembrandt skies or monochrome pillbox bunkers that still line the North Sea coastline in anticipation of D-Day, not the sun-drenched Caribbean. Geographical misplacement comes to mind.
Psychologists have long pondered the interface between color and environmental stimuli and its significance. Research suggests that color selection can influence mood and behavior, stimulate the brain and body, and even affect one’s health. A recent study published in the journal, BMC Medical Research Methodology found that people with depression or anxiety were more likely to associate their mood with the color gray while happier people preferred yellow. And Dr. Emanuel Bubl of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at Albert-Ludwigs University of Frieburg in Germany showed that the retinas of depressed patients were less sensitive to contrast (eg. color variation). Bubl’s findings are intriguing in that they suggest a scientific basis to a cultural association between depression and a lack of color.
But I really needed some local perspective beyond Freud and the state-of-the-art psycho-babble about color. So I asked Arnold de Jong, owner of Krioyo Paints, if he has seen an increase in the purchase of gray at his store. Arnold came to the island twelve years ago so he has a long-term perspective on what color paint people prefer. “Yes, it started about 3 or 4 years ago when the Dutch designer, Piet Boon, started building a lot on Bonaire. His choice was gray for the exterior of many of his houses. Now people come to me and simply ask for “Boon grijs” (Boon gray). It is very popular.”
Ah, so I have discovered that gray has become a trendy color for some. This relatively new lack of color on our island really stands out due to where we live. I reminds me of a palm tree sans coconuts, a rum drink minus the punch, Mylie Cyrus without her now infamous, oversized rubber hand. Hmmmm.
Perhaps it is best that I conclude this tropical tirade with a quote about color and why it is important to our souls and well being. Georgia O’Keefe, a renowned American painter who paradoxically was married to Alfred Stieglitz, a pioneering black and white photographer, once said “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.”
I say let the discussion begin. Let us keep our island colorful, vibrant and true to Bonaire’s culture and where we live, the Caribbean. Yes, let the sun shine in.