Ernesto Rodrigues, Guilherme Rodrigues, Wade Matthews, Bechir Saade





















Imagine we’re eating dinner at Miguel Martins’ house. Imagine the wine is extraordinary. Miguel has brought me to Portugal to play three concerts, and I end up playing four —a real treat. Béchir Saade, the woodwind improviser from Beirut is in town. We’ve just played with Ernesto and Guilherme Rodrigues and now we’re dining together.
Imagine Guilherme comments on the curious relationship that color has always had with music. Miguel mentions synesthesia, the peculiar tendency to see specific colors in one’s mind’s eye when hearing music. Ernesto recalls Scriabin’s famous color organ, and Wade says that, personally, he prefers the parody that French author and trumpeter, Boris Vian, makes of it in L’automne à Pekin, where one of the characters invents a piano that prepares a different cocktail each time you play it.
Somebody brings up the idea of color in musical groups: Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Yellowjackets, Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers… Miguel mentions the Blue Devils, with which jazz trumpet prodigy, Clifford Brown, made his first recording. And of course, there are the Blues, an entire genre of music named after a color.
Then we get onto song titles: Blue Moon, Blue Velvet, The Blue Danube, White Christmas, Nights in White Satin, Yellow River, Yellow was the Color of my True Love’s Hair; Green Grow the Rushes –Oh; The Red, White and Blue Forever; Itsy-Bitsy, Teeny-Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini; Black, Brown and Beige Suite; The Purple People Eater; There’s a Red House Over Yonder —there was even a hit in Spain in the nineteen sixties called Black is Black (I want my baby back…).
That’s when we realize there’s something missing. Un hunh, that’s right. There’s no orange! Béchir says: “What about Orange was the Color of her Dress, then Blue?” — a fantastic Mingus composition. Everybody nods their head, but nobody can think of anything else, not one more song, not one more group, not one more album with the word “orange.”
Wade points out its very special status in English: it’s the word nothing rhymes with! Songwriters avoid it like the plague because it just sits there, waiting. Even Plato couldn’t mate it with anything! He had to cut it in half and then posit it’s possible reunification in order to use it as a metaphor for any sort of linkage at all.
Now imagine we’re having dinner at Ernesto’s house. His wife, Cristina, is always wonderfully generous with us, and she and Ernesto have put on a great spread. Imagine how good the wine is! Somebody asks Ernesto where the word “Portugal” comes from. He says most etymologist trace it to Portus Cale, a combination of the Latin word (“Portus”) for port and the Greek one (“Calle”) for beautiful. This links Portugal to the Greco-Roman tradition to which much of “cultured” Europe likes to trace its origin: Praxitiles, Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoras, Pliny the Elder, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Virgil, Plutarch, Laertes; the list is seemingly endless. Of course, historically, the Iberian Peninsula was a part of the Roman Empire, as well as a home to the Carthaginians and the Phoenicians, not to mention a considerable cast of Goths, Vandals, Visigoths and other barbarians from the North.
“What about the South?” asks Béchir. That’s right: Iberia underwent almost eight centuries of Arab occupation. Eight centuries; a very long occupation by one of the most culturally and scientifically advanced civilizations in the world at that time. By the year 940, the Arab-ruled city of Córdoba had a public library with over 440,000 books! And there were 69 other public libraries in the same city at that time, not to mention streetlights, 300 public baths and numerous other modern conveniences sadly lacking on the other side of the Pyrenees then, and even much later. As Dr. Abdullah Mohammad Sindi —with whom Béchir could have studied at the London School of Economics, but didn’t— points out, the first street light in London didn’t appear until seven hundred years later. Still, despite the fundamental importance of Arab inventions like algebra, trigonometry, the clock, the zero, the decimal system or algorithms, even today, many Iberian Europeans tend to look almost exclusively to Greco-Roman culture to explain their cultural origins.
Imagine Wade points out that the star fruit of Iberia is, of course, the Orange —a visual metaphor for the Iberian sun that draws summer visitors from all over Northern Europe. Its name comes from the ancient Sanskrit narangah, traveling through Persian and Arabic to reach the Portuguese laranja —not so very far from the original Sanskrit.
Then Béchir pulls it all together, telling us that one of the Arab words for sweet orange is: bourtoughal, which is at least as close to “Portugal” as “Portus Cale.” Oranges are in season in January in Lisbon, and they are so sweet and delicious that we each have one for desert after every meal. Imagine these were our conversations while contemplating Apollo’s fruit, peeled and open, spilling its juices onto plates as white as Lisbon’s white winter light. Imagine.

Wade Matthews, March 2006, Madrid