The Name…

“Adventures in Yellow” was the title of our previous endeavour when we rode the same two bikes from Chile to Alaska. OK the bikes are bright yellow and we were on what proved to be quite an adventure but the origin of the name, which was actually gifted to us before we’d even left home, came from a chance encounter with a Van Gogh art exhibition in London as told in chapter 1 of “Leprechauns in Latin America”…

AIY Book 1 Front

“Ambling around Trafalgar Square that last Sunday morning, a huge ugly mural caught our eye. Plastered across a plywood hoarding despoiling the front of the National Gallery, the mural was themed around one painting: a typical Van Gogh of a poorly drawn chair, sat on a red tile floor, angled against the pale blue background of an interior wall. The chair was painted in vivid yellows, enhanced by thick child-like outlines in blue, brown and black that emphasised its shape and presence. A pipe and what looked like a crumpled hanky lay abandoned on its wicker seat. Strange subject for a painting, why paint a chair?

As I studied it, the lines of the painting drew me into the canvas, begging further questions. The chair looked recently vacated although the position of the articles on the seat suggested a temporary abandonment and that the sitter would return soon to finish the pipe. Who had been sitting there and where had they gone? What urgent errand demanded their attention? The chair was an ordinary, sturdy, everyday pinewood chair, the kind found in rustic kitchens just about everywhere. A good ‘sit up proper and eat up your dinner’ chair, or maybe the sort of chair to set yourself down in to tell an expectant audience a good story or two…

The display was titled ‘An Adventure in Yellow’ and the subject was the artist’s passion for the colour, explaining how it ran as a theme throughout his short, tragic life. Van Gogh was treated for a wide range of mental disorders, including schizophrenia, neurosis, and epilepsy, and his doctor administered doses of digitalis as an ‘anti-manic’ potion. Digitalis is a drug distilled from poisonous foxglove flowers and is known to cause xanthopsia, an optical defect in which the yellow-blue vision range is distorted and bright lights appear glary and haloed. The world appears as if viewed through a yellow filter and xanthopsia has been offered as one possible explanation for the tragic genius’s peculiar style.

The hoarding described how yellow is the colour traditionally used to represent the sun, happiness and also, apparently, madness. Van Gogh loved the colour, especially during his time in the South of France where he applied it most famously in his portrayals of sunflowers and cornfields. It was also the colour of his death; he killed himself ‘in yellow’, putting a shotgun to his head in a field of wheat.

Standing there on that grey November morning other happy associations with yellow sprang to mind. Daffodils and buttercups, bananas and lemons, smiley faces and submarines. Or for those whose glass is half empty, cowardice and running away, fever and disease, sulphur and toxic odours. On this day, ‘Adventure in Yellow’ held for us a more immediate and personal association. Somewhere at sea, a battered rusty cargo hulk was braving mid-Atlantic swells with two yellow motorcycles crated up on deck. Both bikes had departed on a two-month voyage to Chile via the Panama Canal for the start of our Pan-American Adventure. We had been planning the trip for over a year: to ride from Chile to Alaska on a journey we estimated would cover 22 000 miles through some of the hottest, coldest, wettest and driest conditions on Earth. Then it struck me: ‘Adventures in Yellow’ – what a wonderful title for our enterprise!”

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