|Jenny Balfour Paul with the manuscripts of Thomas Machell - Photo Tim McLaughlin|
Last night Jenny Balfour Paul took the audience through a crash course in the wonder of indigo. She then proceeded to an in-depth tour of the life of Thomas Machell and its strange and often uncanny parallels to her own life.
The evening was introduced by Tim McLaughlin. We reprint that introduction here:
As an introducer your main task is to say who someone is. This daunting form of micro-biography is actually impossible. It is a testament to the power of certain people’s prose that anyone believes them. I mean really, how can you encircle a life within such a small space, using only words to give it shape.
But the question of “who someone is” cannot be unasked. IN the curious among us it awakens an appetite. An expectation. A thirst for ... for what? What indeed could be a satisfactory answer to this question, the question of who someone is.
The question begins to gain momentum ... like a wooden boat pulled by the current on a wide, expansive river. Because the question of who someone is – is really the question of who we are.
I think tonight’s speaker, Jenny Balfour Paul understands this, perhaps better than any of us.
Jenny is a leading authority on indigo: its history, its use by cultures across the world, its varieties, and the unusual chemistry of its extraction, transport, trade and use. At Maiwa, when someone wants to know all about indigo we ask simply: have you read Jenny Balfour Paul’s book? The blue dependency that orchestrates her life is stronger than she is. As I think you will find out tonight.
The list of Jenny’s accolades and accomplishments is long so I will only tell you a few. She is a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and the Royal Asiatic Society, she is also an Honourary Research Fellow at Exeter University, And, in one of the unusual connections which seems to characterize her life, she found herself working with musician Yo Yo Ma on the Silk Road Connect project.
But who is she?
Permit me to answer this question by saying — Jenny is the most curious person I have ever met. She has a voracious curiosity. In conversation she can be almost predatory in her questioning. She has a profound inquisitiveness.
In the hallowed hallways of the British Library, Jenny was given a manuscript worthy of her curiosity. And that story of that manuscript on her life, is the story of Deeper than Indigo, and that story it is why she is with us tonight. Please join me in welcoming Jenny Balfour Paul.