the yellow's the comforter

kahroba

Senior Member
Persian
When the taxis squawk, the yellow will be comforter!

Dear friends
Here's a phrase in "The Camera Eye (39)", "1919", by John Dos Passos:

Time: 1919
Location: Paris
(as you know, there's no punctuation in "The Camera Eyes")
a tiny siren hoots shrilly traffic drowsily rumbles clatters over the cobbles taxis squawk the yellow's the comforter through the open window the Louvre emphasizes its sedate architecture of greypink stone between the Seine and the sky
and the certainty of Paris
Please tell me what those words suggest (the yellow's the comforter); could it be the color of Paris taxis in 1919?
 
  • Elwintee

    Senior Member
    England English
    When the taxis squawk, the yellow will be comforter!

    Dear friends
    Here's a phrase in "The Camera Eye (39)", "1919", by John Dos Passos:

    Time: 1919
    Location: Paristaxis squawk the yellow's the comforter
    (as you know, there's no punctuation in "The Camera Eyes")


    Please tell me what those words suggest (the yellow's the comforter); could it be the color of Paris taxis in 1919?
    In the absence of punctuation I'm guessing, Karoba, but I think it reads: "...taxis squawk, the yellow's the comforter". The taxis are hooting their horns, and the yellow light (i.e. amber, in the traffic light's red, amber/yellow, green) let's them through. Do you think that's a possibility?
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Ouch, that's a tricky one. After doing a bit of research all I came up with was this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Battle_of_the_Marne which shows a Parisian taxi cab vintage 1914 ~ about as red as red can be. I suppose it's possible that that was just one colour of Parisian taxi and there may well have been yellow ones.
    I also think Elwin's theory is entirely possible.
    It's that word comforter which has me totally mystified.

    EDIT: OH YEAH ~ CLANG!!!! GOT IT! I'm sure Elwin's right: DosPassos is likening the taxi cabs' squawks to the skriking of babies, and the traffic lights changing to yellow are what 'comforts' them, i.e. stops them squawking.
    So it's comforter in the AE sense (what we call a dummy), the thing you shove in a baby's gob to stop it skriking ~ rather than just some general 'comforting thing'. Or is that a pacifier in AE? ~ confusing myself now:eek:
    (At least I'm pretty sure that's right.)
     

    kahroba

    Senior Member
    Persian
    It's so intresting and convincing at the same time. I don't know how the terrafic lights worked in Paris back in 1919, but here in Iran, the terrafic lights become orange (let' say yellow) only before they go red and not before green.
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    Good question, Karoba, though I wasn't born yet then.
    But I have access to Google. :)
    I was precisely searching for this information.

    So here goes.
    First electrical red traffic light in the world: Clevland, 1914.
    This device reached Paris in 1923
    EDIT: Just a red light and (perhaps) a green light. No yellow light as yet.
    First 3-colour traffic lights in Paris: 1934.

    Before 1923 in Paris, they had a system of red and white disks, which they changed manually.
    Source
     

    KHS

    Senior Member
    I am erasing all my previous message as the fact that the yellow light didn't exist in Paris when the poem was written finally sank in. Back to square one.

    This is a long shot, but a "comforter" in AE is similar to a duvet (feather-filled - or synthetic, these days - bed cover). If he's listening in bed, I guess (still don't think this is likely to be right, but...) he could see his yellow comforter while looking out the window & listening to the traffic ?????

    In fact, I guess he doesn't have to be in bed, just in a room with a comforter, and have it catch his eye as part of the entire scene.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I don't suppose it could have been that there were gendarmes (or someone else) standing at road junctions with flags? [Sorry if this is daft: I'm not well-up on the History of Traffic Management].
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    OH WOW! ~ I've just had another thought which might be either brilliant or rubbish.
    Ignore what I said about comforter in #3 above:eek:. Isn't AE comforter a kind of blanket that you give to little kids to keep them quiet? ~ I'm thinking of that little boy in the Peanuts cartoon strip (Linus?)
    SO: ... erm ... might 1919 be too early for Paris to be covered in a haze of low-lying yellow smog? If not, maybe we could interpret it as a blanket of yellow smog muffles the noise of the taxi cabs' squawks.
    Brilliant? Twaddle? Vote now:D

    EDIT: OR the author, lying in bed in his room in Paris, is referring to his own blanket muffling the noise (when he pulls it up over his head) and the yellow is sunlight on said blanket.

    Ok, that's enough now, ewie.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    These two sites are helpful, suggesting as they do that the first traffic lights (red for stop, a bell for go) were not introduced into Paris until 1923, and that until then they used a system of red and white coloured disks. Don't miss the account of the exploding traffic light in London.

    http://www.linternaute.com/histoire/categorie/evenement/110/1/a/51593/invention_du_feu_rouge_electrique.shtml

    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feu_de_signalisation_routier

    So that theory about the amber light has to go, I fear. What a pity!

    P.S. I've just read Ewie's smog theory. But didn't smogs only start in the 1950s? Eliot talks of a yellow fog in London in Prufrock, which dates from 1917.
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    I can confirm there were yellow cabs in Paris. But I'm not sure when.
    In the 30's, certainly. And as far back as 1927. Before? Can't say for sure.
    As already mentionned, Les Taxis de la Marne (1914) were red.
     

    kahroba

    Senior Member
    Persian
    I'm not sure if this might help but lots of Camera Eyes of Dos Passos are painted with colors: look at this at the beginning of Camera Eye 39 (just before the above quote):
    daylight enlarges out of ruddy quiet very faintly throbbing wanes into my sweet darkness broadens red through warm blood weighting the lids warmsweetly then snaps on
    enormously blue yellow pink
    today is Paris pink sunlight hazy on the clouds against patches of robinsegg...
    the towboat shiny green and red chugs against the current towing three black and mahoganyvarnished barges their deckhouse windows have green shutters and lace curtains and pots of geraniums in flower
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Prosaic Loob chipping in.

    Maybe he's still in bed, and the yellow is the colour of the, erm, bedspread...?
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    Karoba's last post gave me an idea.
    Is this description situated in time?
    I mean, could it be the early morning? When the light shifts from pink to yellow.
    I can see no real reason for the stones to be greypink if it's later than, say, 7 a.m.

    In this case, the yellow could be the colour of the rising sun, or the colour it paints on the scenery. Something comforting, compared to the dull and grey pre-dawn hours.

    Following Loob's last post, it seems we're all warmin up to the idea that "through the open window" logically follows "the yellow"s the comforter". The open window could be his bedroom window. And it fits my own suggested interpretation as well.
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    Maybe this isn't something that makes sense culturally, but my first reaction was that someone had to be airing their blanket from a window.
     
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