Two years ago, I’d given a lecture entitled Cold White, on the subject of a very ancient guild of Lapp painters. These painters only ever used the colour white, but in it you can find just about every shade of the ice field.
At the end of my lecture I made the acquaintance of Professor Bobroff, of the University of Paris-Sud; he is a physicist, specializing in cold research. Professor Bobroff said he was very surprised at how intensely I had launched into my topic, as if I were literally “possessed” by it. While he was listening to me speaking, it had occurred to him to try out an experiment with me. He explained to me how, in his field, some great discoveries come about through some chance, or even unlikely encounters. His intuition was that the presence at his laboratory of someone as “exalted” as I was might have an effect on the genius loci, and possibly take his research off in some unexpected directions.
He invited me to spend a few months in the experimental wing of the Cold department, doing the same working hours as any other researcher, and taking home the same pay. What I did with my time was entirely up to me.
Little did I know what I was letting myself in for by accepting.
Even though I was only required to turn up, “solely in charge of my cold white”, I wanted to do my best. So, to keep my mind alert, I sat myself down between a column and an emergency staircase where I could keep a watchful eye on the monitor showing the large cooling tank. I intended, if ever I saw anything remotely interesting in those vapours verging on absolute zero, to jot it down in my notebook
But all I ever saw was a void. I found nothing but my own life devoid of meaning.
I became more and more withdrawn; I even sank into deep melancholy; that “cold humour” as it was called in the Middle Ages. And I noted my moods – my “soul states” – in my notebook; I started doing some basic research into my innermost being.
On my last day, Professor Bobroff told me it was still way too soon to assess the impact of my stint at the laboratory.
But I couldn’t leave it at that.
I learnt the content of my notebook off by heart and decided to present it in the form of a lecture; more or less the way I’d done with my Lapp painters.
The reason I wanted to take on this adventure was because I am still hoping that by some incredible stroke of luck, there will be a cold specialist listening to me who might be overwhelmed by what I have to say.