On most days I pass these two small green and gold mosaics on a concrete wall alongside Cardiff Central Railway Station. I feel sure that most people don’t notice them, as they are in such a grotty, neglected corner. But they catch my eye.
The railway station is a mess – or rather the area in front of it is a mess. The council dismantled much of the central bus station for refurbishment several years ago and have yet to decide what they are going to do with it.
The whole place is cluttered with double-parked taxis and the corner beside the mosaics is often used to store the metal barriers that keep back the hordes pouring out of the station when there is a football or rugby match at the Millennium Stadium, or a concert, or a royal visit.
I don’t know who the artist of the mosaic was. Perhaps someone out there can tell me?
I do now know where the word “mosaic” comes from, though. And I am surprised. I thought it was something to do with the technique, but it simply comes from the Greek word for a Muse, mousa, as such works of art were thought to be inspired by the Muses.
I see the mosaic virus that affects several plants has absolutely nothing to do with the Muses, but relates to the speckled/blotchy mosaic-like appearance of leaves affected by the virus.
When I see the word “mosaic”, the letters do still look like neat little pieces in a row to me as if the word isn’t onomatopoeic (sounding like what it means) but looking like what it means.
Somewhere in my mind there is another word for the little pieces used to make the pattern. I’m thinking “tesserae” (single “tessera”). I hadn’t realised the word comes from the Greek for “four”, because these pieces were usually square – having four corners.
Apparently in the hit book/movie The Hunger Games, the word “tesserae” is used for the tokens teenagers can sign up for to earn an extra meagre supply of food for their families, in exchange for chancing their lives extra times in the “reaping”.
The pictures I have seen of these tokens show them as discs, but methinks they would be more connected to their etymological roots if they were square – except I also find there were ancient Roman coins called “tesserae”, and they were circular, too…
Another scifi connection is “tesseract”, a word I first came across in the children’s book A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. The “tesseract” (again from the Greek word for “four”) is a three-dimensional model of a four-dimensional hypercube. I remember making one out of pipe-cleaners once. But unlike in the book, mine wasn’t a space/time portal.
Finally, going back to the original station mosaics, I think I was attracted by their colours – green and gold (and white and black). And I think I know what they remind me of. Do you remember Lyle’s Golden Syrup (treacle)?
The tin was (still is?) gloriously green and gold and of course carried the memorable picture of the rotting lion carcass in which bees have made their honeycomb, with the slogan “Out of the strong came forth sweetness.”
This is a Biblical reference to a story in chapter 14 of the Book of Judges in which Samson kills a lion while on a journey and when he passes it on the way back he sees the bees and turns the story into a riddle at a wedding: “Out of the eater came forth meat and out of the strong came forth sweetness.”
That’s enough to think about for one day…