Monday, March 10, 2008

Iris and Ruby and sand

Do you ever think about sand? Okay, maybe while you're at the beach. But it's probably not a daily concern. You can't help thinking about sand, however, once you're deep into the exotic world of Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas. Because most of the novel is set in Cairo, Egypt—right on the edge of the Sahara Desert. And then there's that terrific scene where Iris and Ruby nearly get swallowed up in a major sand storm.

Naturally, being the curious sort I am, I began to reflect on sand and trekking the Internet to learn more. There is certainly a lot of it, on land and undersea. But how much? I don’t think anyone knows. (I tried to find out but couldn't.) There is probably just too much of it. There is sand even under the ice of the Antarctic, which is, itself, the world's largest desert—and the setting of Rosie Thomas’s last novel, Sun at Midnight. (I detect a trend.)

Sand, of course, is nothing more than loose formations of small particles of broken up rocks and minerals. But there are many different kinds of sands, I've learned, of many different and often striking colors. There are even people who like to collect sand. Really. They're called arenophiles, or: “sand lovers.” This brings out the word nerd in me. I had to look this one up. Arena actually just means "sand" in Latin. Since they didn't have AstroTurf in those days, the ancient Romans used sand as the groundcover of choice—to soak up, no doubt, all the nasty aftereffects of gladiatorial combat. Over the years, arena has become a sort of shorthand term for any sort of stadium or large stage or performance area.


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