In Search of Orange

The Rainbow Hunters:

One Mother. Two Boys.  A trip around the world in search of seven colours, the first pigments, made by the first colour men, raising money for the charity War Child as they go.


Cremona, Italy

As we walk down the windswept Via Francesco Robolotti, the sounds of sanding, sawing and chipping come through the open doorways of the violin workshops that line the street. The air is filled with the scents of turpentine and maplewood shavings.

Here in Cremona, northern Italy, countless stringed instruments have been made over the centuries, but the most famous were undoubtedly made by the Stradivari family, who made their name in the 17th and 18th centuries. Even to this day, no one knows what makes a Stradivarius violin sing the way it does; some believe it’s the wood used and the cut Antonio Stradivari developed. Others that it’s the Cremona varnish, flame coloured, bright as a tiger’s pelt that he made. The locals believe that once they discover the secret of the instrument’s colour, they can master and find the soul of any song.

So it is here that the boys and I find ourselves, on a blustery day, in search of a sunset orange, with only an age-old recipe for Cremona, dating back to 1747. Already we have got lost, and been turned away from three violin workshops, and now we are standing despondently outside The Stradivari Museum which is closed for the holidays. The boys press their faces to the glass, leaving smudge marks. You can see a Stradivarius locked in a tall glass cabinet at the back, but even from this distance you can see the shimmering stripes of gold and amber that run down its spine.

“You look for the Stradivarius?” an old man asks us, his eyebrows arched questioningly.

“We’re looking for Cremona,” I tell him. “The varnish that colours it.”

“Go to the pharmacy on Via Ceresole,” he advises. “Turn right across the Palazzo Comunale.”

We set off as he has directed, to where a neon cross flashes above a doorway. The pharmacy is cluttered with all things modern, with rows of toiletries and medicine. Not at all the sort of place where we might discover the secret of Cremona.

A short, bald man stands behind the counter, his chin covered by a thick, unruly beard, which seems to be compensate for the lack of hair on top. Tentatively I tell him of our quest, and immediately he waves us out across a small courtyard and into a dark, pokey outhouse. Our eyes blink in the dimness. Shelves, crammed with jars of aged amber flakes, powders of burnt yellow and red, liquids of rusted brown. It’s like walking from the present into the past; even the walls smell ancient, must scented with dust that has dampened and dried a thousand times over.

Dow, my eldest son, places our order: a cup-full of shellac flakes, half of sandarac and some wine spirit. “We have to crush the gums and then melt them over a fire,” Dow informs him, reading from our recipe.

“And I think you should try a little of this, and some of this,” the pharmacist says, reaching for a jar of amber, a jar of myrrh and ash. “And lastly,” he adds, “you must listen to this.”

The violin recording that he plays is Vivaldi’s Spring Allegro, full of hope and celebration. “Perhaps,” he says, “you will be the ones to discover the soul of the Stradivari.”


The Rainbow Hunters are raising money for War Child ( as they travel. War Child work in countries that have been devastated by armed conflict and help children suffering the worst effects of violence; child soldiers, victims of rape and abduction, disabled and street children. They provide vital care to a traumatised child and help them to rebuild their lost childhood. Their aim is a world in which the lives of children are no longer torn apart by war. If you would like to donate something please go to

Lindsay Hawdon’s debut novel, Jakob’s Colours, a story about a young gypsy boy during WWII, who uses a legacy of colour making, to survive, is out now with Hodder and Stoughton in the UK and with Quercus in the US.


About lindsayhawdon

Lindsay Hawdon is a writer of travel, adventure and fiction. She began travelling at the age of eighteen. After leaving school, she spent three years roaming around Europe, Africa and India, hitching rides and sleeping under canvass. Her travel column, An Englishwoman Abroad, began in The Sunday Telegraph in 2000 and ran for seven years. Throughout that time she travelled to every continent, ventured across every terrain, experienced every climate, writing stories about her experiences and the people she encountered along the way. She has since travelled to over sixty countries and writes regularly for The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Australian and The L.A Times. Her most recent column for The Sunday Times featured a fourteen month long trip around the Far East and Australia, accompanied by her two young children. Her debut novel, Jakob’s Colours, was published by Hodder and Stoughton in April 2015 and will be coming out in the US with Quercus in Jan 2016. She lives in Bath with her family. You can follow her on Twitter @lindsayhawdon
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8 Responses to In Search of Orange

  1. Andrea Lomdahl says:

    Hi Lindsay, I love reading your beautifully descriptive stories! Did Dow manage to make up the Cremona? Sounds fascinating. Love to you and the boys. From Andrea (minus Thomas who’s in New Zealand) x x x


    • Hello lovely Andrea,
      So nice to hear from you. This is a very late post but I was looking through them all and suddenly realised I had forgotten to post In Search Of Orange. Hope you are well, happy, not working too hard. Dow has his first band performance tonight, singing and guitar which he only learnt half a term ago!! Yikes!. We are hoping to come out to Oz this coming Xmas so will hopefully get to see you then. Lots of love to everyone. Linds x


  2. Paul Sinclair says:

    Hi Lindsay,
    Loved it! Thanks!
    Sounds like life is more as most of us live rather than out of a suitcase. Hope you are settled and not yearning for the next corner in the road!
    Off to Hungary and Berlin in March so getting my share too!
    Stay well and Hi to the young men!


    • Hello Paul,

      Lovely to hear from you. Though I accidentally published this post which of course happened months ago!! We are all well, trying to get settled, and boys thriving at new schools, so that’s all good. Think we might come to Australia next Xmas so perhaps we can catch up with you again then.
      Safe travels.
      Love Linds


  3. Jennie says:

    Life and landscape drawn about as well as is possible to, and as always needling at my desire to see more of our world and meet more of its people. Brilliant stuff Lindsay, Thankyou….
    Jennie Wilkinson…


  4. Karin Van den Bergh says:

    I so much loved your posts, Lindsay. I was wondering where “orange”, my inner child’s favorite was 😉
    Wish you all the best in the cause. I fully support and stay connected on fb (with your sis Gemma – she gets the word out 😉 )


    • Thank you so much, Karin. You’re very sweet to keep reading. I suddenly realised I hadn’t posted my Orange story and thought better late than never. Wishing you lots of luck with everything.
      Best Wishes, Lindsay


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