Thursday, July 28, 2005
Putting the children to bed this evening around 9 p.m., I was feeling a bit exhausted, so I asked them to read to themselves. As we lay on the bed together in the gathering dusk, I was gazing blankly out of the skylight when I noticed how nice the clouds looked. When I say 'nice', I mean 'nice'. Nice like an impressionist painting is nice.
The evening sun was just starting to catch them and a breeze was blowing them steadily from left to right across the dark picture frame of the skylight. Sometimes, the passing cloud formations seemed to just frame themselves perfectly, then the composition disappeared again and once more they appeared ragged and unkempt.
In fact, this skylight was better than an impressionist painting because, here, you didn't have to wonder what the artist had left out, just beyond the frame. Instead, you knew it was about to slide into view.
I went and got my camera from downstairs and took a few photographs spaced at a couple of minute intervals. Difficult, because my youngest daughter, who is 3, generally likes to be in the frame when a photograph is taken...
At one point, a jet plane entered the bottom right corner of the picture and signed it with a small white tick.
Slowly, the clouds dispersed, like an audience leaving a cinema, trickling away into the night, until all that was left was the blank grey-blue screen, slightly grubby with city rain and the odd dead moth.
And if you have read Tristes Tropiques, as I am at the moment, you would know that it contains a chapter on sunset and sunrise, including, I imagine, one of the longest descriptions of a sunset ever written. It's around three pages long. Here's a fragment:
"Little by little, the profound structures of the evening withdrew. The mass which had occupied the western sky throughout the day appeared laminated like a sheet of metal illuminated from behind, first by a golden, then a vermillion, then a cherry, glow. Contorted clouds, which would eventually disappear, were already being melted by the glow, scoured by it and carried upwards in a whirl of wisps.
Innumerable networks of vapour suddenly appeared in the sky: they seemed to be distributed in all directions horizontally, obliquely, perpendicularly and even spirally. The sun's rays, as they gradually declined (like a violin bow which is placed at different angles to touch different strings), made each network in turn explode into a spectrum of colours that one would have said was the arbitrary and exclusive property of each."
I love the simile of the violin bow. Sometimes a simile is so strong that it can change your way of looking at things not only temporarily, but permanently. I think this is one of them. And there are others in Tristes Tropiques. I'll tell you about them someday.