Shadows bring everything to light


Gentle reader: When you look back upon your life (with or without a sense of shame), are there any memories so filmically perfect you can’t believe they actually happened to you? (Let’s just concentrate on the good things that have happened to you here… there’s plenty of room elsewhere  to focus on life’s less enjoyable lessons).

Bicycling through SE Portland, Oregon in the dead of night* with my great friend Hang and two of her housemates back in September 1998 (en route to a very late-opening Cajun restaurant) is one such memory for me. It seemed even then that magical moments like that are all too rare. It seems like a sequence from a film when I look back on it. The streets had a character and the air had a flavour that just isn’t there in the daylight.

The real character of any place is allowed to breathe in the night. Shadows bring everything to light.

The city is at its most earthly and unearthly at night
These memories came back strongly to me when I read a marvelous Guardian article on nightwalking last weekend.

“The city is at its most earthly and unearthly at night,” says its author, Matthew Beaumont**. He describes how, in the smallest hours of the London night, a sense of the real, living earth beneath the city’s endless concrete, brick and tarmacadam returns:

“It is not quite the same at night. At 2am, in the empty streets, no longer fighting against the traffic of cars and commuters, the solitary pedestrian’s feet begin to recall the ‘real earth’. In the abstracted, monochromatic conditions of the nighttime, it becomes more apparent that a sloping road curves over the sleeping form of a hill and tracks the course of an underground stream.”

Golfing with the spirits
To pretty much anyone – myself included, until I read his autobiography – Van Halen singer David Lee Roth seems the loudmouthed bozo show-off’s loudmouthed bozo show-off. His book Crazy From The Heat somehow achieves the unthinkable.

It reveals that not only is Roth fully aware that he might just come across as ever so slightly like a loudmouthed bozo show-off, but this is also quite deliberate. Whilst embodying at all times the loudmouthed bozo, etc, he is at the same time disciplined to the point almost of insanity (or at least of advanced eccentricity)***, and maintains some idiosyncratic yet oddly wise views and habits. Case in point, Roth more than rivals Beaumont in conjuring up the real magic of what can be seen in the dark of night when describing his decades-long way of getting to know each city on his tour itinerary via repeated nocturnal bicycling through its streets.

Quoth Roth:

“By now, I’ve seen most of the world by night, by bicycle, when it’s fairly well vacated from human beings. It’s a special kind of experience, because it’s not cluttered with the humanity. Leaves a lot more space for history. Leaves a lot more space for mystery, you know, when it’s quiet and electrically lit. There’s shadow. There’s beauty in shadows. It’s in the shadows where you find the history, where you find the legends and the stories. You don’t find that under a bright light. You don’t find that during the light of day. […] If you want to go stand on the parapets of Edinburgh Castle with all the same guys who stood on those parapets from the day they declared the building finished, don’t go for the lunch break. Go as the sun’s going down. Ride your bike right up next to it just before the sun’s coming up. Same thing for St Andrew’s Golf Course in Scotland. If you want to golf with the spirits, you go at dawn just before the light is full, ‘cause they’re all still there, every one of them.”

There’s beauty in shadows. This is why I love the endless night-time of winter, and can take or leave our recent return to British Summer Time. But eventually the nights will draw in once more. Shadows bring everything to light. Shadows bring everything to life.

* I was quite taken aback by the Simpsons episode in which hipsters colonise Springfield, to discover that midnight bike riding is apparently “a thing” for the hipsteratically inclined. It is my belief that they were not back in 1998. Although that, in itself, probably sounds like a hipsterful claim that I was doing it before it was even “a thing.” Hataz gon’ hate.

** Beaumont has penned a book entitled Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London, which is next up on my to-read list, following Kim Gordon.

*** I dearly love Roth’s contention that he will never experience writer’s block as he keeps himself grounded on tour by insisting on getting on his knees and scrubbing every inch of every stage some hours before showtime. You close the book realising that, in all probability, he actually does do this.

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