July 29, 2016

Horse 2141 - Ten Things I Like: No.4 - I Like The Dark

In the middle of winter, I leave the house under cover of darkness. The temperature is always coldest just before the sun rises in the morning and I find that the tips of my fingers begin to burn with the beginning of frostbite. In the evening, I also leave work under the cover of darkness and even though Mrs Rollo spends her time worrying about me, I rather like the darkness. Not because I want to exact some sort of nefarious scheme but because I think that it looks pretty.
A little over a century and a half ago, the best that we could do in lighting up the world was either gas lamps or perhaps chemical filaments. With the exception of the red glows which came from coal powered factories, most of the world was pretty dark at nighttime. When Edison or Swann came along and brought light into the world via the new electric illumination, the world didn't quite instantly change but in the land of today, which was yesterday's tomorrow, our nights are brighter than any century before.

If you're flying over Sydney in a 747 in the daytime, apart from the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, the rest of Sydney may as well be just a cut and paste in Photoshop, three hundred times over; I think that it is a mostly boring sight. At nighttime though, it changes from three hundred suburbs to several ribbons of light. The unrelenting stare of 580nm wavelength light, gives the ribbons a mostly yellow stain but occasionally you can see snakes of red and white, slink their way around as they are watched over by red and green eyes.
On the weekends, little pools of green will spontaneously appear from the darkness and if you were close enough, you'd hear them roaring as crowds inside, make various noises depending on the rise and fall a sportsball game. Meanwhile, the empty towers of industry, where numbers are pushed between them during the day, stand balefully in grey blue, as they wait for their masters to return on Monday and start pushing numbers around again anew.

I like that when you are driving at nighttime, although the world is a little more dangerous, because the cloak of darkness reduces everyone to being just a pair of red lights in front and white lights behind, it very much equalises people's attitude to each other. During the day, I've been subject to some horrendously menacing driving, especially by people in big hulking four-wheel drives because I drive a wee little hatchback and the assumed perception is that I'm holding them up, despite doing ten clicks over the limit. At nighttime though, and likely due to bias because I love long distance driving, the whole experience turns into a far more orderly and polite affair.
Speaking of being in a car at night, as a kid I thought it kind of cool that even if you were going at full tilt down the motorway, you couldn't out run the moon. The yellow street lamps and various other pieces of road furniture like signs, would whizz underneath as the moon continued on its unstoppable journey. I can still picture in my mind's eye to this day what the shape of the rear passenger windows were in the back of my parents' car looked like.

I also especially love the contrast that you get between the darkness and a place that is all lit up. Perhaps this is why McDonald's does so well. Yes, the golden arches are an iconic symbol but the fact that you would been travelling along in the dark and that golden M shines out from a backdrop of black, surely has to add to the whole visual aesthetic of it all.
This also works equally well for petrol stations whose coloured signs beckon people from afar and their lights flood the forecourt as though they were some bizarre stage upon which the most boring play in the world is being performed. Caltex, BP, Shell, Mobil, 7-Eleven and stretching back into the vaults of my youth, the big yellow merino of Golden Fleece petrol stations, are some of the strongest brands in my mind.
I also love that when you are onboard a train and streaking across suburbia or perhaps the vast inky nothing of the country at night, that when you do arrive at a railway station, it is like entering a cathedral. Very big mainline terminals probably specifically designed their booking halls to echo these places for precisely that reason.

If you decide that you've had enough of the maelstrom of humanity that we've built for ourselves in the cities, provided you get out far enough, the night sky itself with the moon, the planets and their moons and the uncountable myriad of stars, leaves you with the sensation that we really do live on a small thing suspended upon nothing. The Apollo 8 astronaut Jim Lovell remarked that he could cover everything with just his thumb and when Voyager 1 took its photograph looking back at the neighborhood that it had spent 13 years travelling through, Carl Sagan famously remarked that there we were, all of humanity, the entire of our history was all there suspended on a sunbeam on a "pale blue dot".

Even though the darkness provides a cover for all sorts of nefarious and dastardly purposes to be carried out, I still like the darkness. It is the darkness which gives you the calmness and serenity from which you can appreciate the moonlight and the stars. It is inside darkened rooms that we project moving pictures onto the silver screen, where we tell stories. It is the darkness that makes neon lights, light boxes and floodlights so pretty.
I like the darkness because it is the canvas upon which we paint with light.

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