Saturday 21 June 2014

Midsummer Night

When people ask what it’s like to live in Ireland, I always start by talking about light. People find it strange – they think the most remarkable thing to an American would be the accents, or the culture, or the scenery.

The accents are lovely, but they vanish when you get used to a place; you no longer hear people speaking a foreign accent, and you simply hear the words. Within a year of moving here American accents started sounding a bit foreign  -- although of course I don’t hear myself having an accent, for one never does. In a sense, I miss Irish accents now, since it’s been so long since I’ve heard them.

I also love Irish culture, but it's not like the Far East; it's not radically different than American culture, especially to an Irish-American. Moreover, it’s mostly the older people who remember gathering to listen to a seannachai or used to dance sean-nos style; younger people are buying lattes and talking about the series finale of Mad Men. It’s not exactly like living in US suburbs – as I picked The Girl up from horse riding today, we passed a few castles and pulled up alongside two pony-wagons at the convenience store. Nonetheless, once television and other media become widespread, local culture begins to dissolve into the same Hollywood culture as everywhere else.

The scenery is great, but I must confess that those are the really good bits of scenery on sunny days. I select my subjects to be in keeping with the theme of the blog, so will take a photo of an old kitchen garden or forest, but not of the office building abandoned after the crash, with graffiti on its dismal concrete front.

No, the most dramatic change for me – the part that immigrants never get used to – is the latitude. We are a thousand miles from the Arctic Circle; at this latitude in North America there are polar bears. The Caribbean current bathes Europe in general and Ireland in particular, so we rarely go below freezing in winter, but still experience the subarctic light changes. I begin to understand why northern European cultures had special names for the eighteen-hour stretches of total darkness, what inhabitants of these islands a thousand years ago called the Mother Night.

This time of year disrupts our sleeping schedule for a different reason; daylight begins in the wee hours of the morning, and stretches late into the night. Now that I live here certain references make a new kind of sense to me; for example, Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Midsummer Night – tonight – is the shortest night of the year, so all the quarrels, reconciliations and musical-chair relationships took place in only a few hours. The very name of the play was a joke in itself, to emphasize how quickly love can change or disappear.

Today was Midsummer, and the countryside almost glowed under the brilliant warmth of the day that never seemed to end. This is a photo taken of our property at 11:30 pm – it’s still twilight with a bit of sunset behind the trees. Now the wheel turns again, and we head slowly into the Mother Night once more.


Anonymous said...

We don't get the extremes of light and dark here in Victoria Australia but being midwinter here at the moment we are experiencing our Mother Night here. It's getting light around 7am and it's dark by 6. Not so bad really but I remember visiting my MIL in London one midsummer and the 4am dawn was a killer as was the 10pm dusk. Challenging when one has a 10m old child determined to sleep only when it's dark.

Brian Kaller said...


It's a challenge with a ten-YEAR-old child as well. :-)

Happy winter solstice!

Anubis Bard said...

I hope you had a wonderful solstice. Here the sun is still sliding downward. I'll be spending Midsummer's short night flying - that is, if the thunder storms in Chicago clear. Somehow your Shakespeare reference makes that a more pleasant prospect . . .