off the grid (& in the caravaggio darkness)

we forget, i imagine (and i imagine), what it must have been like before electricity changed the way we see the world after dark or in the dark corners during the day; how dark it must have been, even in the grandest of homes (perhaps not blois, versailles, or the louvre, but yet they had dark corners too), to complete even the most mundane of tasks in the ombré of a cloudy day.

how precious then were candles, a fireplace, a stove or grate; let’s even go further back in history before kerosene and gaslight.  when night descended your point of view changed.  have you noticed how darkness leaches out the color of life?  not only do you lose your sense of the color of things, but their shapes shift subtly too, everything has softer edges, even with a full moon in a cloudless sky bouncing its shadow light off the ocean, even then your perception of reality is hazy.

we lost power the other day (along with about 1.6 million other customers, sdg&e didn’t calculate the actual total of people affected by the black out) late in the afternoon and as the sun pulled its light away from us, and the shadows in the house deepened, we brought out candles and started lighting them, two in the kitchen, one in the sunroom (inadequately named at this  point, but darkroom or moonroom seem so wrong a description of a square space that has two walls of windows, created specifically to let light in, not out–regardless of the fact that the acacia completely shades the room in the afternoon–perhaps then shaderoom?  i don’t know), a votive in the living room, three pillars lit in the bathroom, spreading their light into the hall.

instead of matches, we have those lighters used specifically for grills, candles and fireplaces, what with their long necks and their trigger and lever that must be activated simultaneously for the damn thing to send out its flame, the click, click of the ignition the only sound you could hear as we moved through the house.  and now the candlelight, flickering and weaving its special magic on the walls, the objects near it warmer in tone than if lit with electric light–even with dimmers (you do have dimmers, don’t you?  lighting is so important, that mood you want to set cannot be accomplished without a full bank of dimmers for every room.)  surprising to me was how much heat even the smallest of candles produce on a hot summer night; place three or four pillars together and you might as well have lit the fireplace.

but along with the softer edges and the subdued lighting comes quiet conversation, no competition from the TV or the radio or the computer, no shouting at each other, the dogs snoring on their beds (what do they know about the lack of electricity?) the internet a distant memory — at least while there’s no electricity — your life slows down, becomes a little drowsier, doing the dishes more of a pleasure than a chore, because you’re not missing anything.


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© Robert Patrick, and Cultivar, 2008-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, photographs and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Patrick and Cultivar with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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