Saturday 21 January 2017

The setting sun

If you were paying attention, you will have noticed that in the final sentence of my last post I snuck in something about sunsets, and if you were really really paying attention you will also remember that in a post prior to that I threatened to write about sunsets. That threat is now real.

But who doesn’t like a good sunset? One of the joys of sunsets is that are available to almost everyone. OK perhaps not coal-miners on afternoon shifts, or that guy who tried to blow up a plane with his shoe, nor the 1.3bn people that live in a smog cloud in China, but nonetheless you would have to say pretty universal in terms of access. You don’t need money or time especially, you just go outside at the appropriate time of day and look up. Or straight. Whatever.

I love a good sunset, there is something very appealing about that shimmering ball dropping below the horizon. It just kind of draws you in. Sunrises are good too of course, but require you to not be in bed, so for some peculiar reason I am more drawn to sunsets, and I if I am out and about I often make an effort to go and appreciate one, especially if the skyline is dramatic. And even more especially if there is NO skyline, for instance ocean sunsets. The best.

Los Cristianos, Tenerife

During the day you are never aware of the sun “moving”. Yeah yeah I know, it doesn’t move but we do. If this is news to you I am sorry. Sure, you are aware that in the morning it was shining right in your face as you drove east to work, and when you next looked at around lunchtime it was towards the south, but you don’t actually see it move (partly this may be because you can’t actually look at it). However at sunset you become acutely aware of the sun moving, and as you approach the very end it seems to speed up, with those last moments passing incredibly quickly. I find it mesmerising. It also appears to get bigger the closer it gets, I've seen some enormous ones.

Cape Greco, Cyprus

At times it can of course simply be a damp squib. The other day I drove hell for leather to Ponta Do Pardo, the lighthouse at the western end of Madeira, as I have a bit of a thing for the sun setting over the sea and it’s not often I get to see one. It was a clear day, not a cloud in the sky, and as I arrived at the spot there was the glowing orange ball. Everything was set. And then it just disappeared! Distant murk over the horizon totally obscured what could have been utterly magical. But for all the misses – using language we all understand let’s call them dips – there are some spectacular successes, glorious evenings that make you shiver. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, majestic in their breadth and scope, and being somewhere special for one is a privilege.

Jebel Hafeet, Abu Dhabi

The light changes constantly, the hues differ by the minute. The colours are hugely varied, especially once the sun has actually disappeared below the horizon, and it is probably this that is the best period of all. Not even that low layer of clouds can defeat this, instead they act as an enormous reflector creating amazing sky-scapes. Shifting patterns, reds to oranges, pinks and purples. I swear it sometimes gets lighter, more vivid, than when the sun had been above the horizon.

For all the images I have posted here, cameras cannot really do a proper sunset justice much of the time. For starters it is an experience that requires other senses as well. Fading warmth on your face, the first slight chill. Why does the wind seem to get up when the sun goes? Silence if you have chosen your spot with care. waves crashing, and in warm countries sometimes the sounds of the night - insects, frogs and who knows what else. Mostly however the lens simply can't pick up the same width or the depth of the landscape as your eyes do, nor the shimmer, the pulses. For all of the distance involved, it really is something that you are a part of and that does not translate perfectly onto a two-dimensional screen.

The Shard, London

Sumburgh, Shetland