Northern Nights

Tallinn, Estonia

Riga, Latvia

“It was one in the morning and the night’s black was flat. We were close to the Arctic Circle but we couldn’t see a thing. Were we close to the Arctic circle? I thought so. The air was mixed with night, the air sucking the breath from you. The landscape was soaked in a grey-black wash from which streetlights stared with a dull intensity. I pretended briefly we were on the moon, and the homes were labs for surveyors. Estonia could be the moon, I decided…”

“There is a corner of the sea that is deep but not so deep that it’s black. It’s the blue of a blueberry, violet in its heart, though this blue allows light through a million unseeable pores. The hue is evenly painted but electric, a klieg light pushing though a gel of cyan. But invading this blue are clouds of inky purple, billowing clouds in small waves, and they grow from below, splitting the sea between light above and dark growing from below.

Turn it upside down and this was the sky above Riga.”

-Dave Eggers, You Shall Know Our Velocity!, 2002

Yesterday, leaving work in the blue-gray evening of 4:30 pm, I was reminded of these beautiful passages from one of my favorite books. Maybe it wasn’t intended, but to me they read like travel advertisements for eastern Europe. I’ve always felt a kinship with other northern cultures because of our sheer audacity to live in such inhospitable climates. Although my hometown of Madison is on a similar latitude as say, Spain, our harsh winters definitely have more in common with places like Estonia. At present, Madison is covered in nearly two feet of fresh snow, and the downtown last night was gorgeous in its stillness, with all the coffee shops, bars and restaurants illuminated and beckoning. Cold temperatures bring out the clarity in everything- buildings, the sky, the ground, and I wished I had my camera with me to capture it all.

Except, lately I’ve been trying this thing- to really look at everything through a photographer’s eye without actually taking a photo. When you concentrate on your camera, you get distracted by getting the perfect shot and often miss the sounds, the smells, the panoramas or the details- and get so caught up in whatever is the subject of your lens. When I was in Europe a few months ago, I actually feel like I missed a lot because I was pretty obsessed with taking photos. I should have been viewing with both eyes. But on my very last day in Venice, on the boat ride through the canals to the airport, I took this one photo, and then put my camera away for good. I sat in the back of the little motorboat and just took it all in, noticing everything. It was Sunday morning, quite early, and the city that had been so jam-packed and so hot the day before was now serene in the early-morning light. And I relaxed, not worrying about taking photos, just making memories, little snapshots in my mind. The trouble is, you can’t share those, but sometimes you just have to be selfish and create those personal “photos”.

Luckily, these people decided NOT to be selfish and shared great photos of the aftermath of the Madison blizzard.

Photos credits, top to bottom:

aurora0borealis\’ photostream

europics\’ photostream

mjlmadison\’s photostream

Philgarlic\’s photostream

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