Polar Night – A Guide to the North for Lost Travellers

November 10, 2005

You arrived in the city without a map. You anticipated a loss of direction but you forgot that the nights are all so long here, in the North. Here you have lost the edges of the day. There is nothing to stay your pace so you set out on the streets and the air is wet and close and there is no end to the grey of the sky – it has washed the day away, and the streets away, and the lanky sway of the shapes of people in the fog doesn’t disguise the fact that it has washed their faces away. Empty cabs drift by with their beacons lit, but there are no eyes to meet yours and no signal can penetrate, so you keep walking and you think you might have seen the sun, just around the edge of a building, but there isn’t even a window on the brick there to blame for your gross desire for light.

Here the streets hum and the people move the way trees move, and there is a flower shop on every corner spilling blossoms into window-square puddles of luminescence and there are strings of colored bulbs in between builldings and they light the torches sometime in the afternoon, but you’re not sure what time it is because you haven’t got a map, you haven’t got the sun, and you have no faces from which to guess the hour. The sidewalks are papered with a palimpsest of leaf fall and there are slim white birches in the park glowing within a veil of gold and the loveliness of all this color amid the grey begins to hurt you so you find the oldest cafe in the city, and you walk in soaked with the air and lean for a moment against the sibilant murmur of northern voices warbling in unseen rooms. The espresso is good and you’ve never seen candles glow so beautifully in the afternoon, and you are nearly certain now that you can find somewhere to go, even with no sun to guide you. The grey afternoon presses against the glass of the windows in the cafe like a hungry cat, and the coffee has turned to copper in your mouth, so you order something a little stronger and you are sitting still in a room warmed with bodies and smoke but you feel as though you’re moving through water and when the aproned lady asks you to pay you keep searching for a face and the words in your mouth are drowned and distant and taste of metal and you step back outside and the air is too close and there are shapes in the fog and these streets keep changing on you as soon as you think you can read the signs.

This particular street takes you to the palace in the park, but the king is not at home today and the ponds have all been emptied for the winter and you wonder at the kindness of monarchs who take away the reflecting grey and leave pools of brilliant leaves in its place, and you begin to disbelieve in the sky and suspect that if there was once light this far
north, it must have come from the trees. Everywhere there is not grey there is some gold and the startling quiet of gulls walking in state along the park path. You have forgotten you are near the sea. The gulls are misplaced as you are misplaced and you find yourself in the center of the city, under a solitary neon sign twinkling an advert for chocolate, standing still against the cinematic flicker of people moving in the fog, and there is water on your face where the grey condenses and beads against your skin as though you were glass, as though you were a window against which the light of the distant northern sun is reflected without your knowledge. You wonder for a second if a window ever knows the sun it reflects, until the greyness overtakes you and you have forgotten your face and you slow your step because all streets are the same street and you will keep walking until you find a door that opens into a room where the people flicker like candles and go out, one by one, as the night wears on.

One thought on “Polar Night – A Guide to the North for Lost Travellers”

  1. I was at your how to eat a pomegranate website and got linked to this website!! What you have done in life has really inspired me. I’m 20 yrs old and I want to travel in life!!! How was Norway?? I’m Norweigen blood! yours truely, blonde hair blue eyes. My families name is Nergaard. Goes many generations back! well I wish you all the luck in your life and travel. Sincerely, from British Columbia, Canada!

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