Pardon my French 😉 But this morning’s foggy episode delivered one of the most satisfying photographic experiences, and human experiences, in a long, long, time.
France is in full lockdown. Again. As a substitute for proper crisis management. Following our usual habit of making serious people pay for idiots, we have asked cautious mask-wearers and social-distancers to stay home while no actual enforcement of lockdown rules prevent others from continuing their sharing of covid love.
I shouldn’t complain, we have it easy. Large garden, lovely weather, lovely scenery, two jobs and – so far – good health. We are the fortunate ones.
But it’s got to me this time. Unlike episode one, which felt like a breath of fresh and quiet air, like a nation working together to solve a problem and like a great break from the usual mad rush of life, this one carries more frustration than hope or relief.
Colours are everywhere around us in nature, but we can’t savour them. This season’s usual mix of puffy clouds and sun in the right alignment creates stunning sunsets and sunrises day after day but we can’t move about to enjoy them. The last flowers of the year and glorious berry displays are everywhere to be admired, but no one is there to do so.
It’s not being limited to an arbitrary daily hour in a kilometre range that bothers me. With some creativity, we can weave different paths at every possible opportunity into that space-time box. I can exercise at home. We have music, books and work. It’s fine.
And, as we celebrate the end of WWI, I know I have no right to complain. As our enlightened president celebrates a war novelist on this day, yes, I know I have no right to complain. After telling what has to be the most pampered youth in the history of mankind that “it’s really tough to be 20 in 2020”, Keiser Macaroon is now honouring a man who told of the atrocities of the war. As a way of reminding us they had it far worse back then. And they so did, so so soooooo much worse. I get it, I have no right to complain.
But knowing something intellectually and feeling it deep in your soul are two very different things. The human mind always strives for more. Be that through material possession, intellectual prowess, spiritual enlightenment or connection to nature, we need to (feel we) grow. This is why people are often far happier (in surveys at least) in developing countries than in rich ones. Growth is hope. And this feels like the opposite.
This morning, though, after a generous lie in with Natasha Pulley (well, with her novel, at least) a quick glance through the windows reveals a scene that grabs my attention immediately. Fog like we’ve not seen in a long time has fallen on the landscape, wrapping us in subdued colours and soft contrasts. It is exquisite.
I tell my long-suffering wife to wait for me a couple of minutes while I pop up the road for a couple of snaps, grab my camera, thankful that there’s space on the card and low entropy in the battery, and rush out into a wonderland more soothing than an oil bath on Tatooine. Robert Smith warned us : “Boys don’t cry”. I’ll do my best.
Why does this feel so good, I ask myself, after only a couple of minutes. And several answers come to mind as I blissfully tour my neighbourhood perceiving any subject in a totally new way.
Spontaneity is one. At my first encounter with another person, dragged along by a canine friend as I am by my photon grabber, the strange look the human component of the oncoming duo gives me leaves me slightly disconcerted. Then, it dawns on me that I left home almost straight out of bed 😉 Scary hair and tiny t-shirt and no socks (but trousers, no worries). How wonderful! When was the last time I left home so free of plan and preparation, without sacrificing to the holy cows of bureaucracy? Imagine this: taking to the streets without filling in official forms. The cook!
Transgression aside, the photographic wonders offered by fog are obvious justifications for my elation. Very often, photography amounts to spotting something nice and working hard to eliminate all the visual gunge that gets in the way of doing it justice.
Fog does that for us, outlining shapes and compositions that catch our eye, and at the same time eliminating all distractions, as if a Divine Photoshop hand had applied lasso and blur with utmost competence.
As the sun rises, so the mist clears slightly, letting colour through every so subtly, giving all scenes a wonderfully painterly vibe with zero effort from the photographer. It literally is point and shoot and collect, by now.
Then, there’s that inexplicable sensation of protection. Of being sheltered from the outside world and its harsh realities.
To fragile minds such as mine, a society where killing knowingly is permitted but communion with nature is off-limits feels like the pinnacle of cynical violence. Carelessness and self-centeredness have probably killed far more people in France alone (among other places) than guns have in the US this year. But that’s OK. It’s all in the name of individual freedom, right? Yeah, right …
But here, I feel safe from all this stupidity. No one can see me, no one is around. It’s just me and my silly ideas and the plants and the trees and the spiders, free to roam in the perfectness of nature for as long as I want without hiding from five-o.
My universe is now 50 meters wide, not 2km, but I can take it wherever I want. The protective bubble of fresh light and blurred outlines shelters me from reality. It’s like walking into a cartoon world that changes at will. A word in which all is delicate and natural and kind.
And the 20 minutes or so that my outing lasts feels more like a couple of hours, so fulfilling it has been. Rediscovering ultra-familiar landscapes in this – literally – new light has felt like a micro vacation in a place where everything is clear, pretty and soft. Like discovering a new place without the hassle of travel. When was the last time you plunged into a wonderland without prior bookings and showing your passport?
As I head back, the sun no longer in my nose but gradually piercing the veil in my back, the soft filter qualities of the mist reveal themselves in a different way, making colours pop in a subtle way and I realise just how peaceful and fun this has been.
It’s as if seeing – and walking in – a very familiar setting but in different light, had the same effect as being far from home in some exotic location. A lot of the familiar details wiped out and a slight feeling of pleasant disorientation.
It is only when you let go of tension that you realise how strongly it had gripped you. I am stunned at how relaxed this combination of spontaneous walk out into the street to discover this wonderland has left me.
Amazing what a great fog can do to lift one’s spirits, right? 😉 😉 😉
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