Month: September 2014

in the City of Light

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BLOG #27 B

Sometimes when listening to music you feel like it’s being hardwired into your system. 

Sometimes you hear a voice ​that’s so pure and beautiful, tears spring to your eyes before you realize – separate fr reason or thought – it’s just ​your body’s natural emotional response.

Get up early London Sunday morning last November, ready for Paris en route from Heathrow. Grab quick bite, bid farewell​ to friends, head ​to airport via Tube​ (having cleverly bought ticket night before ​with last 5 Euros).

​Push through turnstile​, come face to face with sign “NO SUNDAY SERVICE THROUGH TO HEATHROW DUE TO STRIKE”. Hmmm, not so clever after all. No alternative transport, no extra time, jump on the train​, ride train one stop​, jump ​off train, *PANIC*, scrambl​e frantically ​outside, hail cab, drive half hour to Heathrow… Don’t know if you’ve been in a London cab lately, but they’re not the most economical way to get around​ town​ ​l​et alone the English countryside. Hundred painful dollars later ​(+ exchange rate + credit card fees) arrive just in nick of time to 1.) be relieved of ​most costly toiletries by security and 2.) ​be ​whisked off to Paris.

Safely ​land @ Charles de Gaulle, figure out quickest Metro to hotel, set out on last 36 hours of journey ​to City of Light.

Now 4pm​,​ dark and chilly ​winter ​Sunday evening, everything​ about to close. Streets surprisingly barren of people. What to do, what to do…

​Wander my way down Rue ​de Rivoli, find myself standing in front of strange wildly colorful facade​, 2 hipsters sitting out front glance my way.
​’Open to the public​?’

Step inside.

​Spiral staircase​ – ​every imaginable color – leading further and further upward toward maze of psychedelic dens. It’s an artists’ building​: tonight is open studios.
Wander through labrynthine coops taking it all in. Find an open door with gynormous cluster of people crammed in – looks interesting – a band’s setting up. Miraculously find lone empty crate up front to sit on. Performance begins. A trio, Tous Des Heros: whip-thin hipster on bass, cool bespeckled​ & bow-tied fellow on percussion, incongruously clean-cut/bearded/inky guitarist/singer. The set begins. Singer first banters easily with crowd in French – miss most of gist, but clearly folks feel he’s got ‘IT’ charisma. Music flows over the crowd beautifully, energetically; hilarious false start to The Luminaires ‘Ho, Hey’. Later, when requests are called for, in lieu of Madonna they accept Lou Reed, launching into soulful rendition of ‘Take a Walk on the Wild Side’.  Not possible to avoid tearing up – Reed died of liver disease just 3 Sundays earlier. He was only 71.
To anyone wondering ‘What does this have to do with light?’ I offer City of Light, illuminated rooms in the gloaming, The Luminaires, and lastly White Light/White Heat: Lou Reed…
Look for my piece in the 50/50LIGHT project titled In the Gloaming, based on this story.

Modern Galileo

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#26 Burke house
center photo by Prakash Patel

Architects Carrie and Kevin Burke designed their home to be a time-telling observatory. Sunlight [shown above center] is corseted through a 24-inch glass eye suspended just beneath a skylight, making the living room double as a sundial.

It turns out that this incredible house – designed to be a functional time-telling instrument as dictated by patterns of light – was built by friends of ours, both architects, living in Charlottesville, VA. Their home, featured in Dwell magazine back in 2009, is a living laboratory, slowly but steadily marking the passage of time. The italicized excerpts are from the talented writer of the article, Shonquis Moreno.

In Galileo’s day, men counted their pulses to tell time. In 2 A.D., Ptolemy, who understood more about the movements of the sun and the earth than most of us do today, designed a tool called the quadrant that, by measuring heaven and earth, brought the infinite scale of the universe into the palm of the hand. 

The house’s primary mechanism for telling time, however, is an oculus embedded in one side of the roof through which a light beam tracks through the observatory. Forming an indoor sundial, it indicates both the hours of the day and the cycles of the season by alighting on crosshairs and lines marked on the floor with auto detailing tape. Later, the Burkes will fill incisions in the floor with powdered metal to make certain dates permanent: solstices and equinoxes; Carrie and daughter Ava’s August birthdays, when the light licks the edge of the banister; and Kevin’s birthday in January, when the beam rests directly beneath the skylight.

The fascinating article goes on to describe how the layout of the house evolved from them synchronizing their daily cycles with the cycles of the sun, identifying where light would and would not fall, and then situating the building to suit their preferences, depending on the function vs the time of day.

Thinking about the disconnect we feel when the natural cycles of life and light are obstructed and obscured randomly – living in busy cities where an abundance of artificial light glares out on unnatural schedules – it’s no wonder we try to seek relief by ‘getting out of town’ and ‘away from it all’ in order to allow our bodies to regain some sense of their natural rhythms.

I’m incredibly inspired by these folks’ efforts to reclaim a connection to the natural cycles that most of us remain largely unaware of and unattuned to. It’s a wonderful reminder of the importance of connecting deeply to the world around you as often as possible in the course of your daily activities, despite the temptations of ever-expanding technologies which, largely, succeed in merely thwarting our peace of mind.