Nightwalks

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George Ault, Bright Light at Russell’s Corners (1946)

Today there is a soft breeze. The air is warmer than it has been these past weeks. I sit on the hill. The branches of the lemon trees creak above me – beyond, level with my eye, the green spangles of the ashes flourish as if a hand has passed up them – the cypresses wag.

I used to walk at night. Big distances across the western end of San Francisco. When you live at night, not in the extended daytime of clubs or theaters, at night in a place of serious fog, the eye makes an engineering choice and the black sky begins appearing to you like a ceiling – so that you are surprised on your rare daytime outing at how little of the sky the buildings really take up, at how high the sky goes.

And when you live mostly at night the color which most strikes you, which seems the dominant color of your environment, is white. The white of industrial paint. The white everything becomes under a city lamp – the white of a fox’s face in a flash photograph. The black ocean curved like a stunt car all the way to China – but it was the white along the black bus cables, the white on the square frozen houses, which composed the world. I began to dream about white cities lit weirdly against black skies, marble Paris under snow and Klieg lights, immense lawns between palatial white museums, colossi the color of surgical tape standing in glass atriums, reflections shining like shore foam on transparent walls which also showed the fog-blank night outside.

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