My dearest friend and I have a theory that certain parts of the world have a special quality of light that can affect all aspects of life in these places: Capri (or, really, anywhere in Southern Italy), Amsterdam, and San Diego all possess this quality. The unique, filtered northern light in Amsterdam is so famous that this light has been credited with inspiring the flourishing and brilliant Dutch painting in its 17th Century heyday [instead of re-renting Girl With a Pearl Earring again since you fell asleep the first time and aren’t sure what I am talking about, see the brilliant documentary Dutch Light on the subject or just go to an art museum and gaze at any De Hooch or Vermeer].
The ancient Egyptians envisioned light as an effect of the whims of Ra. When Ra is awake, his eyes are open and there is day–light. Then Ra closes his eyes, and existence rests in darkness. Conversely, the Hebrews envisioned light as that which was created from darkness, from the other-than-light. Something rather than nothing. Light is the anti-darkness and is always present even when we can’t “see” it. Light is the real.
Donald Miller in Through Painted Deserts examines light’s tangibility and ever-present quality: “Consider the complexity of light in light of the Hebrew metaphor: we don’t’ see light; we see what it touches. […] The perfection of the Hebrew metaphor is eerie, especially considering Eratosthenes wouldn’t play with sticks and shadows for several thousand years, discovering Ra was, in fact, never closing his eyes.” Eratosthenes, years after the Hebrews considered it old knowledge, used light and its movement across his earth (or at least that portion in the immediate vicinity of Alexandria) to measure the distance of an ever-present sun and to enlighten the second century BC world as to the size of the earth itself. Light serves, then, to bound and illuminate space and time. Ra never sleeps.
As Miller implies, we don’t really see the world, we see light. Rebecca Solnit writes in A Field Guide to Getting Lost that “the world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost […] melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world…” In San Diego, the light doesn’t seem to get lost; instead, it dissolves into the air and gives this city an ethereal beauty.
This is true all day and all year and not just at sunset or sunrise, or on crisp winter mornings, as with many places. In San Diego, this quality of light manifests itself in a sort of silver-yellow-rose glow that seems to permeate the air. It’s as if you could be coated in a light sheen after walking through this air. So the light is everywhere, in everything; and in San Diego, you can tangibly feel this effect and in turn be affected by it.
My love affair with San Diego began about eight years ago. As with any great love, I remember the moment I was struck and fell perfectly into deep smit. I was driving from somewhere to somewhere else, cresting Talbot Street right off of Catalina Boulevard. At the very moment of summiting the spine of Point Loma, the music on the classical station I was listening to reached a crescendo. To this climactic music, the bay and downtown appeared and stretched below before me. In the San Diego light, the bay was a completely blue-enough blue; it lay like lightly rustling silk. The buildings of downtown burned silver. I was affected. I was changed. I fell in love.
I still have moments like this: where the soundtrack of my life inextricably and inexplicably matches the situation, and I am filled with utter, breathless joy at being alive at that very moment in a city of magical light.
Today was a day filled with those moments. I shared coffee (and chocolate milk) with my son in Little Italy as the morning light was just starting to silver. We then watched as the light dissipated into the crisp morning.
When we returned home, we sat in the driveway, enjoying the light’s now cleansing gold cast. He rolled his little cars down the slope of the driveway as I watched from my square of warm cement. We were joined by my friend and my husband who also brought burritos from Adalberto’s in Point Loma. What more could I ask for? Surrounded by those I love best in the world, I bit into the first bite of hot salsa and carne asada covered in a warm and soft flour tortilla. Perfect, indeed.
As we chatted over our burritos, each keeping an eye on my flitting son who would land just long enough to take a quick bite of his bean and cheese burrito, I was struck–as I so often am–by how full my life is of blessings. I have so much love. And amazing burritos. And to top that off, I am daily bathed in inspiring light.