Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight

Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight

James Attlee

Language: English

Pages: 320

ISBN: 022600046X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

“Nobody who has not taken one can imagine the beauty of a walk through Rome by full moon,” wrote Goethe in 1787. Sadly, the imagination is all we have today: in Rome, as in every other modern city, moonlight has been banished, replaced by the twenty-four-hour glow of streetlights in a world that never sleeps. Moonlight, for most of us, is no more.

So James Attlee set out to find it. Nocturne is the record of that journey, a traveler’s tale that takes readers on a dazzling nighttime trek that ranges across continents, from prehistory to the present, and through both the physical world and the realms of art and literature. Attlee attends a Buddhist full-moon ceremony in Japan, meets a moon jellyfish on a beach in Northern France, takes a moonlit hike in the Arizona desert, and experiences a lunar eclipse on New Year’s Eve atop the snowbound Welsh hills. Each locale is illuminated not just by the moonlight he seeks, but by the culture and history that define it. We learn about Mussolini’s pathological fear of moonlight; trace the connections between Caspar David Friedrich, Rudolf Hess, and the Apollo space mission; and meet the inventors of the Moonlight Collector in the American desert, who aim to cure all kinds of ailments with concentrated lunar rays. Svevo and Blake, Whistler and Hokusai, Li Po and Marinetti are all enlisted, as foils, friends, or fellow travelers, on Attlee’s journey.

Pulled by the moon like the tide, Attlee is firmly in a tradition of wandering pilgrims that stretches from Basho to Sebald; like them, he presents our familiar world anew.

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Lower half disappearing into the landscape. Although her hair is blonde and her skin doesn’t seem to have known the fierce sun of the southern Spanish plains, she has the broad face of a peasant girl in her early teenage years (Pacheco recommended in his treatise that the Virgin should be portrayed as a girl of about thirteen years old). In fact, part of the startling effect of both these paintings is the contrast between their mystical trappings and the obvious reality of the models that posed.

Arrived, having broken their fast, bearing gifts of food. It feels as though the whole world is keeping step with the cycles of the moon and I just hadn’t noticed. The Tsukimi has provoked many journeys, although mostly within Japan itself; the most famous of these have been made not by aeroplane but on foot. Good examples are the travelogues of the seventeenth-century poet Matsuo Bash0¯, composed in haibun, a combination of prose and haiku. At the beginning of A Visit to the Kashima Shrine, he.

Figure of the Buddha sits meditating in front of a golden full moon, accompanied only by a vase of white silk lilies – to the massive shrines and temple complexes set in elaborate gardens that are among the glories of Japan. Nothing prepares the first-time visitor for the experience of stepping through the torii, the gateway to a Shinto shrine, hung with the sacred rope of straw and zigzag flags of white paper that act as lightning conductors to attract the presence of the 120 Tsukimi.

Through the valley below, while we have been ascending in the dark, the moon soon lights the whole white mountain-side, and the broad sea below, and tiny Naples in the distance, and every village in the country round . . .’ This vision of moonlit serenity is in marked contrast to the scene at the top of the volcano: The Alarming Mountain 177 From every chink and crevice . . . hot, sulphurous smoke is pouring out; while from another, conical-shaped hill, the present crater, rising abruptly.

Critic and poet Ludwig Rellstab likened listening to it to the experience of gliding across the shimmering surface of Lake Lucerne in a boat at night, surrounded by the spectrally lit mountain landscape. Yet the music we are hearing has undergone a change, an extraterrestrial remix. Parts of the piece have simply been erased on its journey, inserting sections of emptiness where none existed before; spaces that speak of the distance the music has travelled on its journey. Curiously the.

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