Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sunrise, sunset

So there we were in southern Crete, in an idyllic little town on the coast and somebody suggested we book an evening meal in the village above on the mountain “and watch the sun set.”
Okay, a bit yuppie but it seemed like a good idea. We ascended the steep winding path at around 7.30pm and got a steep, winding table for eight on the terrace with fabulous views of the bay below. And it was warm and the food was delicious, even the olives, and the company was great, but the sunset? The sun was like an aspiring actor that has waited all his life for his big part but then proceeds to fluff his lines. It showed no desire to turn luminous red or paint the skies with fantastic oranges and purples but simply sank with a bit of a groan behind the headland to the west. When it had gone, a little strip of cream bordered the headline for a while and then all went black.
I remember sitting on my balcony in Tenerife with a bottle of beer and watching the sun (it was the same one – I recognised it) set over the sea. I was prepared for the spectacular and again was roundly disappointed. Far from crashing into the dancing sparkles of the ocean in a cacophony of colour, the sun never actually made it to the horizon. It became enveloped in a kind of a haze three inches above the sea, shrugged its shoulders dispiritedly and simply petered out.
Now Crete and Tenerife have great advantages over Dublin 15 in many areas, particularly the weather. You may not have noticed but the last couple of summers in this part of the world have been a little on the moist side. However in other parts of the continent, the weather has been veritably Scorchio, to borrow a phrase. One would have thought that entry into the EU would have resulted in some more equal distribution of weather but it appears that this is still a long way off.
But where Dublin 15 wins out every time is in the quality of its sunrises and sunsets. For the benefit of any teenagers reading this, sunrise occurs in the early morning when the sun ascends above the horizon. In our case, the horizon is somewhere over Damastown and some of the most spectacular sunrises I have seen have emanated from behind the large beech tree in Littlepace Woods.
A few weeks ago, the sun was about to burst forth upon a world that, while not unsuspecting, was largely asleep. There was a large grey cloud that looked a bit like the island of Madagascar (without the lemurs) hovering above the Spar and the hidden sun illuminated it in oranges and greys, so that it looked like a stream of molten lava or those hot coals that very silly people run across in the South Seas. This was set off by an absolutely pure pale blue that the whizz kids at Dulux can only dream about, which stretched from the N3 to almost overhead, where it gradually became darker until merging with the night sky above Beechfield. On the far side of the N3, pinks and creams were splashed on this magnificent canvas in what was a veritable riot of colour.
Sunsets can also be quite spectacular, with flamingo pinks and dusky oranges sometimes covering up to a third of the sky. Red clouds, isolated and seemingly on fire, are commonplace and must have terrified prehistoric Dublin 15-ers, before they figured out what they were.
It is very likely that the history of the art world would have been very different if Paul Gauguin had decided against Tahiti and come to live in Blanchardstown instead. What a world of colour he would have tried to recreate, sitting at an easel outside Mace at six o’clock in the morning and gazing in awe at the panorama above Corduff!
In Channel 4’s recent programme “The World’s 100 Greatest Sunrises,” hosted by Brussel Rand, Dublin 15 had seven sunrises all told and three in the final ten. Critics may argue that the eventual winner (the very first sunrise after God created dark and light on the Fourth Day) was somewhat of a bizarre choice as there exists no photographic evidence to back up its claims of brilliance, save for some rather grainy black and white snaps, which prove nothing.
Similarly the morning after the Krakatoa explosion in 1883 may well have produced a fantastic sunrise but solar commentators all agree that this was due to particles of molten ash in the atmosphere and cannot be attributed to a merely naturally produced luminary phenomenon.
For those of you who have difficulty struggling out of bed at such early hours, the Sunrise Channel (number 834 on your digital box) broadcasts repeats of the best ones throughout the day for those of you who missed it first time around. This is normally accompanied by some atmospheric music such as the panpipes or Slade’s “My Friend Stan,” to further enhance the effect.
Of course, you don’t get good sunrises or sunsets every day. Certain criteria have to be met in order to produce a multi-coloured extravaganza such as I have been talking about. The time of day is important. Very few sunsets take place in the middle of the afternoon or at nine o’clock in the morning, so timing is essential.
Also, a good scattering of cumulo-nimbus clouds seems to augment the show, which of course is where the likes of Crete and Tenerife fall down so badly. These sun-kissed islands don’t appear to have the ability to produce good, sunlight catching clouds and frankly, they are the poorer for it. Of course, the mere presence of clouds indicates the possibility of rubbish weather but every cloud has a silver lining, so they say.
Just as Hollywood attracted film-makers with its brilliant blue skies at the turn of the last century, so I feel that Dublin 15 could easily become the sci-fi capital of the world. The alien skies above this portion of the capital would save millions on film sets and push back the boundaries of what is possible in the world of cinematography.
I have written to an Bord Fáilte, suggesting to them that they come to Dublin 15 and record some of our sunrises and sunsets. Then they can play them in audiovisual rooms in Blarney Castle or the Burren Interpretative Centre, with a diddley-i-doh soundtrack and encourage rich Americans to come and sample the delights of Carpenterstown and Mulhuddart. We could establish sunset interpretative centres, where we could explain the complicated astronomical dynamics involved in sunrises and sunsets, with little models and an interactive video game and perhaps an adventure playground.
So far, I have not had a reply but I feel it can only be a matter of time.

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