That’s it, it is one day after the autumnal equinox and we have tipped into the darkening days. Today, in Edinburgh, the sun will rise at 07:02, and will set at 19:08. And if the clouds don’t clear, it may seem even shorter than that. I’m amazed to hear anyone say they like this time of year. I marvel at their ability to list the positives: a hot water bottle; ale by an open fire in a rural pub; peeling off damp layers after a good walk; roasting shoulder of lamb for six hours; raking leaves; making chutney. None of it appeals to me. I rail against it. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” I know Dylan Thomas was using it as a metaphor for age, but I always need to rage a bit myself before I can settle, and accept the dying light.
Thoroughly, I am a summer person. I loved those Junes days of interminable light. Especially in this northern city. It matters little to me that there isn’t much heat to go with the long days. It is the light I want. Making peace with the darkening days seems to take more effort each year. And so, not seeing any connection, just a couple of days ago, I went to the ‘Beyond Caravaggio’ exhibition in the National Gallery. Within minutes of standing in the first room I realize I have plunged into an exhibition of darkness. Caravaggio is teaching me how to welcome in the dark.
Only four of the paintings in the exhibition are his. The others are said to be ‘Caravaggesque’ – inspired by his style. I love them all: darkness, candles, shadows, dancing eyes, luminous skin, glowing corners, light coming from indistinguishable sources. And I come away with one question: Is Caravaggio letting the light in, or is he playing with the darkness? I read about him. He didn’t believe that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery. Instead, if he believed someone had copied his style he would beat them up. Talk about raging! The gallery rooms in which the paintings are displayed are also dark. Painted in shades of green and navy and aubergine. To me, it all felt very right: giving contrast to the shafts of light on the canvases.
Leaving the exhibition, I step out into Princes Street Gardens. I have to put my sunglasses on, for it has been a good week, and the sun is out. I chide myself: What am I worrying about? Isn’t it a lovely autumn? I think about painting the walls of my hall. Up until now I had thought they needed to be light in colour: come into my flat, follow the light. But the hallway is not light. It has no natural light source. So, shall I play with the darkness instead? Shall I drop the rage and the vain hope of creating an atrium in a cave? Yes, I think it might work. My hallway is dark, and I will not fight it. I’m going to wrap it in a warm dark colour, one of the ones I saw in the gallery. Then, I can make it glow with beams of light.
I will embrace the reality of the shortening days. I’ll fill a hot water bottle and feel comforted by it. I’ll stew apples. I’ll write by lamplight. I will paint my hallway.