Saturday, May 17, 2008

Light on water


Honfleur is crowded, precious and expensive, full of Parisians and well-heeled Brits, but, to me, the Old Harbour at night is a ring of pure and endless light. The rectangles of the buildings which encircle it, tall and slim, broad and imposing, patterned and coloured, their whimsical and pretty shopfronts, alternating, for the most part, gallery-restaurant-gallery-restaurant, their awnings and outdoor dining places, become incandescent as evening darkens in tints of prawn-pink, lemon-slice yellow, cointreau-orange, caramel and grenadine, and the whole hangs in a humming miasma of human warmth and fruits de mer.


The pretty sailboats of the tasteful rich float in its glassy waters, as if suspended above a parallel dimension more perfect than our own.

Bright lights, the glittering animation of conviviality, carousing and good-time, shining off water, with perhaps the silhouettes of human forms moving against them, have always held an irresistible enchantment for me; they seem a bewitching fairyland that contains everything of joy. Why, for someone who in general shuns gaudy nights for the clear calm of morning, who isn't much good at partying and quickly tires of my fellow humans, there should be this lure from the other side of the looking glass, I don't know, but it never fails.



It first sang to me, that I remember, when I was about six. At this time as we would sometimes, as a family, take our caravan to a site on the Thames in Oxfordshire at Bablockhythe for weekends. My mother liked the name, she quoted Arnold's 'Scholar Gypsy', where it's mentioned. I rather think it was to console and distract ourselves following the first wave of emigration if my older siblings in the 196os.

The site was strung out along the river bank for half a mile or so, and the river meanders there quite sharply. From where we pitched, some way out on the fringes, as was always our wont, we could look over the water at the club house, site buildings, and landing stages, although they were in fact on the same bank as we were. This illusion of looking at the spot across the river, while being able to walk there without crossing it, always intrigued me.


One night, we had been out in the car come back to the 'van after dark. In the general activity of getting in, lighting up the amazingly fragile china-clay calor-gas lighting mantles, sorting out bedding, etc, I must have been left to my own devices. It was a warm night, and I stood apart and gazed out across the water to the clubhouse, where a disco and bar was in full swing. (Needless to say, at least to anyone who knew our family, there was no question of our having any involvement in such extravagant frivolities.)

The lights glowed gold and orange, shimmering and dancing on the river, the tiny figures flickering among them. Like Yeats's Stolen Child, solemn-eyed, I was drawn as if by faery abductors, hypnotised and unthinking, toward them.


When I arrived there, I wandered freely among the revelry, adults enjoying drinks and company, dancing and music inside, couples romancing by the water's edge, warmth and movement and brightness, and, to me at that moment, utter perfection of colour and light. I moved through it as if I were invisible, transported with happiness; no one, as I recall, took any notice of me at all, either to express concern, menace or amusement.

After a while, I've no idea how long, I trotted back along the dark campsite track until I reached our pitch again, where I think my family were fairly worried, and too relieved to see me again to be angry.

"But it was all so beautiful..." I explained.

33 comments:

Catalyst said...

Lovely.

Granny J said...

Magical.

julie said...

Marvelous.
I hope your editorial job is going well!

Zhoen said...

Something indeed, about bright lights in dark water.

Tall Girl said...

Brings back memories of Honfleur where I went with my Mum and sister the year I was in France - and the wonder of light on water. Thankyou.

Rosie said...

it looks really lovely and truly magical

marja-leena said...

Oh so gorgeous, and what a lovely story from your childhood. This makes me recall a ldelightful boat cruise we had a year ago, returning at night into the lights of the harbour in Vancouver.

jzr said...

Great holidays always seem to bring back lovely memories!! I'm happy you're having a good time.

Beth said...

And still is really beautiful. Lovely photos and story!

Lucy said...

Thank you so much for coming back so promptly and faithfully, when I've been neglecting you so badly!

The editing is easing somewhat, having got the first rush, which became rather a backlog when I went away, more or less under our belts, though deadlines still keep rushing up... I'm enjoying it, and enjoying doing something different, but it's nice to be back here again!

I'll get back on the blog-circuit today.

Yes, Honfleur really was beautiful.

SpiralSkies said...

Stunning photos... sometimes that gaudy glow can be knee-tremblingly irresistible.

laureline said...

Gorgeous, magical, evocative---the photos and the text. Now I've put Honfleur at the top of my To Go list.

Isabelle said...

What a beautiful, evocative piece of writing. And photos.

leslee said...

Ah, how beautiful. Thanks for sharing it with us. :-)

Sheila said...

You communicated the magic...

Plutarch said...

Glad you're back. "It was so beautiful" must be the best excuse of all. I remember once in Spain being fined by the police on the spot for irresponsibile driving on awinding mountain road, which had quite a lot of traffic, because I was hurrying to see the sunset from a particular bend.

tristan said...

ah ! thanx !

i enjoyed that so much !

Lucy said...

Thanks all! As the anonymous big fat lady at the end of the Morecombe and Wise show used to say, 'I love you all!'

Elizabeth said...

Beautiful. I love the photographs.
I grew up on the ocean, mostly boat lights on the horizon or sunrises to be drawn into. BUT, I remember one AMAZING moon rise.
It was so huge and so orange and came up so late (I think around 9:00 or 9:30pm)...Mysterious, inviting, beautiful. Light and Water...just amazing.
Glad you had a good time.
Blessings, EJT

herhimnbryn said...

Sigh.

meggie said...

Thankyou. Thankyou for taking us along with you.

Reluctant Blogger said...

Ah you're back.

I love writing like that which travels back and forth through time. It's like sitting round a camp fire listened to a story.

I love Honfleur too.

Robin Starfish said...

I'm not sure which is more beautiful - the photos or the tale. Wonderful.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Your photographs have convinced me I must sample Hornfleur for myself - what a stunning place!

I adore night shots best of all I think - so much mystique and space to reflect.

kate5kiwis said...

lucy,
i came here via gina-the-reluctant-blogger.
gosh, the way you use words is pure magic.
i finally made it to paris 2 years ago for three unbelievable days.
this little reminiscence reminds me of our parisian foray
love
kate in new zealand X

Anonymous said...

Lucy said(not signed in, one of the inconveniences is switching back and forth between qarrtsiluni google a/c and my own...)

Thanks people all.

Elizabeth - natural light, especially moonlight is another magic again!

HHB, Robin, Meggie and RB, lovely to see you, old friends.

Poet Laureate and kiwi Kate, hellos and welcome, thanks for stopping by. In fact I thought Honfleur had some of ther same magic as Paris at night by the river. Much of France is nothing like so luminously gay, though!

HLiza said...

Oh Lucy, these are magnificent sceneries! I'll be drawn to it to..girls and fairy light...!

Dick said...

Beautiful, both post and pics.

m said...

W.O.W.
Lucy, these photographs are breathtaking!!!!
France-wandering as soon as my project is handed in!

Jan said...

WHAT a story, what a post and WHAT a treat to be back reading one of the very best blogs of them all!!

Barrett Bonden said...

Thanks for creating the link with Box Elder and encouraging people to ignore the contents warning. Much appreciated.

Here’s a point I intended to make some time ago. Having been exposed to sailing late in life (too late to take any personal initiative) I now respond with the zeal of a convert to yachts and all their impedimenta. I especially like marinas close to the heart of French ports and I assume from your affectionate piece on Honfleur you do too. I enjoy walking along quays and inspecting the hulls.

Yet there must be many – perhaps put off by the jingling of cables against aluminium masts – who regard a marina as nothing more than an offshore car park. Evidence of privilege and conspicuous consumption. A technological blot. Less so in slightly gritty St Jean de Luz down in the south-west, but wouldn’t pretty Honfleur be more vulnerable?

Hope I’m not spoiling things for you.

Lucy said...

Barrett B. Nice to see you here!

I feel much the same about most modern marinas. The basin at Hnfleur is tiny, without extending pontoons, and many of the boats seem to be traditional ones, so it didn't have that carpark feel so much. I don't recall much metallic tapping. However, I did have to do quite a bit of trimming of the photos to get the less picturesque modern boats out. That I didn't notice them at the time indicates that my brain was able to edit them out of the actual scene (also my camera view points were limited by the surfaces I could rest on, not having a tripod). I think Honfleur is one of the fussiest places in France with regard to planning laws to keep it pretty, so that exclusiveness probably extends to which boats are allowed to use the harbour. There are of course many other marinas along that coast, where others could go. It is also a working fishing port, but the fishin boats go from further out in the estuary.

Avus said...

Lovely area - just think, it was English territory a "few" years ago (Henry V and all that)
It is definately better for being "French" now. Everyting touched by English government seems to turn to wormwood these days.