Living in London during the hottest summer months, I came to realize how much the heat and sun challenge our perception of what surrounds us and its colour.
Here there is no escape to a shady lagoon hidden in a leafy bower. Not even in Hyde Park, or probably even less so, as it would be standing room only.
The heat bounces off the endless cement, tarmac and glass. It flattens colour, 2 storied red busses don’t make a dent, their vibrant colour is absorbed by the breathless gasp
of shimmering heat. Living in heavy heat you need a rhythm to your life, if possible, similar to that adopted by the animals naturally. Instead we live,and work,
in air-conditioned buildings that take away our natural balance. I was longing to get back to the country,and returned to Italy a few days ago.
Italy is made for the heat, often forgetting how cold it can get in winter.
In summer, the windows have screened shutters, heat seeping slowly through during the day in darkened houses, to be thrown open at dusk revealing the surrounding hills,
purple in the evening light. The long legged white cattle low in the foothills against the tree line. Seeming to float in the long shadows of evening,
like ghosts against the ebony barks.
As the evening light deepens the fireflies appear like tiny fairies carrying lanterns, swallows dip and dive on the water, and bats come out in battalions!
The evening breeze rustles the leaves, as the rays of the dying sun streaks the sky in multiple shades of purples, deep reds and brilliant pink.
This is a special time; we wait in anticipation, as we suffer the heat of the day. It is heaven to breath in the cooling air while sipping a glass of iced wine.
As the heat gently subsides, we can gather our thoughts for the following day.
There is only one other time of the year when the sunset gives us such a show, and that, funnily enough, is in February when it is at its coldest.
The day begins early, as it is necessary to use the cool early hours to do heavy work, or exercise. If I have to cook, which I try to avoid in the summer, I start at 5.am.
It is also a good time to water the plants, before the earth becomes too hot.
The buildings around me are a pretty okra yellow, as the day lengths it turns to pale cream.
The creeper has grown over the netting at the windows, and is hiding an assortment of insects that, from the inside, I can inspect at leisure.
Grasshoppers are hidden in the climbing Hydrangea too. All good specimens for me to draw.
Once the sun reaches its zenith our world stills and drops into silence. All animals seek the shade, mostly to sleep; a tail might brush away a fly, the skin ripple.
However even humans know it is time to retire. Perhaps a few mad dogs and English men are out there, but not this English woman.
Until it is roughly 5 in the afternoon no one moves.
This is the summer rhythm.
In the late afternoon I start to paint again, I am painting leaves, summer leaves. All shades of green, nests and butterflies, next I will start on the fairies.
Reading what I have written so far, makes me think of “ A midsummer nights dream”, by William Shakespeare.
There is some controversy as to whether he really came to Italy, or gleaned information from someone who had.
Being brought up in an English boarding school, it was inevitable that I took part in the play.
I can assure you all the characters are right here on my doorstep, including the donkey. Pinocchio, as we call him, has been with us since he was 4 months old.
He was bought then to keep a foul company w hen weaned from his mother,and he has continued to do this with new foals ever since, even now that he is grey and old.
There is a lovely song that we sang as children when we produced “A midsummer nights dream “ It goes a little like this :
Where the bee sucks there suck I,
On a bats back do I fly,
Merrily Merrily shall I live now ,
Under the blossom that hangs on the bow
After the sunset merrily.
I have a lot of work to get finished by September and I am lucky to live surrounded by inspiration.
On another note………
Heat and sun can changes us in other ways as well. For example think about Africa and tropical regions. Clothing is adapted for the heat everywhere.
There fabrics are light, cotton or linen and mostly colours are bright and flamboyant, as are the surrounding plants and flowers.
Where as in the northern cities, where the sky is often grey, where the surroundings are the ubiquitous cement, glass and tarmac,
the fabrics are inclined to be heavier, in greys or black and the style is formal.
I am obviously being simplistic. Seasons come and go. However a bright sky and a sunny day will bring a lighter heart to most.
Another example comes to mind.
While in Bali I stayed in a hotel on the northern coast, by a black sandy beach. I was writing a few lines for a small magazine about colour and camouflage.
My daughter was lying beside me on the sand. Her legs and feet looked like white porcelain, with her toenails painted a bright red, it was very effective against the black sand.
Just like a doll that had been left behind. I am not one for lying around so I took a walk down to the water’s edge. The sea was very rough so it was hardly a place to swim.
A few paces in front of me I saw, what looked like, a schoolboys tie, in blue and black horizontal stripes. On closer inspection I noticed it was a snake.
I rushed up to get my camera. I had started to take a few shots when a fisherman, further down the beach started shouting and waving his arms.
Apparently it was a sea snake and very poisonous. It was camouflaged to be invisible in the sea, blue like the water and black like the sand.
Very clever and lethal. I was glad the sea was too rough for swimming. There are lots of cases like this in the animal world.
Just as in ours, man seems to camouflage himself to fit in, perhaps in many different ways.