Enlightenment

July 23, 2012

So I’ve been told to lay off the politics and the doom and gloom for a while, as it’s too depressing, and people like the happy domestic stuff.

This is quite difficult to do, because I don’t really have much of a domestic life at the moment. Work, gnash teeth, go home, find myself in bed playing Angry Birds at ten on a Friday night – that’s about it. The daily rainfall makes getting around on crutches a terrifying prospect, as ankle-deep water isn’t wonderfully safe for planting the damn things in. So I mosly stay home and drink beer on the balcony.

I was doing that a couple of nights ago, and watching the night skies, and thinking that much as Phnom Penh needs more prosperity, there will be some things it loses along the way.

One of my bugbears in recent years in London was the preponderance of lights pointed into the sky. It seemed that the best way of advertising colossal environmental unthinking was to surround your building with ground-mounted lights painting the walls with halogen hell and polluting the night sky.

I’m a bit interested in astronomy: how could you not be? The scale, the beauty of the skies have been captivating mankind forever. I’ve watched the skies from Australian deserts and Scottish moors and remote Indian mountain tops, and been filled with the kind of wonder that is surely such a huge part of what it is to be human.

I have also lived in cities where no one cares in the slightest about light pollution. In Hong Kong, incoming aircraft pilots can apparently see the lights from 185 miles away. In Shepherds Bush, in west London, I fought for years with a local 5-star hotel who mounted lights in the ground pointing into the sky, to make their shabby £300-a-night shithole look grander.

Eventually, with the help of the Campaign for Dark Skies, they shifted a few of them. But have you seen a star from a London street recently? Let me answer that for you: no, you haven’t. Orange haze? Oh, yes. The world’s greatest free son et lumiere? Not so much.

Being Blossomless, I’ve been my balcony a lot recently, watching huge thunderstorms play out across the Mekong. And the skies. In the last few days, at around 0500hrs, the moon, Venus and Mercury have been hanging tightly clustered in the western sky, pendant as if hanging “upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear,” and taking my breath away. Such a simple thing. (it’s even better with Thomas Tallis’s Spem in Alium in the background).

But I fear that with increasing prosperity, Phnom Penh will succumb to the uplight phnomenom, and in a few years the stars will be invisible. And what an incredible shame that will be.

While the government busies itself shooting 14-year-old land-rights protestors, light pollution seems like a very distant worry. But if anyone has any thoughts, I’d love to hear them. And sorry not to be cheerful again. I really do need to get out more.

So to try and end on a more positive note, here’s a picture I came across the other day, of Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses.
This picture makes me happy on all sorts of levels. And if you’ve read it, you can see that she’s definitely right in the heart of the Molly Bloom soliloquy section. So, again, you’ve gotta smile…
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