End of year notes & recommended books, films, etc
I have only recently learned that there are three kinds of twilight: Civil Twilight, Nautical Twilight, and Astronomical Twilight. Civil twilight refers to the period right after sunset, when the sun is still within 6 degrees of the horizon but there’s still plenty of light streaking the sky. Historically, civil twilight was important because, surprise surprise, it allowed people to see - and keep working - without the aid of illumination (as 19th-century French physicist Auguste Bravais commented “The length of twilight is an element useful to be known: by prolonging the day, it permits the continuance of labor”). Nautical twilight starts once the sun drops further, between 6 and 12 degrees of the horizon, and it’s really too dark to see clearly - the name comes from the fact that it’s “when a mariner cannot distinguish between sea and sky.” Astronomical twilight is the final phase, when the sun is between 12 and 18 degrees of the horizon, and faint stars become visible (hence its value to astronomers). After that, it’s true night, pitch dark, etc - until the cycle begins again in reverse: astronomical dawn, nautical dawn, civil dawn, then sunrise.
It’s not a perfect metaphor, and of course blurred further when one considers the winter equinox and the lunar calendar, etc - but if we're lucky, the end of the year can be a chance to immerse in the sense of twilight. And not just the "civil twilight" where we're expected or forced to keep laboring, but ideally the nautical and astronomical twilights where borders blur and invisible stars become bright, before the deep dark, and then the coming of the light again. I hope very much that you got even a bit of twilight to rest and regroup, and in case you'd like some things to read, watch, and listen to now in the pause or in the year ahead, below are some lists I made (many new, some just new-to-me).
Recommended Books of 2021 - view on Bookshop
(Plus some to look forward to in 2022, listed here)
Recommended films - view on Letterboxd
Recommended podcasts (yes, I included my own :) - view on Podchaser
Too much to list here, but you could do worse than ringing in the new year with Gigliola Cinquetti’s 1974 “Si”, a high-drama Italian pop ballad with ABBA-worthy choral harmonies (maybe unsurprising that she finished second behind ABBA in Eurovision that year - but to lose to ABBA? What an honor). While the Netflix “Halston” show was a disappointment, it was almost worth it for the wonderful montage that opens S01E03 (“The Sweet Smell of Success”), focusing on muse-turned-design-icon Elsa Peretti, scored to this song (seriously, just watch the first three minutes). Or loop an Italian-TV version of the song below with incredible stage design and a party-worthy green sequin gown:
To a brighter 2022,
The images are by Félix Vallotton (1865-1925), a Swiss painter with a prodigious and varied output (whose nudes were savaged by Julian Barnes, but I don’t think they’re bad actually, just weird and sweaty and mannerist). I particularly love his sunset and sunrise paintings (some of which get very proto-psychedelic). I also always find it reassuring to read maudlin, anxious letters and journal entries by long-dead, super-established artists. In 1888, Félix was struggling with his art and his finances, and wrote this rather self-pitying letter to his parents asking them to send money:
“…I practically never go out. I work from seven in the morning until five in the afternoon. This has not produced any great results so far, everything must work out soon…”
It seems like it did, so I guess there's hope for all of us.