Monday, 5 February 2018

In praise of early morning

Walking round Gadisar before breakfast. After the ghats, it peters out to shallows and scrubland. The city-side banks of the lake are covered with temples and chattris, but out towards the country, there are only scattered memorials, single stones, small cenotaphs. A bittern sits hunched, looking miserable. A heron stalks the shallows.I hear doves cooing and a single crow guffaws loudly at his own joke.

Walking towards the Brahma temple I find the street of confectioners, the cauldrons of halwa already simmering, steam rising into the cool morning air. Shopkeepers coming to their shops are singing: one passes me - Hari Ram, Hari Ram. The streets still empty. The sun just touching the edges of the roofs with gold.

Bermondsey Antique Market, London
Even though it's August, it's chilly this morning, the sky pearly grey like a silver tabby. The market's bustling - not crowded, but purposeful. I stalk the stalls for sight of vintage fountain pens but all I can find is Parker 45s, all in black, all with medium nibs, all priced at a tenner. I buy a little brass lion instead thinking it will go with my Omani lion-shaped padlocks bought in the old souk at Muttrah.I listen in to a chiseller trying to get a price reduced and the stallholder giving as good as he gets; it's like listening to an old married couple squabbling. They've done this before, I think.

There's an Italian guy does coffee and bacon sarnies i the corner. I crack. The bacon is crispy and the coffee hits my bloodstream with a jolt. Fortified, I try the little inside market - and here I find my prey; a whole big big of vintage pens that cleans my wallet out and is still cheap at this price.

Gelati, Georgia
The little wicket gate hangs open, awkwardly, and awkwardly I bend to go under it, and down the steps, into the monastery. A black cat stalks across the lawn and is lost in the monastery buildings.

Inside the church, the early light is pale gold, suffusing the sky blue of the paintings. So many paintings; every arch, every pillar, every inch of wall is covered with images. A priest all in black, and black bearded, comes to cense the church; the censer's chain hisses and rattles, but his feet make no noise at all on the pavement. Everything else is quite still.

Outside, a monk sits on a bench by a waterspout and talks to a cat, which takes umbrage and turns tail. I stand and look at the view of the forested hills and the twisting road below.

Cannaregio, Venice
Out here you feel closer to the lagoon than anywhere else in Venice. No twisting alleys or tall palaces close off the lagoon. I walk past the abandoned bulk of the new Scuola, brickwork that was never meant to be seen - a tale of old failure; there was no money left for marble. A solitary jogger passes me.

The houses are low, the pavements narrow. Grey water of the lagoon, brown water of the canal. As I walk back towards the centre of Venice I smell dark bitter coffee being brewed up. Someone is loading an upright piano into a boat.

Taj Mahal
I can't believe it. All the tourists who came in through the gate with me as it opened have stopped on the steps of the Naubat Khana to take pictures of the sunrise over the Taj, and I am alone here, quite alone with the tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan, and the cleaner, who is rubbing the white marble till it shines and sprinkling rose water on the tombs.

I take my time looking, drinking in the atmosphere. The stone is like honey, pale honey. The stillness is absolute. As I turn to go, the cleaner motions me over, signs for me to give him my scarf, and tips rosewater on it. All day I move in a rose scented cloud. 

I had a big slab of ham with chervil sauce last night, and coq au vin, and I still feel pleasantly full even though I've started out before breakfast to climb this last ridge and look out over the smaller hills below. That's where the path will lead today, towards Avallon and Vezelay and the great basilica of the Magdalene; but it's too misty to make out where the path leads, and the furthest hills are lost in haze.
I turn to look back, and suddenly the low sun lights up a glittering sprawl of diamonds - the funnel spiders' web alight with flame.

Mornings It's not just the fact that the big tour buses don't arrive till everybody has had breakfast, and they've rounded up the guy who is always late, and called the rota, and fixed all the lunch bookings, and found the guy who is always late has wandered off and they have to find him again...

That's one reason I embrace early rising on holiday, because there's no better way to see places without the crowds. But it's not the only reason.

There's something marvellous about seeing the world before it has put its makeup on. Seeing everything fresh, sometimes fresh with dew, or a thin rime of ice before it melts. The early sunlight that casts long shadows or tinges the world with gold. The expectation of the new day.

A friend once told me he would never, ever get up before eight. I can't be bothered to argue with him. I just feel sorry that there are so many things he'll never experience.

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