Wednesday, 26 September 2007

3. Light - Part 1

My school days and years came after I learnt the fundamental physics of light and heat. Not the complex laws defining and governing them, but how ideological darkness and cold calculation can alter them when it came to what I then perceived as normal everyday existence. The joyous and by all means luminous play of the mind that took over for brief hours my early school days was quite opposite to what came after school, when due to shortages of class rooms we started doing 'afternoon shifts' alternating with our normal weeks of 8AM daily start...

I was finding my way on streets rendered pitch black by power saving measures, with constellations of warm orange and yellow and reddish dots, daubs and flecks of lights coming through the windows, coming from kerosene lamps and candles and the occasional battery-powered torches, projecting shadows of tired bodies animated by tired souls inhabiting the houses and block flats.

The economics of these cuts didn't make any sense, as the consumption of the population was infinitesimal compared to what was engorged by old-fashioned, hopelessly obsolete industrial monsters. For example, the aluminium plant at Slatina was making deplorable quality aluminium with old electrolysis methods, soaking up every electron that the also inefficient power plants around it could squeeze out of low-grade coal or methane.

So there wasn't much point in doing calculations on the economics of our blackouts - but the periods, when we only had quivering shadows projected onto our walls by the flames of a kerosene lamp in the kitchen, were meant to make us a bit more aware of the powers governing our reality.

Darkness, physical or intellectual, is a powerful tool – especially when both kinds get combined...

I was lucky to live fifteen minutes from my first school, and this manageable walking distance slowly shrunk anyway as my tiny legs grew and grew. Half of this journey was a dreary walk on dark streets where I kept losing my shadow like a true creature of the night roaming the streets of a Transylvanian city. Still, in the distance I could always see an oasis of light, just one part of one street, which escaped the exasperatingly regular power cuts.

That small oasis of light, encountered every night on my way home, was a part of our street. The illuminated section didn't quite reach our house but it still gave me every winter afternoon a glorious transition from darkness, decorated by coloured specks of light, to cosy sodium and mercury vapour street lighting. The lit areas had empty shops lit by fluorescent tubes and yellow lightbulbs, both trying to push their fainter light through the curtains, competing, asserting themselves and always loosing against the power of the street lights... Then, again, came a jump back to darkness in which I was trying to reach our house and my Mum. She used to be immersed in the silent joys of crosswords near a kerosene lamp in the kitchen, always waiting for me, always ready to serve the tasty hot meal cooked with glorious imagination from desperately simple elements and always innovative replacements of impossible to obtain ingredients.

The reason for the short oasis of electrical bliss, where I again had a shadow for 200 metres or so, was that we had a non-stop bread factory on our street.

Considering the food ration queues, we never knew where all its output went, but this temple of beautiful smells agonisingly shouting ‘foooooooooood!’ had to have its own electrical supply. Somehow, the transformer giving its vital juice could not be severed from the circuits that were supplying a few dozen other houses and street lights... so let there be light! Just to make the darkness even more apparent...

No comments: