Cities at Night

New Orleans at night seen from the river

Many pictures have a hidden story. We can all see how the river softens and reflects the city lights, but this picture has a mental soundtrack for me. A wisp of smoke towards the top right brings back memories of the steam calliope playing its wavering tune of valediction to New Orleans as we paddle off up the Mississippi River on the other-worldly American Queen steamboat.

The shot below was supposed to show bats streaming out at dusk from their home under Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas. You might just make out the heads of some of the watchers peering from the top of the bridge on the left, but you’ll have to take my word that there were bats – hundreds of thousands of them – all with the invisibility cloak of my faulty technique. But no matter.

Bat vigil in Austin, Texas

While scoring nil out of a hundred thousand for the bats, by serendipity, I’ve ended up with this Gustav Klimt style view of the city and its people gathered on boats, bridge and banks to witness the little creatures emerging from their bat bridge.  

Expectancy fascinates me: that rapt feeling when everyone is focused on the same thing. It dates from one Friday night in my student days. I’d been waiting on the platform of a patchily-lit English railway station after the train had long been delayed, then delayed again. There were a few other commuters there, all singletons, politely spaced out in commuter fashion, each in a world of their own. Before the days of ticker tape station update messages or phone apps to tell us the train is still at Hall i’ th’ wood, the train could have been anywhere.

I became aware of a palpable force replacing the general air of weariness. Collective human willpower. Everyone was willing the train to arrive, despite not having the slightest jot of influence. The feeling hung heavy in the night air and I marvelled at it. Since then I have always understood that wishes have weight.

It may be pure fancy, but it seems to me that a similar communal feeling has mysteriously been captured in this picture of Austin, a bat loving city in its moment of reverie, its people drawn for the reassurance of nature’s nightly ritual.

Submissions for this week’s photo challenge show H2O as ice, water and steam. Here, the river is liquid gold, as exotic as the moment.

23 Replies to “Cities at Night”

    1. Funny to think that Klimt died almost a hundred years ago, yet the work he left behind means we can still seem to see things through his eyes.

      1. Goodness, yes, his revolutionary perception of colour, form and texture is still so very alive in contemporary imaginations. I underplant silver birches with orange cornus just to catch an occasional fleeting glimpse of what he saw and painted in distant forests ….

        1. That would really bring his birch/beech woodland pictures to life. I love the idea of local people calling him a moss-person because he spent so much time in the woods.

  1. Your writing is such a pleasure to read — and to feel. There is a wonderful depth to it. Apparently you were disappointed in the batless photo, but I’ll take Klimt over bats any day. Thank you!

    1. I feel lucky that the iPhone copes so well in the dark, especially considering that both shots were handheld, the first on a moving boat.

  2. Poetry in your words as well as in your images. Beautifully written post, you’ve conveyed the atmosphere of the place that goes beyond the photos.

    1. Thank you. The experience of trying to take the bats gives me a good perspective on your recent picture/post showing the birds above the standing stones – that’s an amazing shot.

  3. I never knew Austin was so beautiful! My knowledge of Texas is limited to Fort Worth. In August. While staying with my relatives, who were too Old School to believe in wimpy things like air conditioning. I think I’ll have to check out Austin, though not in August.

    1. I empathise, having visited Dallas Arboretum one afternoon in August. The alley of crepe myrtles in full bloom was gorgeous but it was so, so hot.

      Austin is visually fascinating. I’d wanted to visit after noticing that so many New Scientist articles had originated there, but nothing had prepared me for the character of the city. You might try spring when the wild flowers are in bloom in the fields and verges on the way in to the city.

  4. I love both your stories – the invisible bats and the collective wishes of the commuters! Ah, now that one takes me back… lovely Klimt effect image too 🙂

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