Tag Archives: Summer

Farewell sun, hello rain

Fall leaves, Portland

Autumn leaves, Portland

Autumn’s arrived in Portland, heralded by a dip in temperatures, the return of the rain and low, gray clouds in the morning.

Perhaps it’s the Irish in me but, after a summer of record-breaking heat and smoke, I can’t say I’m unhappy. I’m damp, but not unhappy.

If anything, I feel slightly nostalgic. Changeable, sunny/showery weather reminds me of Ireland, and Irish weather year-round. How many soccer games did we abandon at kids when a deluge erupted halfway through, blown in on blustery westerly winds? In July too.

Ask me in November and I’m sure I’ll give you a different answer, but for now the coming of Autumn has seen me look indoors and inwards, leading me deeper into my reading pile and back to my guitar, and allowing me to enjoy a cup of hot coffee without sweating (it’s the little things).

And forcing me to dig out my raincoat, of course.


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There’s no rush – spring’s here

In bloom. Pic: Clare Kleinedler

In bloom. Pic: Clare Kleinedler

In my mind spring always begins on February 1.

In the Irish tradition, this date is St Bridget’s Day, the day on which the traditional Gaelic festival of Imbolg – the start of spring – is celebrated.

In Ireland the days begin to lengthen, the light increases, the rain is increasingly broken by sunshine.

I don’t think I’ll ever shift from this thinking, despite living in a country that heralded the season, this year, on March 20. (Spring beginning after St Patrick’s Day? That’s just wrong.)

It’s taken even longer for spring to reach the Pacific Northwest this year. Only in the past week have temperatures in Portland crawled up into the high 60s (and temporarily, at that). Only now are the longer stretches of rain-soaked days – five, six, seven at a time – disappearing, to be replaced by sun breaks and heavy showers.

The vernal season is upon us, then. And the brighter, and slightly drier, weather is accompanied by another phenomenon – the eruption of cherry blossoms. Every street in our north-east Portland neighborhood boasts at least a couple of these trees, flowering pink or red or, less commonly, white. Not since a spring trip to Japan a while back – where the cherry blossom is truly cherished – have I seen so many in one city.

The light, delicate petals are some way – in reality and in my mind – from the raw, green rushes we used to make St Bridget’s Crosses when I was a child in Ireland. The petals are prettier, but the rushes last longer.

Which one is the true herald of the season? It hardly matters – spring is here.

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The breath and beat and bloom of Picasso

'Still Life with a Mandolin' Pablo Picasso

‘Still Life with a Mandolin’
Pablo Picasso

Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences.

What makes a work of art ‘good’ for you is not something that is already ‘inside’ it, but something that happens inside you.

Brian Eno’s observation occurred to me as I walked around the National Gallery of Ireland recently.

I was there to view an exhibition of paintings and photography by the Irish artist Sean Scully. As I walked around the five rooms, all concrete and space and shuffling, I felt distracted – by other visitors, noise, the whisperings of the security guards. With the exception of one or two pieces I felt at odds with the exhibits.

Pablo Picasso, 1916 Pic: Amedeo Modigliani (detail from photograph)

Pablo Picasso, 1916
Pic: Amedeo Modigliani (detail from photograph)

Any connection I felt was faint, dipping in and out.

Bored, and somewhat annoyed, I left. As I did so, and with time to kill, I noticed the Gallery’s display of works from its permanent collection. Figuring I’d have a quick glance at the Gallery’s heavy-hitter, The Taking of Christ, I stepped in.

The Caravaggio was there, along with a wealth of other paintings from the 15th to the 20th centuries. It made for a pleasant, if not soul-grabbing, 20 minutes.

Then, as I was preparing to leave, there it was. Near the final room and amid a clutch of 20th century works, hung Still Life with a Mandolin. Perspective bending and saturated with Mediterranean colour the painting seizes attention. Minutes passed as I attempted to trace my way around Pablo Picasso’s work – over the bowl of fruit, across the wine bottle, up through the silhouette of the trees outside.

It left an impression as vivid at the light of Juan-Les-Pins –  even though it’s a night still-life.

Picasso created the work at Juan-Les-Pins in the summer of 1924, a year after Cubism had been declared dead. Not so, he painted.

But a biography of the work is inessential. As Eno indicated, the value of standing before Still Life with a Mandolin lies outside the painting, in the emotions I/you feel.

Life, light, summer, music, wine, fruit – all the good, true and important things are here, breath and beat and bloom.

The painting’s on display until the end of the year. Have a look – it may trigger something.



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The light above the Liffey


The Dublin Streets: a Vendor of Books, 1889.
Walter Frederick Osbourne
Pic: National Gallery of Ireland

IT’S hot in Ireland these days. By Irish standards.

It’s also bright, very bright. Last month saw six consecutive days of more than 14 hours sunshine in Dublin, a 71-year record.

This is rare in a city which, since I moved to it almost 20 years ago, is usually marked in my mind by wet streets, gusting River Liffey breezes and intermittent sunbursts between showers. To me Dublin is usually cast in an autumnal hue, the flavour of which struck the English poet Philip Larkin.

“Where light is pewter
And afternoon mist
Brings lights on in shops”.*

The past winter saw even less pewter light than usual, with Dublin recording its dullest January since 1964. This was a another Celtic twilight.

I dimly recall weeks of grey runs in the park, low clouds and early nights. (The New Year gloom has one advantage though – it allows Dubliners to see a series of rare Turner prints at the National Gallery. Each January an exhibition is scheduled to coincide with the pale light to ensure the drawings are not damaged.)

Sun, sea, sky. Dublin 2013.

Sun, sea, sky. Dublin 2013.
Pic: Clare Kleinedler

This murk seems a world away from the brilliant light of the past week in the capital. Dublin itself appears entirely different when illuminated for 14 hours a day, with the accompanying heat and dry air. The mood of the city and its citizens is lifted.

‘Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?’ is the standard question.

Actually it would. But not because pale Dubliners would acquire a Mediterranean hue or buy sunglasses – and have a genuine reason to wear them.

For one thing, aside from its mood benefits it’s speculated that the summer sun’s higher levels of Vitamin D can help prevent cancer – an interesting argument for a country with, depressingly, the second highest rate of the disease in the world .

We’ll never have Californian levels of sun, though, despite the best efforts of global warming and a changeable Gulf Stream. Dublin is not a city of extremes and neither is its weather. The days of sunshine this month will be mirrored by the gray days of midwinter. The true, unchanging Irish sky is somewhere in between.

More than a century ago the Dublin artist Walter Frederick Osbourne painted a bookseller’s stall at Aston Quay, close to O’Connell Bridge in the centre of the city.

The carts, gas lamps and river punts are all long gone. The bridge remains, as does the Custom House behind and, above it all, that milky red, coppery evening sky – the light above the Liffey.


* Philip Larkin, ‘Dublinesque’, Collected Poems (The Marvell Press & Faber and Faber, 2003), p 140

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