Twilight Time

 New York sunset (Photo by aturkus)

New York sunset (Photo by aturkus)

I’ve always been conflicted whenever I come face-to-face with evening twilight – the time of day that has been hugely celebrated by poets and peasants alike, the former because of the romance of it, the latter because it brings on the very welcome rest.

Is it my fear of the dark and the creatures that come out in its wake that make me hate the onset of dusk? Back home I always associated twilight with lizards and other reptiles that would make their appearance felt with their clicking sounds and their slithering on walls and ceilings, occasionally losing their balance and falling on your head. (Just the thought of it makes my skin crawl.)

Or is it because twilight means having to say goodbye? It didn’t help that my favorite movie of all time, “Casablanca,” broke my heart when it ended with the beautiful Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and her boring resistance-hero husband (Paul Henreid) flying off into the sunset, leaving the more exciting and roguish Ric (Humphrey Bogart) behind.

Many years ago, when I was working as a researcher for a family planning project, my colleagues and I were driving through a solitary street in an Ilocos town just after the sun had set. As we passed the thatched houses turning in for the night – windows closing, gas lamps flickering, the road completely solitary except for our vehicle –I felt this intense loneliness that almost moved me to tears. Since then I’ve tried to avoid being outside at twilight, although I’ve somewhat softened my stance against it after having had some precious sunset moments.

One of these moments was the Angelus. In some towns and cities in the Philippines, activities are still interrupted at the stroke of six p.m. when church bells (or a recorded version) clang, signaling a few minutes of prayer called the Angelus. It’s a valuable tradition, made more beautiful when juxtaposed with the normal noises and frenzied activities that instantly, almost miraculously, pause as people bow their heads in prayer. Those not familiar with the practice may wonder at the seeming randomness of it – it’s like a game wherein everyone freezes when someone calls out “statue” – but it’s an age-old ritual that can only happen in a predominantly Catholic country. It never fails to move me.

And then there were those luminous twilights when my children were infants and they would cry out for me when evening came, their body clocks signaling that it was time to snuggle with their mother. This wasn’t unique to my babies; in fact, elderly mothers alerted me to this phenomenon: that an infant would fuss at the onset of dusk because of the innate desire to seek the mother’s warmth and protection at night. (They even have a term for it – kipkip.) Neither is it unique to humans. Chicks and other animal babies exhibit the same behavior at twilight, at least in the Philippines.

I gave a lot of thought to twilight and my love-hate relationship with it when my husband and I were peering out a plane window to catch a slice of the sunset from thousands of feet up in the air. There was something ethereal, even spiritual, about the moment; it felt like the plane was being gobbled up by the sky as it turned orange-purple before dusk slowly took it over.

We were coming home from a week’s stay in New York City, where twilight signals the beginning of a bright night ahead rather than the dark ending of another day. How exciting they were – the sunsets that we had there!

The first night we were strolling by the serene Riverside Park by the banks of the Hudson River; another night we were right smack in the middle of Times Square where the neon lights and the body heat of thousands of people made the sunset non-existent. Still another night we nursed drinks in an outdoor café as the sound of thunder rolled closer and closer, our faces illuminated by streaks of lightning.

The best sunset by far was when our friends Backy and Olive brought us to the top of the hill in Weehawken, New Jersey to watch the sunset by turning our backs on it. Instead, we faced the Manhattan skyline across the Hudson, watching it turn to red, pink, orange, purple and blue as the sun’s dwindling rays were reflected and refracted by the glass windows of the skyscrapers. The sight took our breath away – the enchanting juxtapose of nature’s glory with human creativity – and it cured me of whatever negativity I still felt about sunsets and twilight.

As my husband and I prepare to go on an extended road trip across America, I eagerly await the many sunsets and sunrises that we will encounter along the way.

A version of this blog was published in Filipinas magazine, August 2009. 

Gemma Nemenzo

Editor, Positively Filipino