studies in travel writing

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Attlee, James, Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2011).

For countless millennia mankind lived in step with the cycles of the moon, planting crops, setting out on journeys, wooing lovers and gathering harvests according to its celestial clockwork. It is little more than a century since this connection was decisively broken. Now more and more of us live in realms of perpetual day, in which twenty-four-hour illumination all but obliterates the majesty of the night sky. Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight is a journey of rediscovery in search of what has been lost.

I am accompanied on my quest by a strange cast of characters: artists, poets, novelists, politicians, astronomers and musicians. Unexpected connections emerge between them, spanning time and nationality. Each has been inspired or troubled at different times by the moon. Its influence and its light resonate through their work and their work in turn plays a part in shaping the course of my journey, reaching beyond the confines of every-day experience into a parallel, moonlit dimension experienced while the rest of the world sleeps.

My search for moonlight leads me from the streets of my own neighborhood to a Buddhist temple near Kyoto and into the Arizona desert. The soundtrack to these wanderings is as diverse as their geography. The midnight song of a mockingbird in Brooklyn; the grumbling of a Japanese volcano at a steaming, sacred spring; a Beethoven sonata, bounced off the lunar surface.

Most bizarrely of all, a haunting image of an elderly man standing in front of a map of the moon leads me to a solitary prison cell in Berlin.

(James Attlee)

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