I just finished reading, “In Praise of Shadows,” by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki and it actually turned out to make some dull moments of my most recent family vacation a lot less dull. But still, less dull does not equate sharpness.
At first read I thought Mr. Tanizaki was a cantankerous prick making his critical almost negative opinions of the West and Western culture, but after finishing his essay, I think, yeah okay — I get it. Much of the book (hints the title) is looking at how the West deals with shadows and darkness versus Japan and Japanese culture; how we use our Bruce Dickinson, “Fear of the Dark” mentality in eliminating all shadows in our lives and in our physical spaces.
This idea of embracing darkness had me think of my most recent trip to New York City where I had the ability to experience that mother fucker Hurricane Sandy. Yes, people died. Yes, it was shitty. Yes, a lot of money and time was spent bringing the cities of the East Coast back to a functioning state, but in tragedy comes… something, and that something made for interesting observations in night life.
Because all of Saint Marks Square (where I was staying) was out of power, and because the only place I could get my phone to make outgoing calls to was above 34th Street, we made daily treks to find food, cell service, and alcohol. In these small daily excursions (beginning after 2pm), I discovered something that I cannot believe I had not experienced before.
What places can run off little to no power?
What places can serve a substance that doesn’t expire?
What places can you find something more interesting to watch if you’re tired of counting police cars drive by and people taking pictures of blown over trees?
Bars — and more specifically, wine bars.
It made perfect sense.
Our new daily routine consisted of waking up late, consuming a slice of New York City heaven, and seeking out the “blackout bars” as we righteously hailed them. The atmosphere Sandy provoked in these places was much like the settings and environments Mr. Tanizaki hints about in his essay, welcoming a sense of play in darkness and shadow, proving that on any regular Tuesday night half these bars would not come close to sharing the same spirit they shared with us on those blackout nights.
It says a lot about a place that could just as easily have locked their doors like the rest of Manhattan, but instead these bars exchanged their expensive vintage light bulbs for a pack of Ralph & Duane’s twelve-for-a-dollar candles. Having replaced their nine-to-five suit-wrapped cliental for the fresh blood of young urban explorers in search of a buzz and a different way to “deal with Sandy,” the intimacy level of these places became nothing less of “hygge”. It’s incredible that something as simple as a power outage can not only shut down that ipod behind the bar blasting the latest Rihanna, but can also transform a night out with someone special. Conversations once shouting matches were replaced with whispers of opinions.
If only bars could do this every month, hell, every week. The dude was right. I get it.
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