Changes in Latitudes

Growing up near the equator in Bangkok, I was not exposed to seasonal lengthening and shortening of days. The sun rose sometime before I woke up, and set around dinnertime (6 or 6:30 pm), with no noticeable change throughout the year.

I eventually learned that other parts of the world go through this weird annual cycle in which days get longer in summer and shorter in winter, but I was never far enough from the equator to see this in action until the summer of 1984, when I made an unexpected trip to London (from Indonesia – long story, some other time!).

I wrote my friend Barbara for help finding cheap accomodations. She got me a sub-let in a classic bed-sit flat, and offered advice appropriate for a young woman alone in London. "How late at night can I safely be out alone?" I asked. "Til around two hours after dark," she replied. I was disappointed – not that I was a party animal, but this would mean coming home awfully early, I thought.

The trip from Jakarta to London was very, very long. At the end of it, I had to get a heavy suitcase from Heathrow to Shepherd’s Bush by train and tube and on foot. Finally, having found the place, I had to drag the suitcase up four flights of stairs (or was it five?). I was finally in the flat and settled sometime in the early afternoon. Completely done in, I went to sleep.

I woke knowing that I had slept a long time. But the sun was still in the sky. I was very confused. Had I actually slept the rest of the day, through the night, and well into the next day? That didn’t seem possible. My watch was still set to Indonesia time and I was too sleepy to calculate what that must mean in London time. Finally I located a clock and found that it was around 8 pm. And there was still plenty of daylight. The sky did not darken til around 10 pm: two hours after dark wasn’t an early curfew at all!

Now I live in Italy, far enough north that the change in the length of days is noticeable, and, after fifteen years, I have yet to get used to it. When daylight savings time went off in the fall, I was plunged into gloom, literally and emotionally. At least now we’re heading in the other direction: it’s still full dark when I wake up at 7 am, but the sun is rising by the time we go to catch the bus at 7:30.

1 comment

  1. At least you didn’t settle in one of the Sandinavian countries, where it can be dark almost all day long in the winter.

    I’ve heard that people there can suffer badly with depression, which might explain why Sweden & Norway have strict drinking laws.

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