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The darkness tonight was black and thick, tinged red like heavy velvet by the streetlamps; impenetrable. It reminded me that as the weeks ebb on, the evening light will wane and the hours of UV will wither into that frightful northern day of barely six hours. A creeping twinge of dread…

As torturous as I find the winter months for this very reason, I have a different relationship with the darkness itself, with the night-time. Never a morning fairy, always a sympathiser with owls and a reluctant sleeper (I once threw a horrendous tantrum at the age of three or so because my Mum and Dad wouldn’t let me stay in the plum tree all night like an owl), the night-time has always pulled me in. My dreams are more often than not set at night, and the strange and shiny things it offers forth – the moon and the stars – I’ve gazed at in wonder for as long as I can remember.

I may have to be up at 6am, or have been awake for two days and utterly exhausted, but the darkness still lures me in and I will linger on, pottering into the night. It possesses some indescribable peace, a calm unattainable at any other time, a release from the pressures of day. You come to feel special; you are one of a few, a society of strange ones privy to this hour of quiet, and crime; the witching hour…

Driving home in the dark on recent evenings, seeing the lights of lone cottages against silhouetted hillsides, crescent of a moon above, stirs some nostalgia in me. This image holds some sort of perfection for me, something I long for but recognise as unattainable – an existence contained entirely in the small stone walls of a rural abode, darkness outside, safety within… I assume this harks from my early childhood when we stayed out in the country, and I would stare out the window at the night as my Dad drove us home, content in the absence of knowledge of anything morally dark in the world…

The image of a cityscape at night is also one that’s stuck with me since I was small. We didn’t live near a big city so for a long time it must only have been in my fiction-inspired dreams, and again I remember being in the car at night as we drove somewhere, again gazing out into the dark, when I got to see such a sight for the first time. It’s still one I find thrilling, all of those lights against the black. In this case I welcome the moral darkness into my heart, for that is where the thrill lies: to look out on those lights in the night, exclusively human, a blanket of fascinating vice…

 

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My unexpected diversion in May…

Dallas is not a Mecca for the crazed or the destitute, like San Francisco, LA, Miami, or NYC. People here work. Be it the overweight white man or the careworn black lady (to pick a couple of stereotypes), everybody I saw here was dressed for work and going somewhere with a purpose. Even the people loitering in the surprisingly numerous green spaces of the city looked like they were loitering with a purpose – a free afternoon hard-earned.

Dallas, or Texas at all, was the last place, really the last place I expected to be at this time. I knew nothing about Dallas, other than that JFK was assassinated there, and there was oil money. I was far from pleased when Canadian Immigration said they were sending me back there (the point of departure of my last connecting flight) – what on earth was I going to do in Dallas?? But there seemed no point in not making the most of it before my unanticipated journey home.

Texas has its own special colour which I first spotted from the air – sandy brown with shiny bits on. The part 70s, part space-agey Dallas-Fort Worth Airport epitomised this. My flight home not being for another day, Carlos, the exuberantly friendly and helpful hostel manager, hustled me onto a train downtown to explore for the afternoon. He was so enthusiastic that I rushed to catch the train without even stopping to eat some lunch or drink some water, both of which I’d been thinking about the entire journey to the hostel.

Downtown Dallas appeared as the Texan panorama had from the sky: brown, shiny, and huge! There are a remarkable amount of green spaces – plazas and tree-lined boulevards, extravagant fountains of gushing, chlorinated water – amongst the huge, shiny skyscrapers. Everything is incredibly clean. It’s almost to the point of creepiness, like in Mountain View, a bizarre little town we visited in Silicon Valley populated almost exclusively by IT professionals. Or soullessness, as in the dull and utterly untempting streets of Reno… But not quite. Dallas teeters on the edge of those things, but pulls it back with its proud and apparent work ethic, and its strong awareness of and pride in its Texan identity. Somehow it has earned the right to be clean and shiny.

Despite all the things you hear about Texans – their gun-toting ways, their Republican inclinations, the prevalence of obesity and worse, racism – I was more taken by these people than the square, characterless white folks of Reno, or the dead-behind-the-eyes sad souls of Miami. They’ve got spirit here: a culture and a history they’re proud of, and whether it’s to my taste or not, as a Scot, I respect that.

I walked from the ‘historic’ district, which contains some beautiful, antiquated and largely decaying buildings from the pre-skyscraper days but is now principally a transport hub to outlying suburbs and barrios, up to West Village, the ‘college’ district where the ‘kids’ hang out. Whereas the historic district is a sea of black workers making their way home (I sometimes find it uncomfortable to note such distinctions, but the racial divide in the States is palpable), the kids in West Village were a mass of blonde clones clad head-to-toe in labels from the designer boutiques that comprised the area. Fake blondes all with the same straw shade of hair, so sure that they’re well-dressed because they’ve paid exorbitant amounts for each item… To my eye they are utterly styleless.

I went to an upmarket taco place Carlos had recommended which was indeed delicious, despite its clientele of vapid college girls and moneyed Latinos with attitudes. It tasted right out of D.F. and I had terrible pangs of nostalgia and longing for dodgy taquerías and shady tavernas, dancing to bad Latin pop and drinking 50c beers, midnight taxi rides across swathes of dark, unknown city with friends made only an hour before…

Carlos did make me almost sorry later that I wasn’t staying longer. On Thursdays he takes the guests for a Country and Western dance lesson, then for beers and a face-reddening attempt at the mechanical rodeo bull. The Friday night excursion is to the biggest honky-tonk saloon in the world, which contains 23 bars and holds 10 000 people! How unfortunate i was leaving on a Wednesday.

I slept unbelievably soundly that night, though my dreams were not peaceful (they rarely are). I didn’t wake up once, and awoke into a clean morning light that felt like the glow of snow on a Christmas morning…


I went into the hostel bathroom this morning and there was an abandoned towel hanging, dankly, from the centre of the shower rail, a soggy match by the sink, a mound of cigarette ash on the floor, and a large piece of carefully scrunched toilet roll positioned in a hole in the wall.

I don’t understand.

There has been no peace to be had, even in sleep. I spent last night fending off horny monkeys and creepy weirdos,  while the Tegus students sitting at either side of me demanded serious political conversations.

That night i dreamt i was walking through a park, carrying teacups to a children’s tea party, all the while pursued by a randy German trying to convince to have sex with him in the bushes.

After awakening from this horror, recalling the horrors of the previous evening, and finding the mild horrors in the bathroom, i cowered in my room for over an hour, hungover, faffing, and muttering to myself.

Cheese tortillas were on my mind, but by the time i made it to the kitchen in search of sustenance, i had not the strength for cooking.

Cornflakes and warm milk it was to be.