To say that I’m not a morning person is generous. I am a monster for the first hour of consciousness each day – and I wake up without an alarm clock. Give me even a minute less than eight hours’ sleep, or force me awake with an insistent beeping noise, and I am a barely functioning monster.
The flip side of this is that I adore early morning. As a photographer, I prefer its light even to the magic hour of sunset. Morning has its own character; it is a living thing that whether you’re stumbling home or setting out, you’re fully aware of it surrounding you, watching you. Midnight may be the technical start of a new day, but you’re never sure until the morning that it’s true.
With some exceptions, flights to the U.S. from Europe tend to leave in the morning. It is a brutal thing to end a vacation by awakening to an alarm at some ungodly hour, and everything you do on a departure morning confirms a harsh, inevitable truth: It’s time to go back to your regularly scheduled life.
Before I lived here, departure mornings were worse than that first morning back at work. Specifically, leaving the hotel to go to the airport was like a dagger through my heart. And do you know why? Because there’s nothing like morning in Europe.
The streets have been washed clean, and the sunlight throws a million diamonds in your direction. You can smell fresh coffee and warm baked goods from the cafes, and garlic and roasting chicken and the contents of sizzling skillets as the restaurants prepare for lunch. Shop owners greet each other over the shriek of their safety gates, and they move their best wares out to the sidewalk with cigarettes dangling between their lips. The air is crisp.
A new day is starting, and you’re not going to be there to see it through. Instead you drag your suitcase behind you, bumping it over the cobblestones, avoiding the passing glances of the locals because as hard as you tried, it’s now painfully obvious that you’re not of them.