Recently, I visited a luminarium built by the visionary Architects of Air: an enormous inflatable sculpture one can enter to, as the makers put it, ‘be moved to a sense of wonder at the beauty of light and colour’. It was amazing.
The luminarium got me thinking about the role light plays in creating a mood. Take fireworks. Their bright, colourful, creative light demands that you watch and be moved. I have always been enchanted by fireworks – their brilliance, their magic, their drama. And so I open my novel The Echoes of Love in Venice, during the Carnival, with a firework display whose stirring climax sets the scene for romance:
The fireworks soared into the air; they broke into raying diamonds of brightness and then floated towards earth, expiring in their downward flight. Other little points of light appeared, followed by tongues of flame rushing up from different places and flowing out large luminous bubbles of silvery-blue and green and sapphire. One after another, the rushing rockets sprang hissing upwards and, towering far above the water, burst with a soft shock into a golden sheaf of fire. They hung uncertain for one moment in the sky, and then came showering down…
There was a pause, before the spectacular finale. Soft stars of colour shot up, soaring into the night. One after another, bouquets of primrose, coral and lilac rose slowly into the sky, blossomed exotically there, flamed, floated, and then vaguely fell, as if faint with an excess of beauty, into the inky water below, which received them and folded them to itself with a kiss.
It is, as Venetia murmurs to herself, ‘A dream being born in the night air.’ Such a passionate, exciting dream to set the heart pounding is at one end of the spectrum. And at the other end is softer, evocative, beautiful light to make lovers melt into each other, such as that in La Lanterna restaurant, to which Paolo takes Venetia for a romantic meal: there, in a beautiful architect-designed space, Venetia is astonished when the light in the dining room changes from calm powder-blue to almost dazzling white: the lights in the ceiling change every five minutes so that the setting and the mood are continuously different. My kind of setting!
Later in The Echoes of Love, Venetia and Paolo stay in Tuscany, where Paolo has built his home. Sadly, it was beyond the scope of the book to take the lovers to all the wonderful annual festivals of the region, but had I chosen one for them to attend as a date, it would have been the Luminara in San Ranieri, Pisa.
The Luminaraforms part of the festival in Pisa to celebrate its patron saint, Ranieri. Ranieriwas a well-to-do merchant of Pisa in the twelfth century who found Christianity and consequently relinquished his wealth and lived as a hermit, preaching God’s word throughout the area. His ashes were placed in the Cappella dell’Incoronata in the cathedral at Pisa, and in the seventeenth century Cosimo III of the Medici decided the saint merited a grander urn. A big celebration was held for the moment of transferring Ranieri’s remains to the plush new urn, and as part of the feast the city was illuminated with candles. Light is significant in honouring Saint Ranieri, because during his conversion to Christianity he had a vision in which an eagle came to him carrying a light, and told him to share that light with people who were in darkness.
Today, the city recreates the architecture of yesteryear – palaces, for example – by affixing wooden frames to modern buildings along the river Arno. Come sunset, thousands of candles in little glass jars dotted along the frames are lit, and their flames glow in the darkness and create dancing, glittering reflections in the waters below. The sight is utterly, breathtakingly beautiful – and so uplifting. To top it all, the evening ends with a firework display, colours emblazoned against the velvety Tuscan sky.
The Luminara takes place on the 16th June. If you’re able to visit, you’ll find it a night to remember always. Please do share your experience of the event in a comment; it’s too far for me to travel there this year, but my readers and I should love to live vicariously!