The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

A glowing moment of enchantment in a displaced summer

Continuing this month’s theme on Enchanted Summer, contributor Anthony Windram weighs in with his opinion.

Elizabeth von Arnim, who wrote The Enchanted April, was right in selecting April as the month of enchantment. Spring charms me in a way that summer doesn’t. The budding boughs are full of fresh scents, to borrow from Christina Rossetti, and the land restores itself. Nature, in a universe governed by entropy, pulls off a majestic conjuring trick.

By contrast, I find summer a little unenchanting. Let’s face it, it’s not a good time for the English. We can’t really be trusted with summer. We should be banned from it, it’d be for the best. Pack us all up and send us to the Arctic for three months. That way we might avoid the collective fever that descends upon us where we dehydrate our bodies with copious quantities of lager and show off our sun blistered skin and bad tattoos.

So, as you probably have gathered, I’m not much of a summer fan and that hasn’t changed having now lived in places that have actual, proper summers as opposed to England’s illusion of a summer. I can usually be found in the summer months (when not enjoying a self-imposed seasonal exile in the Arctic) wandering from one airconditioned building to another. If I do have to venture out into the heat, I only do so after liberally applying sunblock (factor 100).

But this post is about enchantment with the summer, and it’s only when the sun has set and the temperature has lowered that such moments have occurred. I share Simon Wheeler’s thoughts on the sounds of crickets. To me, it’s a foreign sound. A memory of childhood holidays abroad. Hearing that rhythmic sound each evening reminds me that I am in a foreign country, and as I listen the everyday mundanity of my setting dissolves away.

I am not, despite what this post might suggest, an amateur entomologist. If anything, I have an immediate revulsion with most creepy crawlies, but my second summer enchantment also involves them and like the music of the crickets it was a fleeting moment that stripped me of cynicism and returned me to childhood. It was my first summer in the US, I was in my in-laws’ garden. I was listening to the crickets and feeling very happy with myself when an insect flew past me, its lower abdomen pulsating a yellow, illuminiscent light. I knew the answer, but I couldn’t be certain as I had never seen one before. “Is that a firefly?” I asked.

And where there had been one, there was another, and then another. Looking around, thrilled in the same way I would have been as a child, it seemed that there was a swarm of fireflies captivating me utterly — a glowing moment of enchantment in the summer evening.

DISPLACED Q: What’s your most enchanting memory of a summer spent in your adopted homeland(s)?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s discussion of The Displaced Nation’s themed posts.

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9 responses to “A glowing moment of enchantment in a displaced summer

  1. ML Awanohara August 16, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    One of our guest writers, Emily Henry, tweeted just now that her most enchanting moment as an expat — actually she was a kind of repat as she grew up in England but has an American father — was

    The first time I saw the white sands of Venice Beach. I took my shoes off and ran straight into the water.

  2. ML Awanohara August 16, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    @Anthony @Simon @Piglet
    Continuing yesterday’s discussion on the Random Nomads piece, I’m growing genuinely curious about Brits & their fondness for crickets.

    A few follow-up Qs:
    1) Is it crickets, cicadas, katydids, grasshoppers, or all of the above that sets off a feeling of summer enchantment for most Brits — or do you not care as you’re not entomologists?
    2) Is the fact that this singing is a mating call a source of enchantment, or is it merely the sound?
    3) Doesn’t the UK have crickets? I guess I never noticed the lack while I was there…

    In closing, I’d like to point out the irony that for some people, insects are the least enchanting thing about summer (think mozzies & wasps) while for others, they appear to be one of its more enchanting aspects (think crickets & fireflies).

    • awindram August 16, 2011 at 3:50 pm

      They are increasingly found in the UK as the climate changes.

      1) I think it’s crickets, though I wouldn’t claim to be an expert. That fairly, soft, constant hum. Does the sound vary a lot from species to species. I was in Kentucky for the summer in 2008 and came across area where I don’t know if it was a different species or it was the sheer amount of crickets, but it was deafening. It was awful. But at the right level, I personally find it quite calming.
      2) No, the thought of crickets engaging in some rumpy pumpy isn’t all that enchanting to me

      “In closing, I’d like to point out the irony that for some people, insects are the least enchanting thing about summer (think mozzies & wasps) while for others, they appear to be one of its more enchanting aspects (think crickets & fireflies)”
      I think it’s worth observing that it’s the aural and ocular effect that they produce that is important. The firefly is interesting. It’s an ugly, winged beetle. If I saw it flying during the day I’d swat at it, during the night when it starts flashing its lower abdomen at me, it becomes hypnotic – enchanting in a quite literal sense.


      • ML Awanohara August 16, 2011 at 5:26 pm

        Thanks for the link to that Daily Telegraph article. I guess that despite the national love of cricket, no cricket has ever really been native to the UK — they’re all imported from Europe.

        I’m no entomologist either but I’ve done some investigation and see that the main difference between a grasshopper and a cricket is in the length of their antennae: crickets long, grasshoppers short. Also, crickets sing by rubbing their wings together, while grasshoppers sing by rubbing their long hind legs against their wings. And most crickets are crepuscular (they come out at dusk) whereas grasshoppers tend to be out and about during the day.

        So maybe it is the cricket that most of us are partial to? As one cricket expert puts it:

        For many, the male cricket’s iconic chirping song conjures up images of lazy summer nights.

        You know, the more I read about the cricket’s mating habits, the more fascinating it seems. For instance, did you know that not all male crickets sing in order to attract female crickets? Some of them use a different strategy of congregating around a loudly singing male. These males wait silently as the females begin to approach the singer, then move to intercept a female and claim it before the singer has a chance to meet up with it.

        Jiminy Cricket, that’s not really cricket! (The expression “Jiminy Cricket” is a way of swearing without swearing, btw. The Disney character happens to have the same initials as a prominent deity…)

  3. Piglet in Portugal August 16, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    I just love the sound of crickets on hot summer evenings. It’s quite restful!
    Mozzies, hate them but, other bugs I love to photograph and keep a record on my blog 🙂
    Some are really beautiful. However, the spider made me scream so loud, when it walked across my hand, I am sure you must have heard my screams the otherside of the Atlantic!


    • ML Awanohara August 16, 2011 at 5:41 pm

      I agree with the responders who said you must be fearless to photograph bugs in this way!

      Isn’t it funny how most of us are terrified of spiders, even though in temperate climates they’re meant to be a good thing as they prey on harmful pests such as flies, moths, gnats, mosquitoes, etc.

      I guess I just don’t want them preying on me — even though I know that’s unlikely. Of the approx 40,000 species of spiders, less than 50 are known to have venom harmful to humans. But then again, one of the venomous ones, the black widow, lives primarily in the US!!!!! Rest assured, if I encounter one, you’ll hear me screaming all the way over there in the Algarve. :-O

  4. ML Awanohara August 16, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    But to get back to the question at hand, the most enchanting summer moment as an expat, which for me, also involved singing — only not by insects! Mine took place during an oppressively hot summer in Tokyo, when virtually all foreigners and many Japanese had fled the city. I lived near the Tokyo American Club so had gone over there for their Bon Odori, which is more of a neighborhood event than most TAC events — with many Japanese, as well as people from the nearby Russian Embassy, in attendance.

    In addition to the taiko drum, games, food, it featured a karaoke contest, which took place in the late afternoon.

    Around that time, it felt slightly cooler. The sun was starting to set, and there was a bit of a breeze. I don’t usually like karaoke, but some of the singers were rather entertaining…

    Then an attractive young Russian woman got up and sang some sort of Russian folk tune. She had a gorgeous voice and held us all in her spell. I remember being enchanted not just by her tune (sure enough, she won the contest) but also by the idea that here I was, sitting on this island in the Pacific, listening to this magical Russian singer. At one and the same time, I thought about how displaced I was from my homeland and how much I liked being on the Pacific Rim. I knew I would always cherish this moment…

  5. Jack Scott August 20, 2011 at 5:44 am

    I agree with Anthony. Spring in Turkey is always a magical time of the year, nature-wise. The hills seem to blossom overnight with all manner of flamboyant and exotic flora blanketing the usually arid scrub. It is a brief respite before the unforgiving sun burns the landscape back to its usual two-tone hue of dull green and ochre. That’s when we all head inside, turn on the AC and become vampires until October.

  6. Kate Allison August 20, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Anthony – I’m on the same page as you on this one. Crickets (in moderation) – yes. But fireflies, as you say, are enchanting. My first sighting of them was during a hot June night when I got up to feed our new baby, and I could see the back yard full of strange winking lights. Magical and hypnotic.

    An English sound I miss in Connecticut summers – wood pigeons in the early morning. It’s the sound of school summer holidays. Chickadees just don’t do it for me.

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