White Nights - the insomniac's dream
Most people know the frustration of the white night. No matter how hard you try, you can't sleep. In fact, the harder you try, the more awake you feel. Under pressure to fall asleep, you are glancing at the clock every few minutes, constantly calculating the time left until morning. You begin to dread the tiredness you'll feel the next day. Perhaps the worst thing about sleeplessness is the loneliness – the feeling that the whole world is fast asleep and dreaming, leaving you alone with your worries. Often I have found myself wishing for late-night solace in a 24-hour café or art gallery, and wondering where I can find such a thing. In the UK, where I come from, nocturnal culture is very limited. Most shops close by 5.30pm and most restaurants by 11pm. Even the clubs close earlier than those on the continent. Sure, 24-hour supermarkets and corner shops exist in bigger cities – and many universities have a 24-hour library. But since I'm no longer a student, all night culture is harder to find. Visiting Moscow a couple of years ago, I was thrilled to discover an all-night bookshop (a comforting thought for the insomniac, even if you never need to buy Crime and Punishment at 3am).
However, insomniacs around the world can rejoice. “White night” has a new meaning: no longer a cause for dread, it's now the name for an all-night arts extravaganza. It began in St Petersburg, a city located at high latitude, where for a few weeks in June it never totally gets dark. The idea has spread to several cities including Melbourne, Montreal and Tel Aviv. Two weeks after arriving in Paris, I experienced my first White Night. Cycling with a friend from churches to gymnasiums to playgrounds, we discovered films, music and stunning art installations. There were games, walking tours and fireworks on the river Seine. Restaurants and galleries were open late, and two of the metro lines kept going all night. Most wonderful of all, there was a swimming pool open until 5am, lit up in fantastic colours, with a huge sculpture suspended above the water. There's something indescribable about nocturnal swimming, added to the excitement of being in a place that is normally off-limits at night. I went to bed at 8am, refreshed, invigorated and absolutely exhausted. I don't think I have ever slept so well.