Leaving Rio de Janeiro is never easy.
But the pangs of this first departure were, unknown to me at the time, soon to be dispelled by the surprise my Brazilian friend had prepared for me.
We had boarded the plane at 10.15 pm at Rio's airport, Galeăo. The time of the flight chosen by my friend had disappointed me a little since I enjoyed discovering landscapes from the air on short flights like this one to Vitoria, just one hour away, further north on the Brazilian coast. But of course I didn't say anything to my friend after all the efforts she had made to allow me to discover Rio : the Sugar Loaf Mountain, Corcovado with that remarkable statue Christ the Redeemer, the enormous Maracana football stadium and, of course, the beaches of Copacabana, Leblon and Ipanema.
In the plane, I had the a window seat as usual, though there would be nothing to see on that night flight - or so I thought.
As the plane took off and wrenched us away from Rio, which fell away from me like a dream ending, I heaved a sigh of sadness, shook my head as if I could shake the saudade out of my heart, and turned to my friend to ask her what time we would be arriving in Vitoria.
I noticed she had a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, and instead of replying, she pointed to the window, and said, "Take a look out there now."
I hardly saw the point - I'd already night on a dozen continents, and night is usually just black.
But, to please my friend, I dutifully turned towards the window, looked out and down - and what I saw literally took my breath away.
I thought I was looking at a display in some vast, enchanted, heavenly jeweller's shop. For as far as I could see, an endless necklace set with precious stones stretched out, sparling and twinkling against a black velvet background.
In that moment, I realised why my friend had chosen the late departure time. The plane was flying North following the coast, and the myriad clusters and strands of diamonds were the coastal towns - glowing in their own light.
I couldn't bear to take my gaze away from a scene of such breath-taking beauty, but I asked my friend, "So that's why you chose the night flight? So I could discover the magic of those lights seen from the sky?"
"Yes," she nodded.
" In the daytime you would only have seen boring towns, mountains to the West and the Atlantic ocean to the East. But at night, you can see that which is invisible in the light of day.
It takes darkness to allow us to see stars. And to be dazzled by the scintillating lights of the towns beneath us, you need a black background - the night."
Apparently the pilot knew that this free show was appreciated by his passengers, since he banked the plane slightly so we could get a better look. The "Oohs" and "Ahs" that I heard around me showed that the pilot was right, and that I was not alone in being totally entranced by the display of distant gleams and flashes of intangible jewellery that passed majestically beneath us.
Just as darkness is called an absence of light, similarly "black" is called an absence of colour.
But without a black background,many precious gems would remain invisible.
The black of the night enables the tiniest lights to play a leading rôle and draw us out of our comfortable expectations into a new dimension of experience.
"We should choose the night sometimes, " said my friend, "At night all the lights are brighter."
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