The Blue Hour (L’Heure Bleu)

As late afternoon fades into twilight, there is a time of day that is neither light nor dark, too early for stars and too late for coffee. Richard Guerlain, the house nose, named a perfume for that time in Paris when the city holds it breath, before the lights dance on the Seine. For years, L’Heure Bleue was Catherine Deneuve’s signature fragrance. It was heady, romantic, and plush, like the suspended time it was named for.

Paris, L’heure bleue by

There is something about that time of day that makes me both melancholy and fearful. It has done so since before I knew what either of those words meant. As a child, we played outside most of the day, but as the sun began to drop below the horizon, I headed indoors as fearful as Cinderella at midnight.

I’d see the lights begin to come on in the houses around me and I’d long to be indoors, in the light and warmth. Even in summer, when indoors was hot and close, I’d prefer it to being outside at that time of day. There are no bad memories associated with that time of day, no dreaded secrets, I just dislike those hours.

My grandmother died largely unknown to me, but I remember clearly that she, too, didn’t like this time of day. Did not find it magical or enchanting. She would draw the heavy curtains against that half light, saying she couldn’t stand the quality of daylight.

It’s not the quality of light for me, as I love the pre-dawn hour with the same uncertainty of light. I’m not afraid of the dark, and often walk late at night. So I was particularly surprised over coffee with my friend, when she said, “I don’t know how you can get up and walk before dawn.” Before I could explain about the metallic quality of the sun early in the day, she said, “that time of day gives me the creeps.” She couldn’t explain why she hated it, just that she did. She has that same despairing, washed-away-from-short feeling. But her feeling comes at dawn, not dusk.

Is there a time of day you dread? Do you know why? Share.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and raw-art journal keeper. You’d think the time work is over would be longed for, but no, it’s a time that she needs to keep herself busy and occupied.

22 thoughts on “The Blue Hour (L’Heure Bleu)

  1. I love that you know Guerlain and Deneuve!! Shalimar was one of the 4 my mother wore, and for a long time their ads were pure magic to me. When my children were little, it was the Witching Hour, because 1) you have to feed them and 2) you can’t kill them, LOL.

    • That’s so true about your children, that sooo difficult hour. Oh, tell me what the other three fragrances were your mother wore. I”m a deeply addicted perfume lover, would probably try anything Jean Claude Elena (house nose for Hermes) developed, but my heart still belongs to my first “grown up” perfume–the original L’heure Bleue.

        • Ahhhh Good choices. Joy has gone through so many changes, I never smelled the 1930 launch version, but Henri Alméras, the nose for Jean Patou, had a wonderful talent. And I’ve always lover bottle deisgner Louis Sue for his clean, crisp bottle. OK, I’m getting a little too trivial-pursuit for my own good.

  2. I am often awakened around 3:00am and unable to get back to sleep. Once my brain starts “gerbling” on the wheel I toss and turn until I have to get up and do something creative. Once I am up I get lost in the creative process. It is just the initial waking that I so dislike.

  3. I love the shift of light from dark to light, but I have never been fond of the opposite, the shift from light to dark. Even a lovely sunset, beautiful colors, makes me a bit edgy, waiting for the sun to drop over the horizon in sight.

    I have read many photographers who speak ecstatically of the evening light, the 30 minutes past sunset, when the light has a softness, a golden glow, but I think I have only truly enjoyed the thrill of that light one time — when I photographed the Grand Canyon, and a layer of clouds prevented seeing the sun, except for a ribbon of clear sky just above the horizon. For that time only, I held my breath and watched, and stayed at the side of the canyon (while almost everyone else left) until it was nearly black night.

    I was quite distracted by the sheer beauty of the canyon, but if something that grand doesn’t provide a distraction, then I keep myself occupied, otherwise I find myself going into a slump.

    • That must have been an amazing experience at the canyon, really a once in a liftetime happening. Because we are much further South than Wisconsin, we don’t get a long twilight. Thirty minutes past sunset is dark. No golden glow unless there is a full moon.

  4. What an interesting post, Quinn, and the responses are fascinating as well. This is something I’ve never really thought about. I do remember, when my husband and I were in Paris, this blue hour, and standing on the balcony at our hotel and watching the slate grey rooftops turn darker and deeper blue. I only felt melancholy then because every sunset meant we had one less day in Paris!

  5. I love that time, which is just as well because when I lived in Scotland it filled far more than an hour or two on long summer evenings. I must admit to not enjoying it as much in winter when it started at around two in the afternoon and was dark by half past three! I have a thing about Thursdays. Weird eh? Ever since childhood it’s been a day to survive, my energy levels seem lower. I used to think it was because of the rhythm of the working week but now I set my own week and I still struggle through Thursdays. I try to take them off these days.

  6. ahh the in between hours – the magic of the transition from dark to light or light to dark… what magic both bring as each take us to a new place… I marvel as I remember the despair and hopelessness that I have often felt when sick or lonely in the middle of the night …. and then the joy of dawn and the beauty of the dawn chorus – what a wonder as the morning light sheds light on how little I really have to be worried about and how great the possibility of light and life is. dark and light….two contrasting states which bring us to appreciate just that….contrasting and different states – how wonderful we are not living in a void:-) As I live longer I cherish every moment.. and connect to all that is – like Krystyna 🙂

  7. Hi Quinn …if I wanted to send you a photo occasionally ,is that possible? Where I live has phenomenal changes of light for example ,and I would love to email you one,sometimes your posts remind me of certain time or situation,and it would be an interesting communication. My worst time of day……now this minute when my whole family sleeping and the farmer next door starts strimming his land,it’s so loud and we all had a long day yesterday….putting my head under the pillow didn’t help so I checked my emails instead! No peace in the countryside. Interesting that blue hour I remember 20 years ago…someone told me that it was the best time of day to sell a car as the low light would always make it look better! I adore watching the sun go down….but I do always want to go inside once the last colour of the sky has gone ,have a hot shower and grab my first wine of the day,so I know excactly how you feel! I was lucky to do this 3 nites last week at a friends house by the coast. I adored it.I miss it in the mountains and that irritates me! I realized my dream in the future would be to see this every day,would lift my soul. Where I do live I see the moon rise..full this week.. So I am grateful for that,I went to a small drinks party on a rooftop to celebrate the moon……got home late ..hence the strimmer irritation! Have a great Sunday!x

    • Another interesting solution–in the summer, I go swimming at that time of day. Something about a water connection. Yes, please do send me that photo–my email address is under the Work With Quinn/Contact section right over the photo–of a sunset!

  8. I used to find the “inbetween hours” – neither night nor day – very challenging. I never knew it was called L’heure Bleu, but that makes perfect sense to me. I believe now that the challenge arises from us being brought face to face with an inner emptiness at these times. In the words of Bob Dylan, “felt that emptiness inside, to which she just could not relate”.
    As I get older, I have come to believe that the ache and the emptiness are the points at which we connect with our own eternal, infinite nature. This known universe is almost all empty space. We are almost all empty space. We fight against experiencing it, and rush to fill it with lights, people, warmth, colour, noise.
    Some days, and even seasons, bring us face to face with the same experience. For me, it was always Sundays.

    I try now to let myself go into the emptiness, feel the ache of the inbetween hours, and allow myself in that space to connect to everything that is, that ever was or ever will be. Try it!

    • Interesting. I do walking meditation in the morning, during that time, so there is the connection. Perhaps I should try a different awareness exercise in the afternoon! Thank you so much! I wonder why it started so early–I have my first “dreaded twilight” memories starting at age 4.

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