Polar Vortex

I must confess that I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to the cold.

Too many icy mornings spent upon half-frozen Scottish rugby pitches as a youth has left me with a heartfelt appreciation of that large, fiery friend in the sky, in spite of my skin’s inherent trait of turning purple the moment the clouds start to dissipate.

That being said, owing to the Gulf Stream, which brings a lingering memory of warm Caribbean waters to our temperate shores, we Brits really don’t know what true cold is, as many of my mid-western American colleagues have been quick to point out.

And, oh, how right they are!

I happened to be singing in Elektra at the wonderful Lyric Opera of Chicago a few months ago when the polar vortex decided to swing by and pay us a visit.

Ambient temperature nosedived to around -24°C (-11°F), but the wind-chill managed to alleviate such comparative balminess by hauling things down further to around -36°C (-33°F).

And, let me tell you right now, there’s brisk, and then there’s brisk.

It was so cold, in fact, that the whole city shut down for a couple of days. Not because they couldn’t cope, you understand – having seen the military precision with which heavy snow is so swiftly despatched at O’Hare airport, I doubt that there are many weather conditions Chicagoans can’t cope with – but because mid-westerners are eminently sensible people, and, when it gets that cold, you simply don’t bother venturing over the doorstep.

Unless you’re an idiot like me.

No one in their right mind would ever describe Chicago as an ugly city – what with the juxtaposition of toothy, jagged skyscrapers and level, oleaginous lake, I would venture to say it is probably the most majestic skyline I have ever seen (sorry, New York!) – and when that cold front hit us, something spookily magical starting happening to the light, the city began to look almost ethereal, and I just had to get out there with my camera.

My i-Phone battery died pretty much instantly. My crumbling resistence to the extreme cold collapsed about twenty minutes later. As I shivered and groaned my way back into the restorative warmth of my apartment building, the doorwoman chuckled with amusement at the ice which had formed so quickly in my beard. “I don’t suppose you’ll being going to the North Pole anytime soon,” she offered cheerfully upon noting my pained expression. I tried, and failed, to shrug it off with Ranulph Fiennes-like stoicism and dry humour. Probably because I was so cold I couldn’t feel my hands or feet. Or form a coherent sentence.

Hats of to Nikon, though. The D750 never faltered. Not for a second. Not only that, it captured brilliantly the preternatural, otherworldly light-quality that the polar vortex brought to town.

What a camera! What a town! My kind of both.



  1. Brilliant photos; the cover one is utterly stunning. They make me shiver just looking at them 🙂

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