by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

Photo (1)There is nothing more exciting to me as a writer than catching a new place at daybreak— the moment that marks the beginning of a city's unique rhythms, when a traveler may somnambulate into its most secret, subtle self, its still-dreaming, unspoken quintessence. In this sliver between night and day, before the wearing of masks, arranging of words in functional frames, there is treasure to be collected.

I hunt for stray, untamable truths.

I love breakfast made by others, and relish the morning scene as it unravels; some of it predictable (the clatter of dishes, the smell of eggs, steam rising from cups, waiters stumbling about in a half-awake state), some of it appealing for its novelty value (rice porridge with chicken in Singapore, fresh figs with boiled eggs in Istanbul, sweet-bean pastry in Hong Kong) and some of it serendipitous or unforgettable such as keeping the company of pastry and insomnia and Andalusi ghosts in Granada, where my room was a whisper away from the Nasrid graveyard (which led to the opening piece in my book Baker of Tarifa), or watching a Chinese student copy the calligraphy on Alhmara's walls beautifully in his sketchbook, not knowing about how the Arabic letters work, or beholding sunrays as they hit olive trees in Florence— seeing the sky transform, through a window just as it was being washed by a groggy boy.

At the time of sunrise, history is on equal footing with the present. Ancient ruins, imperial buildings, places of worship, modern shops, parks, all bask in a brief romantic glow; everything is equally vulnerable. I've found this to be as true in Rome as it is in Bangkok, Lahore, Delphi.

At dawn, wherever I am, I like to bring a cup of tea, and find a spot —a ledge, a stair, a bench, a rock— ready to become part of a unique panorama that will last for not more than a few minutes but will likely transport and teach me: an otherwise elusive moment of clarity will, for a moment, unveil itself and nourish me.