Both sides now.
'I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It's cloud's illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all'
These loopy lyrics, (all songs are pretty nutty, if you really think about them) were penned by the tuneless Canadian dirgist and miserablist chronicler of failed relationships, Joni Mitchell (Groany Mitchell, Moany Mitchell. I have plenty more of these, if you want them). Mitchell recalls that the inspiration for this 'all kinds of everything boom bang a bang' Eurovision song contest contender occurred when she was reading Saul Bellow's 1959 novel 'Henderson the Rain King,' on a plane. She noted that the protagonist in the novel is looking down at clouds from a plane, at the self same time that Mitchell was doing exactly the same thing. This unremarkable coincidence struck Mitchell as a Damascene metaphor for 'life's ambiguities and mysteries'. Uh? How? Why? Wha-at? What does that even mean? Such is the song writers craft - upchucking something resembling a silk purse out of an inconsequential sow's ear of an event that happens in their life. Sing Wikipedia, Joni, at least it makes sense.
'Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons every where'
Er...no, Joni, that's quite enough. If we are ignoring the fact that these days Clouds can be remote network servers on the Internet to easily store, manage, access, and process data, as an alternative to storing data on your hard drive or local network, a cloud is nothing more or less than water drops or ice crystals floating in the sky. This is what clouds are. Whichever way you care to look at them. Ask Brian Cox. Ask anyone.
What we have here in this painting is not a metaphor for life's ambiguities and mysteries but a firmament chock full of altocumulus clouds, its rippling pattern caused by high altitude atmospheric waves. What could be simpler or less ambigious than that? This sky is sometimes known as a mackerell sky (looks like fish scales), a buttermilk sky (curdled milk), ciel moutonné (fleecy), cielo empedrado (cobbled), Schäfchenwolken (sheep), and pecorelle (little sheep). Not a creamy castle or feathery canyon in sight.
I came across this sky one evening whilst taking my mandatory amble through the fermenting Corona virus wastelands near our house. With the Dutch landscape being flatter than the atmosphere at a remote Covid quarantine block for high risk groups on the Mongolian steppes, the Dutch look to the skies for their scenery. You definitely appreciate clouds more over here. They are like mercurial meringue mountains, like plumply frothing duvets, like magical...stop it right there Joni!
I, too, have looked at clouds from both sides and I much prefer to look at them from below. Apart from the novelty of when you first look down on clouds during your first plane ride, the top of clouds are far less interesting than the bottom. In fact, I might have been far more receptive to Baloney Mitchell's little ditty have she called it 'The top of clouds are far less interesting than the bottom'.
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way.
Mnnn. It's a shame the clouds didn't get in the way of Joni writing this song.
(Joni Mitchell is an accomplished water colour artist who painted 12 out of her 19 album covers. And very excellent they are too.)