My Hostas Like The Rain - Casanova Does NotTuesday, June 01, 2010
It has rained and rained.
It was in Mexico City in 1974 that Rosemary told me, “I think we should move to Canada. Mexico City, as things are going here now, will not be a good place for our daughters. I don’t think you could handle Toronto’s snow so let’s move to Vancouver.” And so we came to Vancouver in our arctic blue VW beetle. We looked up some friends in Seattle who told us, “You are going to Vancouver? Why it rains 366 days of the year there!” I didn’t understand the joke. I caught on quickly as soon as we arrived in Vancouver. I tell my friends in Mexico how one set of windshield wipers will not last a year in our Vancouver rain. Four-foot tall (according to the catalogues) David Austin English Roses grow (if allowed) to twice the height in our garden.
Rain in some of the places I have lived like Buenos Aires and Mexico City and even in Nueva Rosita, Coahuila (a desert) has been what I call the Australian kind. It will not rain for a long while and then when it does it will flood quite immediately. In Buenos Aires we also get a steady drizzle we call garúa and an intermittent garúa in Mexico City is called chipi-chipi.
In the pampa of the Province of Buenos Aires, or in the pampa of the Argentine province of La Pampa (confusing is it no so?), after weeks or months of drought, there is that magic smell of rain falling on dry and fertile soil. It is as nice a scent as the one of rain falling on hot Buenos Aires sidewalk baldosas. These are curious square foot tiles that still are used. Cement loosens and when you walk on these sidewalks the baldosas shift precariously and squirt water and wet the inside of your shoes. There are apocryphal stories on why women should not go commando in Buenos Aires when it rains. Water squirts up!
At the end of summers when it gets muggy (the nearby River Plate makes Buenos Aires terribly humid and water condensation oozes out of the inside walls of homes) a hot wind comes in from the interior. We call it the pampero or a sudestada. In the wind you can smell the pampa, a combination of alfalfa, corn, wheat, dry earth and manure. Then it suddenly cools and it precipitates with lots of thunder and lightning.
Before pollution changed and eliminated the seasons in Mexico City (a statement made by Mexican poet/novelist/environmentalist Homero Aridjis) there was a rainy season and a dry season. During the rainy season the mountains would be a lush green. In winter they would turn to warm ocher, orange and browns. The almost perpetual smog of Mexico City has changed those seasons and one never knows what to expect. In the 50s, during the rainy season, rains (almost punctually English) would begin around four in the afternoon and after a couple of hours the sun would shine. That is no more. By the time I left in 1975 flash floods in the Periférico (the ring beltway around the city) would cause people to drown in underpasses.
The rain that falls in Mexico City is an acid rain. The atmosphere has lots of hydrogen sulfide which when mixed with rain-water turns into sulfurous acid and sulfuric acid. When rain hits your parked car you can be sure that before the year ends, if you do not wax your car often, you will need a paint job.
In Buenos Aires we do get those intense Australian rains where you cannot see a foot in front of you. But then you will have long spells of dry weather and the sky will be full of plagues of locusts or white butterfly/moths. Spotting a meandering dragonfly in the garden usually indicates that it will rain within the day.
Last year when I visited my old school in Austin, Texas I sat down on a bench under the neo-Gothic entrance and watched a storm come. I could see the lightning approaching slowly in my direction and the rain clouds and rain covering the Austin skyline. From where I was I could still see the Austin Capitol building which is higher than the one in Washington DC. By the time the rain arrived where I was, lightning came crashing down and brought down a nearby tree. An albino frog croaked its way up the school front steps and went after mosquitoes that were escaping the rain. As soon as it stopped, he hopped away down the steps.
One place where it almost never rains is Lima. I was there for a couple of weeks in the 90s. Some Limeños went as far as telling me it had not rained for many years. The city does get a wet fog that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean. This is almost the closest they get to actual rain. Most of the gardens of the city feature the indestructible geranium (of the potted kind) that came from South Africa via Vasco da Gama to Portugal, frome there across the mountains to the Extremadura where Cortez and other conquistadores brought them to the New World. I spotted geraniums growing between rocks, in sandy beaches where most plants had died years before. The garbage dump of the city burned constantly. Without rain to temper the fires the city was enveloped by a smoke that rendered the shadows of the perenially sunny days as gray instead of black. The resulting light is one of the most beautiful in the world for outdoor photography. I often laugh inside when I watch my neighbours coddling, over watering and over fertelizing their window-box geraniums. It had been Mario Vargas Llosa who had told me in his house in Miraflores in Lima, "Geraniums like the Peruvian people thrive in adversity."
Seeing that Texas weather was much like driving (as I once did not too long ago in an annual report job) from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan to Saskatoon. I was somewhere near the town of Rosthern and I could see the weather. Weather in Vancouver happens without you really noticing except when it happens. Not so in the big Saskatchewan sky, where I could see it there, and not quite here. That there and here included vast amounts of what looked like an endless and uninterrupted horizon. I stopped for dinner at Rosthern. An RCMP had caught me speeding. I had been flooring my rented Chevrolet Lumina. I had been listening to Dave Brubeck's Blue Rondo à la Turk and the storm behind me was rapidly receding as I was approaching my sunset. It had been a successful day of shooting a lumber mill in Prince Albert. I had been happy and the highway was straigth. After handing me a ticket the policeman said he would invite me for dinner. He was from BC and wanted some news. We sat in a little restaurant. We had veal cutlets with mashed potatoes and gravy. A moving electric sign in the restaurant advertised a divining-rod-water-spotter-for-hire. I thought that Saskatchewan, the Argentine Pampa and Australia might have something in common.
It rains and it rains. Up until now my roses seem to have no fungus diseases (in spite of the rain and the cool weather) and some of the tight old rose buds like that of (Rosa 'Cardinal de Richelieu' are beginning to open. Roses like lots of hot dry sun. But my hostas are happy. They like the rain because it reminds them of the rainy slopes of Japan where their ancestral plants came from. The leaves are bigger than ever and their greeness approaches a Platonic essence of green. They are happy.
Not so, Rosemary’s cat Casanova, who looks out of the front door and wonders if it will rain as soon as he ventures out.
Addendum, May 13, 2013: Casanova's name since I wrote this blog has nicely deteriorated to Casi-Casi.