The Foreigner’s Story

Written in response to: Write a story where something magical happens when it starts to rain.... view prompt

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Fiction

Narrator’s Note:

Not easy to define, wabi-sabi can be described or defined as rustic simplicity or understated elegance. It is a focus on less-is-more, and is a mindset according to which the imperfect gives pleasure in this way of viewing the world and living our lives within it.

The desire for perfection in what we own, in our relationships, and in our accomplishments, can create stress, anxiety, depression and rash or too-rushed judgments.Wabi-sabi shows the way out of the modern world’s obsession with being perfect and owning perfect things. It accepts imperfections and actually sees them as more meaningful, as something beautiful. 

Because authenticity is so crucial in wabi-sabi thinking, cracks and other imperfections are seen as symbols of the passage of time as well as characteristics of the users’ caring. A home based on wabi-sabi helps us be satisfied with what we have and to stop wishing for more. We learn to choose what we really want and what we need. (Adapted from various sources.)

The Foreigner’s Story

The Foreigner looks and thinks: Chove en Santiago, meu doce amor [It’s raining in Santiago, my sweet love]. She is so right: the sky has opened up and gifted the city with waves of rain, a seaful of water that fortunately will flood nothing because the metropolitan area, which includes the oldest part, was built on a hill. It rains and everything runs downhill to some undefined site where it is absorbed and forgotten. That’s not the case with poor Padrón, a town only seventeen kilometers away. Much has been written about that, by authors like Rosalía de Castro and Anxo Angueira, and there is nothing good about the flooding there, nothing magical.

Santiago, the Santiago where the Foreigner is currently living, is a whole other story. Padrón might be famous as the (legendary) site where Saint James arrived in a small stone boat. He supposedly had been beheaded back in his homeland, so his impressions of Padrón are nonexistent. The Foreigner is hardly of the same status as the saint, but she has been developing a whole host of impressions of when it rains in the City of the Apostle. One might even say she was becoming an expert on Compostela under the clouds.

She always refrained from expressing those impressions, however, knowing that she would get some very strange looks.

Chove en Santiago, meu doce amor. A lot of people are familiar with those lines written by Federico García Lorca decades ago and published in 1935. They can even recite the whole poem (and parts of the other five) by heart. They feel honored that such a celebrity would make the effort to write in their language, in galego.

The Foreigner thinks about how Lorca probably knew a fair amount of Galician, through his friends and his reading of the medieval songs. She shared that with the famous Andalusian poet, shared the pull of the language, its dexterity in describing nature, solitude or soidade, the weight of the past in places and people. Of course people thought Lorca was brilliant and were happy he’d written those six poems, all quite famous. In contrast, they would just see her, the Foreigner, as an odd duck. If she told them what she thought and felt about Santiago the city.

It had started to rain now, just as it had when Lorca had visited. Once upon a time the Foreigner had actually despised the rain. It would often make her feel like curling up in a tight ball on the hard sofa and never going outside. It gave her sinusitis. It depressed her. It sounded like minuscule needles penetrating into bodies and buildings. But that was, as has just been said, once upon a time. Not now. Not any more. The Foreigner was beyond that.

Nowadays, when it rained, everything seemed to have changed. The drops had aged, perhaps. Or - more likely - she had. Anyway, she had no longer had the childish urge to roll up like a sow bug and shut out the world. She now had a sturdy umbrella, waterproof shoes that came up high on her feet, and a hooded raincoat. She was, one might say, ready for action. Que chova! Let it rain! And so it did. Often.  

This was how the transformation began on this day, around noon, right at the moment when three raindrops hit the ancient pavement at the same time. The effect was instantaneous and it was real. The Foreigner was well aware, however, that it was slightly complex…

Immediately patterns appeared on the surfaces of the old stones: ridges and bumps, welts, cracks, ravines and ridges …. a granite landscape broken into millions of lines, veins, and angles. The cathedral and other buildings might seem eternal, unchanging, but the wetness revealed the work of centuries every time. The straight walls were imperfect, corners were rubbed smooth, chipped, broken. There were places where the sutures of humans trying to preserve them were evident. It seems granite used in construction in 1300 is not identical to that used in 1500 or 1700. Time will not be denied its right to attack the minerals.

Rain outlines everything, reveals every inconsistency, dyes the stones different colors, emphasizes the use of certain tools when they were cut. Scars litter every block and demand attention. It is like trying to read words on a page. When dry, the words are invisible. When wet, they work to show off their secrets. They refuse to remain still. They move, heave, and sigh, maybe just a little like the famous wall in the Peruvian Arguedas’ novel Los ríos profundos, Deep Rivers. Cuzco versus Compostela. Which city would win? The Foreigner felt it had to be the latter, but she was prejudiced. She’d only spent two days in the Peruvian city and had been in Galicia for several months. Enough time to develop a serious intimacy.

Chipped edges blossom everywhere. The wearing away of statues makes it seem like the stones had been cut that way on purpose. Had there been a requirement for all shapers of stone to avoid straight angles. Even a lot of wood carving on altars and pews seemed deliberately casual, but that’s a different matter, because the Foreigner is watching the rain, which is outside.

Slabs are set firmly in the ground and are always underfoot in the old part, the casco vello. Looking at how some of them have acquired a kind of pillow-like shape, the Foreigner wonders how many feet had to walk over them so they would look like that. How many, how quickly, with what footwear. Some were so smooth and polished, yet remained bumpy. 

The Foreigner thinks now of the ruts inscribed by Roman carts on the stones leading to the castro de Baroña. She had loved visiting there and had gone three times already to study the jagged rocks of the round dwellings by the sea. That site had felt tipped in several directions, molded to the terrain. However, she had never been there when it was raining and didn’t know what imprints the water made when it started coming down.

Now there were lights glowing and skipping everywhere. Twinkling, flashing, bouncing off stones, the drops were straining to bring out the best of the granite bones of Compostela. The Foreigner didn’t dare tell anybody about this phenomenon, but she knew it wasn’t her imagination. The effect was immediate, but was hard to detect if the rain was furious. It happened with showers, especially.

Another characteristic of the city she was unconsciously beginning to think of as her city, was the on and off feature of its rain. There could be a downpour one minute, then shortly after, glorious light could appear. This was not to say the rain couldn’t settle in for long stretches, but sporadic precipitation was a real possibility. So much so that there were knowledgeable locals who never left their homes without an umbrella. Even if there was a bright sun, one never knew…

The Foreigner discovers that she is holding her breath, totally seduced by the water’s spell. She is looking at a world of diamonds and silver, emerald-green moss and pugnacious ivy, then realizes that she is crying with glee. Like a child. Her imagination, she decides, needs to be brought under control. Then she knows.

Water darkens the black veins in the stones, turning them into ink. It measures the irregular, deeper veins, so that some can be seen as an eighth of an inch thick. Others are shallower, or have more depth. This might seem to be a minor thing, but the Foreigner scans the streets and sees so much unevenness on every surface that she thinks an artist may have come at night to create a collage with them, adding other materials for texture.

This is absurd. 

It was logical for the Foreigner to think that way. Human hands had constructed the city, which now had so many monuments or memorable parts, and time had begun a deconstruction that would take many millennia to complete. She is crossing the quilted Quintana dos Mortos, the Square of the Dead. It was named that because for a long time it had been a burial ground. Had been. Was no longer. The bodies had been removed to a more suitable resting place, but the Foreigner thought they had left something behind, a permanence that was incomplete, even ragged. The rain could change that, maybe. The Quintana was where Lorca had staged his theater when he visited Santiago. That too might have left some remnants that could be revived. She thought she had heard them, in fact.

She never told anybody. She knew what would happen. It rains and you think somebody’s sprinkling fairy dust! Not so. She knew what was there. And she wasn’t a child. Wasn’t deluded.

Seeing where drops had pooled, what stray grasses and blossoms are in the cracks between the slabs, how the gurgling fountains of the Toural and Acibechería were gurgling more loudly, the Foreigner was certain she was now surrounded by a host of voices. They weren’t very loud, and they were friendly, but the drips and drops were profuse, so it was hard to know exactly where to turn if she hoped to listen in on the conversation of Santiago with its rain.

Soaked, the flaking white plaster on some buildings that had been somebody’s bad idea long ago, begins to resemble the Mohave Desert, all cracked and dry. It was obviously ironic that rain can make something look like a desert. Plus, who wants to live in a desert? The Foreigner certainly does not.

Flowers along the alameda where people often stroll, then stop to look out on the cathedral, are filled with wetness. They are thirsty and shining as they display their liquid petals, the magnolias, especially. And gardenias. A few majestic yet subtle gardenias have been made more fragrant and sensual by the rain. Next to them are the myrtle hedges, also sweet-smelling but woodier. Rain-welcomers all.

Terraza tables now sparkle, even the ones with a fair amount of rust. Nobody wants to sit in them right after it has rained, no matter how much they crave a coffee. Too bad, because the streets are at their rugged best now that the rain has made them look like they are begging for a frottage, the technique where a person rubs graphite (a pencil, for example) over a surface and gets a design to use in an art piece.

Gargoyles are not to be forgotten, although it’s hard to say if they are frustrated or relieved. They now have splotched faces, bulbous noses, buggy eyes, and butts darkened by the damp. They will dry quickly, patchily, once the precipitation has ceased, content after their rain bath. The Foreigner can always see it in their eyes, that appetite for water, quickly sated, followed by the shaking of garments to hasten drying. She knew a lot of gargoyles, had made friends with them. That was how she knew what rain could do to them.

The Foreigner obviously does not believe in magic, but she kind of thinks Santiago has some and she knows it must be part of the reason she’s drawn to this place, feels at home. It’s not like her real home, but it could be. It has all the imperfections, chips, and uneven lines that she loves. It shows the passing of time yet is not broken, not decadent. It defies the commercial, inauthentic world back home. It values its own past. 

The Foreigner has much less here of everything - clothing, objects, even books. This is not supposed to be a permanent residence, after all. Yet she is quite happy here. She had been afraid of leaving the other world behind, but now she knows living in a way that has meaning is a way of being in the world that her other home lacks. 

That is rather hard to relate to a little rain.

The Foreigner doesn’t care about this. 

Embrace the stones, she says, and run your hands over their lack of newness, their flaws. Think of croques, which make sense. 

(A croque is a blow or a knock. The cathedral has a santo dos croques who isn’t a saint at all but a smaller-than-life statue of the architect of the Pórtico da Gloria, the big arch of the temple’s entrance. )

Stretch yourself around the mass of minerals, stoic under every rain. You will learn something. Diffuse yourself into this perfectly worn imperfect city with the imbalance of two hearts, one old, one new. (You want the old.)

The Foreigner’s mind is restless, unstoppable now.

Nobody can watch the rain create that stage - as good as Lorca’s - and remain the same. The Foreigner knows that the spell cast over Santiago by the Apostle and centuries of pilgrimage had reached her too. She was part of the city, or it was part of her. Not a pilgrim, but rather something else.

That something else she was not yet able to put into words; her fingers and eyes still had much to explore. It was always going to rain again. She had time.

Chove en Santiago, it’s raining in Santiago, and I will never be the same

The Foreigner’s Note

Drowning in stone. Learning its way of thinking and what it expects of me. of wabi-sabi lives here. Is it my ikigai, my raison d’être, my passion as they say in Japanese or French? I am living this rain and blessing it as if I had faith, as if I were a Catholic priest saying mass in the big cathedral. Holy water for the non-believers. That’s what the rain is.

September 25, 2021 02:53

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2 comments

Francis Daisy
11:39 Sep 25, 2021

Holy water for non-believers...I love this idea...

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Kathleen March
15:05 Sep 25, 2021

This just popped into my head and seemed accurate…

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