You looked out the window and, not for the first time, thought about how wrong the weather forecast had been.
Lavinia was shaking her head, thinking about how meteorology was full of loopholes and disappointments. What you see in the forecast is certainly not what you get every time.
You thought you had everything planned perfectly. You watched three days in a row to see what the weather was going to be like, and every day you saw it was supposed to rain on Saturday. It was like it had been written in stone, right? Like one of those petroglyphs that are everywhere in Galicia, with even more appearing every week, or so it seems. Those etchings in granite had survived centuries on end of rain and wind. They forced people to stop and reimagine their ties to the past. Whoever was responsible, there were a lot of them and they seemed to have gone around scratching pictures on a lot of rocks.
Outside the window, nothing of what you had expected is happening. You are so upset, because you had great plans for the day and had gone out of your way to prepare for it.
You want it to rain so badly that you can taste it. Rain has an incredible taste. It tastes… well, transparent, and wet, and soothing, and slippery, and everything. You needed rain, because something inside you was drying up and trying to blow away and you did not want to lose it.
Your window doesn’t have a broad view, it has no horizons, there is nothing much but street and walls and rooftops. Today it is a rainless window. If you move to a different window, will it give you rain? No, because the window that is next to the rainless one, except on the other side of the door, is also rainless. This is a very difficult situation. You had other plans.
You were all prepared to go out on a rainy Saturday when everybody had errands to run, which meant the streets would be full of people, people you knew and strangers. You had questions to ask them, you wanted to try out the Galician language with them, see if you had learned anything. You knew the land and its rain were the only way to understanding the place you had come to analyze. Who did you think you were? An outsider comes in with an idea and thinks she can walk away with a conclusion, as if you knew something they didn’t know? When will you figure out that they are all one, two, or twenty thousand steps ahead of you?
It is still not raining outside the sad little window, outside both sad little windows, who need rain to understand the world.
You decide to venture out nevertheless. You decide to take your umbrella just in case the weather changes and some of the delicious Santiago rain decides to put in an appearance.
Actually, it’s not the flavor of the rain. It’s the stones of the streets and buildings. The rain falls, and often, because it knows what the minerals taste like. Drops falling, streaming, clutching (occasionally) the roughness of ancient walls (how old is ancient?). Dripping rivulets caressing every last centimeter of every stone in every niche of the casco vello, the old city. Drops running, colliding, tingling. Water that has labored for centuries to flatten and polish the slabs in alleys. Polish? Maybe punish.
You see only sun. Rays that ricochet off every imaginable surface and lie to tourists, telling them Santiago is a sunny city and only shines for them. They don’t care, because they’ve come for the seafood that Santiago imports from the coast. The seafood that comes from everywhere along the coast but not from the City of the Saint, which has no coast.
Today the sun is so bright and so hateful. When the sun is out, there is nothing to say, nothing to wonder about. Nobody has to rush from street to street, fighting with a recalcitrant umbrella in the swooshing gusts that are channeled in predictable directions. Nobody rushes, yet nobody stops to question the waterless air.
You had everything planned perfectly. You had your list of water words and wanted to hang them out on a line for all to see. Or scoop them from a bucket, wring them out, then shake out the wrinkles as you put them on display. You had big plans, Lavinia, but you are not in charge.
What were your plans, Lavinia? What did you hope to accomplish?
You had gone over possible routes through the old city, placing a mental red X where you thought you might be able to stop and pull out your arsenal of wet words. Well, words that had something to do with rain. You thought you could use Santiago as a personal language lab in which the locals would listen and then respond with their part of the dialogue.
You were planning to head out of your bedsit in the San Pedro neighborhood and stop across from the Igrexa das Ánimas that Castelao made more famous than it probably deserved. There was an organic foods shop nearby and the owner, or employee, was quite friendly. You’d planned to say “Chove a arroiar, nonsí?” It’s pouring, that’s for sure. Except arroiar meant something different. You just thought the verb had lots of nice vowels.
If the organic place didn’t work, you knew there was a really old pharmacy near that, one where the pharmacist was so old she didn’t remember that she didn’t have a degree in Pharmacy and really oughtn’t be offering medical advice. That would be a good place to make a statement like “Chove coma quen envorca,” which kind of meant ‘it’s pouring’ except more like “It’s raining as if somebody just tipped the pail over.” Or boat, or glass, or something. Envorcar. A quite nifty verb, when you thought about it. Lots of things get tipped over and cause a real mess, or flood.
After you’d passed those two places, you knew there was a nice little shop for tourists. Even so, it was a nice little shop. They sold really nice woven shawls and the best-ever t-shirts with an octopus whose tentacles curled up and around and spelled the word ‘camino’. Pilgrims walk the Camino de Santiago, Saint James’ Way. They like souvenirs that remind them of that. You like trying out your rain words, so had selected something for that shop, where you would duck inside so as not to get drenched. You were going to say, “Chove a caldeiradas,” meaning it’s raining pots full of water. Caldeira, used to make soups or stews or things like that. Maybe like a kettle. It’s raining kettles? It’s raining cauldrons? What if caldeira in this case referred to a ditch? It’s raining ditches full of water?
By now you would be in the well-known Praza de Cervantes and there would be passersby you could try out some rain words on. You had considered ‘chove a cachón’ or ‘chove a varrer’. Cachón: gush, waterfall, bubbling, broken wave, flood, foam, boar in heat. Boar in heat? What does that have to do with the weather? Varrer: to sweep. Did that mean the rain would wash everything away? That is was strong enough to knock people down and wash them into the drains? You might need to think more before using those two options. Plus, if you went up to a tourist with those words, you wouldn’t get any response worth repeating.
Maybe you could have tried out some awesome idioms if it had been raining like it was supposed to. “A mera de San Xoan leva o viño e mailo pan.” Mera. Fog. So fog around San Xoan ruins the grapes (o viño) and the wheat (o pan)? If it’s not San Xoan, which is in June, on the summer solstice, you’d look pretty silly making that statement. It wasn’t June, so you might do better avoiding that statement. April? For that you had prepared “Abril frío e mollado enche o celeiro e farta o gado.” A cold and rainy April is good for the grass and the cattle. Bad translation, because celeiro has four or five meanings. Farta o gado is better translated as ‘fills the cows’ bellies’. You’d sound rather silly talking about cows’ bellies in the middle of the city.
This one’s better: “Auga miúda, vendaval que dura.” Light rain means there will be lots of wind. That was a definite possibility, as long as it was sprinkling and windy. You did have two more candidates for describing the rain, if and only if, the dates were right: “Se polo San Xurxo chove, de mil cereixas quedan nove.” If that was the festival of Saint George (San Xurxo), it referred to September 25. If it rains then, and you have a thousand cherries, only nine will be left. September is kind of late for cherries, so maybe there’s another Saint George? “Chuvia por Santa Lucía tolle a sardiña.” You’d think all Galicians were good Catholics, wouldn’t you? Saint Lucy’s festival is December 13. Of course it’s going to rain then. It rains all the time in December. So if it rains then, it’ll ruin the sardines. Must be sardines are a bad bet that time of year. Which isn’t a problem because they always taste better in summer, covered with coarse salt and grilled.
The day is so sunny. No clouds, nothing that says ‘water’.
You have still another option, and it just might be your favorite: “Cando chove e mais fai sol, anda o Demo por Ferrol.” When it rains and the sun’s out, the Devil is walking around Ferrol. You can believe that, because Franco, the dictator only a Fascist could love, was from Ferrol, and you weren’t fond of that city. It was a perfect place for Satan to be. You were definitely going to try this expression out, with the only limitation being that there had to be some sun along with the rain.
Today there’s only excessive sunshine.
You are not in a good mood. You can’t try out any of the phrases you rehearsed because the dates don’t match, the weather doesn’t match, nothing matches. As a last resort you might pull out your list of nouns and verbs and just walk around asking people if they know what they mean.
Here’s the list, but it’s not complete and nobody should take the time to read all these funny words:
babuña, babuxa, barbaña, barbuña, barbuza, barrallo, barrufa, barruñeira, barruzo, breca, chuvisca, froallo, lapiñeira, mexadeira, mocalleira, morriña, morriñada, parrumada, parrumeira, patiñeira, poalla, poalleira.
Lavinia realizes that her idea is nothing more than an obsession, a childish list of words, or a game she’d hoped to play in order to feel like she belonged in a place like Santiago. She, who really didn’t like damp weather a whole lot, who missed snow in the winter, who was never going to store-hop along the old streets with her list, grabbing arms along the way, asking the people she met to give her words. Everybody knows that talking about the weather makes for less than stimulating conversation. It was a brilliant, sunny day and Lavinia has already walked up the street where the organic foods and the pharmacy are, past the Ánimas Church, past the nice little souvenir shop with the cute octopus t-shirts. She has gone past the statue of Cervantes in the quaint little square and has descended the slope with the archway, by Xelmírez Palace where a musician is playing, trying to make a living.
Now Lavinia has put the list away, or maybe she’s actually forgotten it. It’s probably on the table or the little sofa in her bedsit. What value can a list of words have, anyway? She walks out of the archway into the big Obradoiro Square in front of the cathedral. She stands in the middle, ignoring all the other foreigners gathered there with their guides, some of them waiting for the absurd little white train that chugs visitors around the city. She wishes she weren’t a foreigner, wishes this were her home. She also wishes she had been born with a hundred expressions about rain in her head and two hundred words just to describe the water that flows so freely over Santiago so many times throughout the year.
She wishes these things and two tears trickle down her cheeks. She stands in the vast square, alone, surrounded by people and stones.
There is a lightning bolt, then a clap of thunder, a surreal boom of a noise. Lavinia, startled, looks up.
Raindrops wash away her tears.