It’s been raining, wildy and erratically, for the past few days. Spaniards like to call this weather “gota fria”, or “cold drop”. No, it’s not raining cough medicine.
My mother is non-chalant about this weather, but deep inside, in some secret subconcious part of her, I know she hates it. She’ll pull out flashlights and draw back the curtains, staring through the windows as if she could somehow will the water back into the clouds. She’ll worry obsessively about my father, who is coming home via subway, a worry which is manifested in several cursing proclamations (example: “Damn it! Damn this weather! Damn your father for being such a numbskull and taking the subway when I told him to take a taxi!”). My brother will scream when lightning pierces the sky, taking the opportunity to go hide in his room (though I suspect this is just one of his conniving ploys to delay his bedtime). As for me? I love this weather. The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen was one of these storms over the sea, adding rhythm to the push-pull tempo of the waves, whispering away the clouds and revealing the perfect innards of the sky, millions of stars you’d never be able to see in the city.
These rains are common in October on the Mediterranean coast. The sea is crazed and delirious, forcing a drought upon the earth until autumn, where it suddenly changes its mind and spews out more water than we can handle. As the Spaniards like to say: No llueve. Pero cuando llueve, llueve. It doesn’t rain. But when it rains, it rains.
It was during one of these periods, in 1957, when the river Turia, just a few kilometers away from where I live, swelled and broke. Ruptured.
The water rose and filled the cobblestone streets, leaving scraggly scars on buildings and covering automobiles and the gnarled, pockmared orange trees we are famous for. Valencia is circular, and the Turia flows around the semicircle of it, surrounding the city and almost filling it, sweeping away fields and homes and the souls of eighty-one people.
When it ended, the Valencians decided to change the flow of the river, directing it into a different path, so its waters would no longer run through the city. Where it had once been, they tossed seeds that would one day flourish and bloom and prosper, trees like their rain-blown ancestors, born from the desire to rebuild what the river had taken away in the course of few hours.
You know what I find interesting from this ordeal? When the Turia rose and fought, there was one point in Valencia it did not touch – its innermost center. Here is a little stone plaza, surrounded by wooden benches with love notes scratched onto the sides. A plaza with a fountain in the middle, paved with rose-colored stone, and named after the Virgen. La Plaza de la Virgen. And in the middle, Valencia’s only, and most precious cathedral.
I’m not overly religious or anything – but it does make me wonder.