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Notes on pluviophilia
He who is tired of rain is tired of life
We are oddly unselective in the way we express our attitudes to nature, venturing that we ‘love the outdoors’ as if we shared a undifferentiated affection for the whole thing. As if we were not able to distinguish between say a valley and a sea. Perhaps an unheralded part of all of our emotional development is working out which parts of the outdoors actually connect with you – the process of differentiating yourself from the early landscapes and natural wonders which your carers selected for you and seeking out the vistas which actually suit your temperament. We feel a certain guilt when being underwhelmed by nature, but it may simply be that we haven’t yet found the right bits of it for us, which may be very particular indeed.
Which is a long way of saying that I love the rain. Watching rain, or rain falling on city pavements, or rain hitting the windows of a remote youth hostel – the presence of rain evokes something deep within me. For me the rain is not a invitation to stay indoors but a temptation out into the world. The reason this seems worth stating is that generally this is considered the metrological preferences of a loon.
Of course, most people would acknowledge that, even if they do not personally enjoy the rain, it possesses undoubted aesthetic qualities; the rain-drenched cityscapes of Michael Mann’s films or the neon-lit storms of ‘Bladerunner’ – I’d argue the rain was the best thing in the entirety of that film’s ponderous sequel – testify to its visual impact. Yet few people actively want it to rain; my spouse, from southern China, finds it immensely difficult to even countenance going out in wet weather. Meanwhile, for me to open the curtain on a drizzly day is to be gladdened at heart; if I had my druthers, there’d be little chance of it brightening up all afternoon.
There are other people who feel like this. The existence of the word ‘pluviophilia’, for a love of the rain, seems to indicate that. Indeed, on YouTube you can find long ASMR videos of rain, hours and hours of the stuff, designed to help you get to sleep. The clips often bear the adoring comments of pluviophiles. On one such clip, a commentator notes that the rain soothes us at night because hearing it outside implies that we have found shelter; in the genre, I seek out the more intense showers, or storms at sea, and wind down for sleep to the sound of rain banging on a tin roof.
Of course, you could say this is all pathetic fallacy, Ruskin’s term for using nature symbolize human emotion, with rain here just a representation of the soothing pleasures of melancholy. This is the way the rain falls incessantly in Wong-Kar-Wai’s ‘In the Mood For Love’, as a marker of sadness and regret. I dispute that, for I like the actual physical sensation of rain, the feeling of walking down a street at night with the rain mizzling away; it is in some small way an expression of freedom, that you are happy even to be out in this.
So rain is for romantics! And of course rain does often become folded into our own memories including our romantic memories; an old friend meeting me, very young, at Richmond station with an umbrella, an ex-girlfriend whose own umbrella was the last remaining thing she had from her ex, and which she lost while she was with me. I have a distinct memory of one Berlin afternoon, sitting in my apartment block high up, listening to Scott Walker’s cover of ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ when the rain came suddenly and said ex, who knew of my love of a downpour, texted me as I sat there.
The rain today, she wrote, was especially for you.
Indeed, at that time I was very fond of a German band called Element of Crime who had a song called ‘Es Regnet’, ‘It’s Raining’.
Es regnet und wieder nichts getan
Nur wieder wie im Wahn ein Luftschloss aufgebaut
Es regnet und wieder eine Nacht
Am Fenster zugbebracht und Träume durchgekaut
Und im Garten blüht die Illusion, das kenn' ich schon
Mal seh'n, ob sich das Warten lohnt
Immer wieder geht ein Regen nieder
Und am Himmel hängt ein halber Mond
© Element of Crime, 2001
It’s raining and I got nothing done
Once again building castles in the air liked mad
It rains and once again a night
Spent at the window chewing down dreams
And in the garden illusions bloom, I’m aware of that
Let’s see if waiting pays off
The rain comes down again
And a half-moon hangs in the sky
(translation the author)
The songwriter, Sven Regener, seems to feel similarly about the rain as I do. He does after all have the German word for ‘rain’ in his name.
The science behind precipitation is the kind even I can understand. Water vapour evaporates, forms clouds, and then these become saturated with water droplets which fall back to earth. Rinse and repeat. It’s the circle of life; bring a cagoule. But even if rain is an environmental confidence trick or a hoisting of nature’s stage scenery into place rain it still works; it still offers the world a brightening cleanse.
Only in recent years have I grown a little more timid about catching my death, and began to feel somewhat soggier after a walk in a downpour. I’m rather less of a stranger to an umbrella than I once was. But at heart I’m still a pluviophile. I’m still the young boy who ran out into the garden whenever it was raining, often while, if you must know, naked; who did rain dances, who lay in bed and thrilled at the storms outside. When I recently got my a job in Brussels it thrilled my heart to learn it’s one of the wettest cities in Europe1.
Many things lose their charm a touch as you age but I rather suspect the rain will be one of my last to go; in fact, I rather hope it’s raining when I die.
Did I mention that I’m from the north of England?
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