Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks! ~ William Shakespeare, King Lear
The rainy season is almost upon us. Tonight the thunder and lightning pre-empted the rain by a good hour, performing ostentatiously above Makati like a grumbling, mumbling old man, interspersed with flashes of bright white temper, totally drowning out the endless muttering growl of the traffic on EDSA. Yet as I sat on the balcony after sunset, the sky was almost clear of clouds, the storm stalking up behind us like a panther, where I could only catch the claw-flick of lightening out of the corner of my eye.
Then suddenly, when the oppressive heat threatened to submerge the whole city under its duffle coat weight of humidity, the sky broke open and the rain came down in sheets, pulling a net curtain across the horizon, and veiling the cactus-spiked skyline of the Fort from view.
I love a roaring, pouring stroppy, tropical storm. I grew up in ‘the driest state in the driest inhabited continent in the world.’ In summer, when hoses were banned and bushfire warnings reached their peak, we would collect buckets of used washing water to rehydrate Mum’s parched garden. So the sheer, excessive, self-indulgence of a tropical downpour leaves me breathless and wide-eyed with excitement. It’s a better spectacle than New Year Fireworks.
In Bangkok, the rainy season delivered a deluge of rain every afternoon at 3pm on the dot. We could set our clocks by it, and would settle ourselves out on the balcony to watch the clouds empty themselves vigorously over the city, flooding the drains and the sois with murky, rubbish-strewn storm-water, stopping the traffic in its tracks, ambushing the pavements and washing away the grime of a modern Asian city.
In Malaysia, we had a ground floor flat, and I remember on one occasion gathering up a bundle of small children and opening wide the sliding doors to watch the show, while trying to convince two nervous little neighbours that there was nothing to be scared of, it was only rain, until we were all shrieking with delight as the wild and boisterous clouds lashed rain across our faces and the sitting room floor, while the thunder cheered enthusiastically from the wings. The aftermath was cool and fresh, the acrid, murky air clearing for a few hours of much-needed relief.
In England we exchanged steamy, torrential downpours for damp and dreary mizzle: a mist of rain, cold and persistent
that soaked through our hair and our clothes, chilling skin and skulls with impressive powers of impregnation for something so feathery and insubstantially fine. Unpleasant and unwelcome, it nonetheless gave birth to the glorious spring woodlands bursting with bluebells and primroses, lime green leaf tips and lush grass.
I remember the weeks after we first landed in Sydney, innocent and unsuspecting that Australia could provide other than arid, ochre deserts and scorched earth. In winter, the skies of this sub-tropical city held more water than I could ever have imagined possible. Not just an hour long, daily deluge, but a constant cataract, crashing down on the roof like a liquid battering ram for days, until gutters blocked up and overflowed, overwhelmed by the onslaught of floodwater and debris. Steep drives turned into rivers, and trees were swept into the road, uprooted by the merciless torrent of rain.
Here in Manila the rain is something equally awesome, combining torrential downpour with suffocating tropical heat. From our eerie, safe and secure above the city streets, it is spectacular. And yet, doubtless it won’t be long before we receive the first SOS of the rainy season, the start of an endless torrent of emails asking for aid for the thousands of citizens rendered homeless by typhoon and flood, as reservoir and river levels rise and fill the streets and houses where infrastructure is so inexcusably far beyond efficient as to be rendered useless.
And we will fill our shopping trolleys with rice and cans to be delivered to the halls and schools serving as temporary shelter until the water levels drop and the ravaged slums and suburbs can be dried out and scrubbed back into some semblance of habitability.
Poets make the rain sound affectionate and attractive, a kiss of nature, a welcome precursor to the rainbow. Tell that to the victims of an obstreperous and obdurate typhoon, that perseverates like water torture on the heads and homes of the unfilial masses…
And yet somehow there is a wild and furious beauty to a summer storm that I cannot resist. It is hypnotic in its determination to drown the earth, and a rough reminder that the battle between Man and Nature is one we may never win.
*With thanks to Google Images for sharing its storm-torn shots for this piece.