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When the Rain Begins to Fall

From my window the rain seems to have a strange aroma, as if it were humidity spiced up with the flavor of other decades and I still do not understand why this feeling of nostalgia. It's a spring afternoon on Lexington Avenue, with 95th Street slowly disappearing from my window. We've been living in this little piece of Manhattan called Carnegie Hill for two months now, and I like the place because it's quiet and clean. Still, sometimes I miss that madness that I used to encounter face to face during my nightly strolls through the East Village. Here the view from my desk on the sixth floor is enviable. Right now, I observe this rain that directs the dynamics of this city at will. People of different races and cultures come and go to the subway with umbrellas, coats and rubber boots, pulling their dog’s leash, tired, impassive, they pass by others dressed in t-shirts and tights who rush to the corner café on 96th Street and Lexington. But no one looks up to see this huge sky I am seeing. In the city there is no time for that. Those citizens who respect the rules are always accelerated, because you have to make the transfer at 125th Street, because you have to be on time to attend to your children in Astoria, Flushing Main or Jackson Heights, because the basement is flooded, because you have to be mentally prepared to endure a city that does not stop to comfort the tired. The hard streets flanked by buildings of eclectic structures, those townhouses with airs of grandeur next to other more modern buildings, from one moment to the next, are flooded with torrents of water that run toward the sewers. The sky stops being a submissive space above the city and throws out ferocious thunderbolts that trigger alarms from parked cars and inquisitive looks from New Yorkers. At last the grayish arch shows its teeth. And, of course, it has plenty! The rain hits hard, you can hear it hitting the pavement. I like that spectacle of engulfed clouds, ashes, browns, jet black, contrasting with these buildings of false details designed in cast iron. Trees on the rooftops swaying obligingly before a wind that subdues powerfully from above like an eagle of prey. I feel comfortable. I feel warm and protected as I observe from my window a totally unknown city. And out of nowhere, I remember the chorus of a very popular song from the eighties, which said:

"... and when the rain begins to fall..."

It's the only thing I remember, but Youtube does it all.

I type the phrase and relaxation melodies, poems, reggaeton songs, salsa appear, until I finally find "When the rain begins to fall" by Jermaine Jackson and Pia Zadora. I had no idea they existed, but there's the song I was looking for. It's the first time I see the video, and discover it has no relation to New York; but my mind made a strange connection between the rain, this song, my childhood and this indecipherable gridded city. I can't place it in exact moments, because it played repeatedly on the radio. It could be any winter in my parents' house. I feel that smell of humidity and burning kerosene from the old stove, while on the IRT radio the host announces that song, and I look anxiously out the window at the torrential rain, like a cat in front of the butcher shop, waiting for it to stop at once to go out and play, step in the puddles that the rain transforms into vast oceans, scenes of naval battles between frail paper boats and battleships built of nut shells. The winters of a teenager who arrives at the university wet down to his underwear after walking a few miles in the rain and the smile of my classmates who weathered the cold by making fun of the ridiculous cowboy boots worn by the audit professor. My father's smile as we pulled "cochayuyo" that crashed at the mouth of the indomitable BioBío river after a big storm and later, the delicious salads with coriander and onions that my mother prepared with my grandmother for dinner. Rain has that charm. It makes me more introverted. It makes me remember and that's good when you live in a city as accelerated as New York. But you only have to look down to see this city with its inert and living structures that the music accompanies and relieves the nostalgia that squeezes my chest.

Sometimes I think that none of that was real. That my grandmother, my father, those dirt streets, the paper boats, the sea of Talcahuano and its salty air, those old images of New York City on a black and white TV, perhaps were invented by my mind to withstand the intense emotions of a totally unknown city; and yes, the present is so exciting that it sometimes confuses me. The city we are looking for is not always in what we see, it can also be in our memories.

Manhattan, August 2020.

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