From my window the rain seems to have a strange aroma, as if it were humidity from other decades, and I still do not understand this feeling of nostalgia. It's a spring afternoon on Lexington Ave., with 95th St., 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; although sometimes I miss that fascinating madness that I encountered face to face during my nightly strolls through the East Village. But 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 from the subway with umbrellas and rubber boots, pulling their dogs' leashes, tired, impassive, they cross with others dressed in t-shirts and tights who rush across 96th St., to enter the café on the corner. But no one looks up to see this huge sky I am seeing. Because those citizens who respect the rules are always in a hurry, because you have to make the transfer at 125th St., because you have to be on time to attend to your children in Astoria, Flushing Main or Jackson Heights, because the basement was 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 a mixture of eclectic structures, those townhouses with airs of grandeur next to modern buildings, from one moment to the next are flooded with torrents that run towards the sewers and the sky stops being that submissive replica of the city throwing ferocious thunders that can be heard in the distance. And at last it shows its teeth. And, of course, it has plenty! The rain hits hard, you can hear it hitting the pavement and I like that spectacle of clouds of envelopes, ashes, browns, jet black, contrasting with these buildings of false details designed in cast iron, and those trees on the rooftops that move obligingly before a wind that subdues powerfully from above like an eagle of prey. I feel comfortable. I feel warm and protected in a totally unknown city, and it's strange because out of nowhere, I remember the chorus of a very popular song back in the eighties, which said:
"... and when the rain begins to fall..."
It's the only thing I remember, but YouTube does it all.
I wrote the phrase and relaxation melodies, poems, reggaeton songs, salsa appeared, until I finally found "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 the truth is that it has no relation to New York; but my mind made a strange connection between the rain, my childhood and this indecipherable gridded city. I can't place it in exact moments, because they played it repeatedly on the radio, but it's just any winter in my parents' house, and I feel that smell of humidity and burning kerosene from the old stove, while on the IRT radio the announcer announces that song and I look anxiously out the window at the torrential rain, like cat in front of the butcher shop, waiting for it to stop to go out to the street and step in the puddles that the rain transforms into vast oceans, scenes of naval battles between paper boats and nutshells. 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" at the mouth of the indomitable BioBío river after a big storm and the delicious salads with coriander and onions that my mother prepared with my grandmother for dinner. Rain has that charm. It makes me even 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 that nostalgia that squeezes my chest a little.
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, 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.
English corrections: Aurelie Cotugno