Saturday, May 7, 2016

Review: Rain: A Natural and Cultural History

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Longfellow also wrote what is arguably rain’s most famous refrain, the closing lines of “The Rainy Day”:
Into each life some rain must fall
Some days must be dark and dreary.

(Kindle Locations 2911-2913)

The best chapters:

After reading Rain there is nothing else to say about the rain (apart from going outdoors forgetting the umbrella).

Many archaeologists believe Homo sapiens built their big brain power during these rain-starved times, evolving speech to share what they knew about water and food to survive famine. (Kindle Locations 465-467)

In Sanskrit, the word for rain, varsha, is derived from the older vrish, which means not only “to rain,” but also “to have manly power” and “generative vigor.” Hindus consider rivers female, and sometimes describe those swollen with monsoon rains as pregnant. (Kindle Locations 879-881)

And the lives of gods including revered Krishna are intimately tied to rain. Krishna’s skin is storm-blue, and his name means “dark as a storm cloud.” Rain follows him from the day of his birth to a royal family in Mathura during a terrific storm. The tempest helps obscure a ruse when his father secrets Krishna across the Yamuna River (the largest tributary of the Ganges) to switch him with the newborn child of a cowherd couple so he won’t be murdered by Mathura’s wicked ruler. (Kindle Locations 933-936)

The Welsh, who have more than two dozen words for rain, like to say that it’s raining old women and walking sticks. Afrikaans-speakers have a version that rains old women with knobkerries (that would be clubs). The Polish, French, and Australians all have a twist on raining frogs; the Aussies sometimes call a hard rain a frog-strangler. Portuguese- and Spanish-speakers both might say it’s raining jugs. (Kindle Locations 1131-1134)

Rain can warp, swell, discolor, rust, loosen, mildew, stink, peel paint, consume wood, erode masonry, corrode metal, expand destructively when it freezes, or seep into every crack when it evaporates. (Kindle Locations 1870-1871)

Later in the 1920s, Wright’s cousin Richard Lloyd Jones Sr., publisher of the afternoon newspaper in Tulsa, Oklahoma, commissioned him to build a home there. Jones was worried about the textile blocks in an area with more rain than the West, and rightly so. Despite heroic waterproofing attempts, the home, Westhope, was perpetually damp. The roof leaked almost immediately after Jones moved in. He called in roofers to resurface, in vain. He went to his desk and placed a call: “Dammit, Frank—it’s leaking on my desk!” Wright calmly replied, “Why don’t you move your desk?” (Kindle Locations 1893-1897)

Rain “is a power which none but God can rule with justice. (Kindle Location 2384)

Now that modern humans could fly like the gods of mythology, could they also make it rain like Jupiter Pluvius? (Kindle Location 2601)

Perhaps more than in music or any other genre, rain, so fit for meter and metaphor, speaks in the language of poetry. Anthologies seem to have no end of poems titled “Rain,” or those devoted to April rain, May rain, August rain, September rain, summer rain, noon rain, night rain, and London rain—and all of that not even counting showers. (Kindle Locations 2903-2905)

In The Old Curiosity Shop, when Little Nell’s grandfather steals her savings, she rises from her bed in the dark night while “the rain beat fast and furiously without, and ran down in plashing streams from the thatched roof.” (Kindle Locations 2954-2956)

The American writer Edward Lewis Wallant, compared with Bellow and Roth before he died in his thirties, does it in his novel The Pawnbroker, foreshadowing a troubled young character’s redemption with a walk in a storm: “The fiery exultation of evil drained out of him then, and he walked home, all hunched over, nailed heavily to the earth by the torrential downpour.” (Kindle Locations 2990-2992)

To Sanjiv Chopra, the Indian American Harvard Medical School physician and author, like his younger brother Deepak Chopra, the loamy smell of long-awaited rains soaking India’s thirsty ground is “the scent of life itself.” (Kindle Locations 3161-3163)

Extracted from parched clay on the eve of the monsoons, and distilled with techniques dating to the Harappan, the scent of rain, in India, is known as Earth’s perfume. (Kindle Locations 3189-3190)

...humanity has managed to change the rain. (Kindle Location 3978)

In The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury wrote that the Martians “blended religion and art and science because, at base, science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle.” (Kindle Locations 4100-4102)

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