It is a known fact that London is home to everlasting drizzle and grey skies, but it is not until you live there that you realize that while rain is generally not preferable weather, it is essential to London’s character. You will not know London unless you walk it. And if you walk it — like in Boston — rain is a part of it. And it can be cold and miserable, but it’s part of what makes London alive, and you can’t understand this until you’ve walked enough wet walks from Kings Cross to Lambs Conduit Street to see that wet streets really mean sparkling streets and that off of wet grimy buildings trickles the soot of history, and the patter of rain is the perfect disturbance to long nights with Jane Austen in the dry safety of your Bloomsbury dorm room.
The English sky threatens tears daily. Frustration with such meteorological uncertainty often led me to opt for herringbone over REI raingear, and frequently I found myself exiting the thick black door with the lion head knocker of the New York University classroom building only to be — as expected, perhaps — caught in a downpour, hurrying past the back of the British Museum to Russell Square where I could pick up the daily paper outside the Tube and place it over my head — the London Evening Stand-In for the rest of the way home.
But it is these cold cloudbursts that make possible London’s rich warmth, as in desperation you discover tiny magazine stores on side streets or spend all afternoon in the Victoria and Albert or — dangerously — enter the impending doom that is a brightly lit Harrods against a British navy blue sky.
Much of what I find myself missing about the city is not blurred but made clearer by its rain. Wednesday evenings after a long class on Dickens with Dr. Landau in thick sweaters and Barbour jackets with classmates at the College Arms pub and a pint of God’s Wallop; weekends, dark and spitting urban nights cooling your Hoxton-clubbing sweat as you eat bagels after midnight on Brick Lane and wait, frizzy and chilled, for the night bus to drive you the long journey home; afternoons in the Senate House Library with Kenneth; misty wanders through Covent Garden down to the Adelphi Theatre on The Strand; black cabs rushing quietly in Piccadilly through black puddles made colorful by the circus’ bright lights, while tourists try not to slip as they dodge each other’s umbrellas en hastened route to the dryness and warmth of the Underground.
Rain blankets on the city a sort of gloomy glory, when after an evening service of gold chancels and red-cheeked choirboys Westminster is softened with rain. You can hear Wordsworth cringe as Big Ben turns to somber bronze, his face a pallid yellow. Parliament is darkened, water-stained. To the left, Whitehall is gray and imperial. The view from Waterloo Bridge is covered by steam, St. Paul’s dome no longer visible and the riverboats hidden by the city’s pea soup fog.
Paris, too, boasts dismal weather, but in bleak mid-winter months the Parisian rain experience is a mauvais temps of 40-something degree struggles against sleet sheets and sideways winds so that in the City of Love you come to know la grisaille (in a word, melancholia) and spend your nights watching disastrously bad French reality TV.
But Mr. Allen is not entirely incorrect is saying that Paris, like London, is beautiful in the rain. There are occasional whimsical nights post-Histoire d’Art lecture when the study abroad student eschews the 6 train in favor of an umbrella and learns that rain or shine, Paris, Île-de-France blooms with cosmopolitanism and artistic romance, especially on a misty Pont Alexandre III. You begin to feel very much as if you would have been friends with Gustave Caillebotte, and there becomes something endearing and habitual about escaping drizzle by waiting in a line à la boulangerie or swaddling in black wool drinking mulled wine with Jorge in a clean, well-lit café on St. Germain that’s ostensibly home to Hemingway’s ghost.
The last time it downpoured in Boston, my roommate and I went outside to jump in puddles, like children. Passersby under umbrellas laughed at us. We felt silly and wonderful. The streetlights turned on, and the bikes glistened with their new reflective drops, and we wondered if we would get hit by lightening.
In rain, the skin feels raw and fresh, like something — everything, maybe — is being washed away — except the fact that you and your skin are young and alive and breathing and in that moment, for once, you realize, fully, exactly where you are — be it Tottenham Court Road, the Marché aux Puces or Harvard Avenue. Between thunder rolls, the world stops and listens. Everything, aside from the rain and those trying to escape it, seems to be still. Bay State — like Boulevard Montparnasse, though much quainter — is beautiful in the rain, which in Boston is not purple, but mauve. Lauryn and I tried to prolong the moment of sitting cross-legged in the middle of the street for as long as we could before time forced us to get up. It sounds a lot like college, actually, or a semester in London, where we’re comfortably nested until, too soon, the clouds break and we’re forced to fly.
This rainy Sunday morning I find myself inside, eating grapefruit, listening to Sam Freedman lectures. I get word on my screen that Time Machine has not backed up my laptop in a very long time. I check the date. I know that autumnal rain will soon be cold rain and snow. I can only keep calm and carry an umbrella.
Anne Whiting is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a Fall 2012 columnist for The Daily Free Press. She can be reached at [email protected].