Sunday, October 14, 2012

London in the rain

This afternoon, I queued up for over two hours to enter the Rain Room at the Barbican Art Gallery in London. After anxiously awaiting this experience for a few days, then sitting around anticipating it even more with hundreds of other people who also stood in line, I was sure to be let down.

Well, I'll be honest and say that I wasn't let down in the slightest. Though the exhibition didn't give me the tingly feeling that it probably intended to induce, there was something really fascinating about its construction, about becoming part of a piece of art just by going to an art museum.

For those who don't know what the Rain Room is, it's an installation at the Barbican that consists of sprinklers suspended from the ceiling which rain down in a room at the museum. Groups of people can walk around under the raining ceiling and never become wet (or only become mildly wet) due to the presence of motion sensors that halt the sprinkling in whatever place they stand, with water dropping only a few feet away from them but never quite falling on them as the rain outside might.

On later reading, the artists behind the installation tried to make some case as to its significance on referencing the scarcity of resources, including water, in this world. A theme that is very poignant, however slightly lost.

Still, just walking through the water and marveling at the technology was enough to keep me interested. And to make me think about the experience of walking through water in London on a regular basis.

I've probably written about rain before. In fact, I know I have. For me, this type of weather is incredibly important. It characterizes one of my favorite climates and some of the greatest feelings I have in life - of calm, serenity and coolness. But experiencing rain anywhere in the world is different from experiencing rain where I am now. London has a certain kind of rain, a certain kind of feel along with the rain. And if you haven't experienced it, or you haven't stood around and tried to appreciate it, then it's time to try again.

The first time I went to London was when I was 14 years old. I had very little knowledge about the city, nor did I know too much about the country it resided in. I knew England was where they filmed Harry Potter and I guess that was all that mattered to me at the time due to my infinite fandom.

But the moment I landed in London, I discovered what a unique place it was. That in the early afternoon there was still the misty haze of the morning shrouding the airport terminal building and that little droplets of water were falling despite it being the middle of summer was astounding to me. Being from California, this kind of weather is the most anomalous concept. Constant sunshine is the norm and by noon all the clouds have left the sky on a typical June day in Orange County.

Yet I'd been raised to truly appreciate the rain. With its paucity on the west coast of the United States, rain becomes a valuable commodity for kids growing up with brown lawns and dry windstorms. It provides a chance to break out the rainboots and coats, even if the weather outside is a scorching 80 degrees (because Californians have no gauge of weather-appropriate clothing).

Landing in London that day in 2007 with my bags packed, my umbrella at the ready and my boots (not weather-proof, I might add) secured on my feet, I was ready for a new experience. And I got it in so many ways. But not least among them was the pleasantness of stormy weather.

Complain all you want about rain, but there's something quite beautiful about getting a natural shower from the sky, is there not?

Even in the worst situations, it can be a magical experience. Like this once when I was walking back to my dorm after eating dinner with a group of friends, and the rainstorm we had been having all day went from bad to worse, drenching us until we looked like we'd entered the shower with all our clothes on. But the experience of running through the rain made us laugh and scream like children again, worth it even for the sopping wet clothing.

That's how London makes me feel whenever I run through its sprinkling sky. With an umbrella (or occasionally without), I try to make the best of what it is. It is, after all, what makes this country so green and beautiful. It makes it smell and look clean and refreshed nearly every day. It cools and moistens the air, and makes the sidewalks glisten with the light of streetlamps that otherwise might not reflect off the pavement so gorgeously.

I think the most beautiful thing about rain is what happens to the world around you outside of your reach. It's why people close their windows and stare at it from under a blanket in their bedrooms. Or why people listen to the sounds of the droplets hitting the glass from safely within their warm homes.

We appreciate its grandeur, but we want nothing to do with it.

If I was to take away something from going to the Rain Room today, it was that rain can be beautiful whether you're standing in it completely wet or surrounded by it completely dry. In fact, the experience of the latter almost makes you want to experience the former, swiping at the parts of the room where rain is falling, trying to catch a droplet before the sensor catches you.

It changes our perspective on things - to see water as something beautiful rather than a nuisance. To recognize that England's weather, while gloomy and occasionally depressing and gray, is what makes the country thrive so beautifully.

Though it may be annoying to walk around in - particularly without the proper dress - rain is something invaluable and beautiful, strong and omnipresent (at least in this part of the world). And as the saying goes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. If you usually shy away from the rain, try to find yourself appreciating its beauty and its touch. Because those sensations are perhaps worth the frizzy hair and the dripping make-up. Maybe just once, but definitely at least that much.

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