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Saturday, 5 May 2012

Rain (Βροχή)

In the last six years, I've been to London four times, at about the same time in the year. In mid-March of 2006, it was freezing, but the only rain we felt was a light drizzle that really didn't last long. There was even a hosepipe ban in place due to drought conditions. In early April of 2007, the weather was so mild I hardly ever wore a coat - and still no rain. In mid-March of 2010, again, no rain. But we are often led to believe that the weather in London, and the UK in general, is cold, wet and miserable.

If it's raining in Hania, the outdoor street markets will lack customers. In Lewisham, there seemed to be a steady stream of shoppers accustomed to - and well-equipped for - the wet climatic conditions.
During my most recent visit to London last month, I took with me a sleeveless jacket (body warmer) and nothing heavier than that. Not only did I freeze, but I also got very wet - this time, not only did it rain, but it was also very cold. My London relatives told me that this was in fact unusual. London had again been in the midst of drought conditions this year and although the winter was cold, it didn't rain much. Again, there was a hosepipe ban. It was our bad luck that we visited in mid-April, which is in fact the latest time in the year that we have ever been in London.

8/2/2012, Hania
Cretans aren't into rain. When it rains, they stay indoors. They get so many opportunities to enjoy the outdoor life with the island's mild climate, that it seems unnecessary to go out in the rain. The general belief is that if it's raining, it will soon stop. So if it's raining, Cretans are very likely to change their plans and stay put. But last winter, we got much more rain that we expected. The rain stayed with us throughout the autumn and winter months. This was considered a boon: rain is the best way to irrigate your winter garden and excess rain (and snow generated from the very cold weather on the mountain tops) ensures plentiful supplies of much needed water during our dry summers. Another personal boon for me was that my car remained quite clean (on the outside, anyway), and the windows were dusty less often than usual. Not only that, but the atmosphere seemed cleaner and greener most of the time. Instead of a hazy steamy misty horizon, we often had a clear view of our mountains and I could see the port of Souda so clearly from my balcony window that I could even tell which ship was in port.

30/1/2012, Hania
There was only one real side-effect of too much winter rain in our case: rainy weather in village areas creates too much mud. If your vegetable box consists of your garden, to get to it, you tend to carry a lot of mud, soil, dirt and dust in and out of the house. I would often leave the outdoor staircases dirty until the rain stopped and I was able to brush away the dried dirt. It didn't make any sense to mop them down - they would cake up with mud the next moment.

As spring neared, the rain didn't quite diminish, but it underwent a transformation: it became red. Red rain is the most detested form of rain in Crete. Cretans usually experience it before the rest of the country, although it doesn't always reach most of Greece. It is a predominantly southern condition. When the wind is blowing from the south (ie from Africa, and it is always warm) and it's raining at the same time, the raindrops are fat and thick - they are full of desert sand. And when that falls, wherever it falls, it sticks to the surface like glue. To get rid of it, the last thing you should do is try to wash it away with water, because you do more damage than good. You need to wait till the atmosphere dries up. First you brush/sweep it away, and then (if necessary), you rinse the surface. This doesn't always work for clothing - if you had your clothes drying outside on the line, you'll need to re-wash them.
Red rain is unfortunately part and parcel of spring weather in Crete. It's rarely as bad as the photo depicts - this time, it obscured my driving (that's my windscreen - more photos in the link).
Crete suffered her biggest freeze this year. I prefer the cooler weather because it allows you to keep a clear mind. Overly warm weather makes you sluggish. But even I looked forward to a drier period. The simultaneous economic and climate crisis had dampened my family's mood completely. We started to have doubts about our Northern European holiday when we were faced with London rain at the outset, which continued into Brussels. But amidst our bad luck on the first leg, we were pleasantly surprised with good weather throughout our stay in Holland and Berlin, where it remained dry and cool, so we were able to take long walks on the flat low roads of Holland without getting wet and/or sweaty. We kept our coats on and never felt too warm.

7/3/2012, the view form our house
We also noticed a huge change in our northern friends' temperament when the weather became sunny:

"Oh, look, the sun's out, we've got to leave the house NOW!" they kept saying, as soon as the skies cleared.

They would literally jump at the chance of getting out in the shinshine. We could understand their anxiety. Very often, while we were travelling by train/car/bus, we would also feel quite despondent when we saw raindrops on the window. It was just our luck that it didn't actually rain (although it did often remain quite cold) while we were outdoors.

My Dutch friends kept telling me that we were very lucky with the weather, but I reminded them that I had promised to bring some Mediterranean sunshine in my suitcase, which is what appears to have happened, although not without side-effects: the Dutch government fell the day after we arrived (with a hilarious offspin: the next day's front-page Metro newspaper headlines were discussing the inability of the Dutch politicians to decide on a date for the forthcoming elections, especially as the logical one in their case coincided with the semi-finals of the European cup).

While she accompanied us on our visit to Amsterdam, my friend asked me if I missed the mountains. The fluffy Dutch clouds, a characteristic feature of Holland's skies, made up for the lack of height in the country. The Netherlands' clouds are very different from Crete's. Ours seem to sit on top of our heads rather than hanging like a wall as they did in Holland, and they don't have the same bulk as the Dutch ones (I found them quite a wondrous sight).
This is in stark contrast to ourselves: although in Hania, the weather is warm and sunny now, after 11am, it's literally too hot to be under the sun. Our spring tourists are loving it; they are warming their chilled bones. For us, it's back to a dry and very dusty atmosphere, which is likely to continue until September. I don't think I saw any dust in my friends' homes in Northern Europe. That's an advantage of the northern climate: it keeps a clean look, and it's easier to keep things tidy.

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