Sunday, February 06, 2005

Rainy Days and Sun Days

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God, I’m glad to live in a city where it’s cloudy 60 percent of the time.

While the gloom might drive other Seattleites to drink, or at least to a more potent anti-depressant, I find relief. I can’t face the pressure of sunny days…how they look you straight in the eye, urging you to “get out and enjoy the day” and warning of a frown at dusk if you don’t. Cloudy days, though, erase all expectations. Under a protective cover of grey, I can stay in my jammies, slide back under the sheets, huddle under a quilt, devour a new book, slip in a DVD, or heat up a big pot of homemade soup.

Don’t misunderstand me. I enjoy a gorgeous landscape as much as anyone. When I see the sun bouncing off neighborhood buildings and the nearby water, my eyes dance as if I’m examining an Edward Hopper painting – a study in light, color, shadow, and time. I just don’t want to go out into it. And I can do without the angst of feeling like I must.

This attitude is borne out of experience. I grew up in a sun-drenched valley located in high desert. Except for snow-piled winter days, there was always something waiting to be done outside: weeding, mowing, raking, digging up rocks, running a garage sale. Only lazy and selfish people stayed in the cool shady house reading a book. And for fun, my friends always wanted to go to “the lake” and “lay out.” This meant a 45-minute drive (each way) on sticky vinyl car seats (aaaagh!) followed by endless 30-minute cycles of adjusting our prone positions to get an even tan (a color my skin chemistry could just not manifest). Even with good conversation, “laying out” involved tedium, fire-red body parts, and exposing myself to the public. When I found a fashion magazine headline that urged, “Dare to Be the One Without the Tan,” I took the challenge and never looked back.

With skin as white as a fish’s belly and thighs that never enjoyed being seen in a swimsuit, I don’t seek out summer activities anymore. I never know what to wear and I always guess wrong. Even when I try to romanticize the experience by packing a picnic lunch, gathering up a blanket and book, and heading off to an idyllic spot, I get too cold in the shade, too hot in the sun, and I invariably wear the wrong shoes that either make my feet too hot or too sore. This seems to be a huge contrast from the typical Seattle woman who, upon seeing a gorgeous day, digs out her 15-year-old pair of frayed khaki shorts and immediately heads out for a hike. I already know how it’s going to end: there will be sweat, dirt, and no matter how high the SPF number, body charring.

A cloudy day in the city fills me with the same sense of freedom as their hikes. Gray skies offer endless possibilities including total sloth. I can tackle a huge list of errands, confident that I won’t get overheated and sticky. Or, I can pretend to be French, thin, and haunted, dress all in black, wander to a small café and gaze out rain-soaked windows while pulling my cashmere scarf tighter around my shoulders. Throw in a single rose and a slim volume of Balzac and I’m living in one of those classic black-and-white photographs from my annual Paris wall calendar!

But, hey, let the sun worshippers have their 57 days of sunshine (130 if you count partly cloudy days, but I tend to see the glass half full and count them as cloudy). I can’t fault them. None of us ever really takes a beautiful day for granted because in this city, sunshine paints a startling masterpiece that both tourists and natives admire. As long as it doesn’t become the dominant weather pattern (and frankly, global warming could ruin my preferred way of life), I can tolerate it. I just don’t want it to become oppressive.

I knew I wasn’t a total freak when I met a delightful woman at a concert a few months ago. Aside from being a huge jazz fan, she is a retired academic and librarian who moved to Seattle from California specifically for the weather. When I asked how the relocation is working out, she said, “It’s good, but you know, it’s not dark enough here.” Amen, sister.

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