“The weather is nature’s disruptor of human plans and busybodies. Of all the things on earth, nature’s disruption is what we know we can depend on, as it is essentially uncontrolled by men.” — Criss Jami
Easter Sunday in Jávea dawned chilly and rainy. It had been raining steadily since the previous Thursday, for which I was rather thankful, as I am at best a reluctant gardener and although our new home is quite small, we inherited a magnificent garden from the elderly British couple from whom we bought it. Watering the property by hand (forget weeding and pruning!) in an otherwise dry climate is a full time job in and of itself. As it was, I spent the better part of Easter morning lying in bed scrolling through Facebook and Instagram envious of the hot, sunshiny weather back in D.C.
Fortunately, our good friends Sam and Michael, ex-pats from England, had invited us to Easter lunch. Normally we would have walked to walk to their house as it’s maybe 3/4 of a kilometer away. But as it was drizzly, and we were dressed up as well as carrying two of my husband’s famous dishes, homemade coleslaw and barbecued jackfruit, plus a bottle of wine and another of Armagnac, we broke down and drove. It turned out to be quite possibly one the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. One day I may well look back on that last comment and find it to be a bit hyperbolic but I’m not quite there yet.
We arrived at Sam and Michael’s about 2:00PM to a lively house already full of guests. Sam was one of the first people Tom met when he landed in Jávea. She and her friend, Shelly, had been at the local neighborhood bar when Tom walked in his third night in town and immediately they took him under their wing. It’s because of them and Sam’s husband Michael that we have quickly grown our circle of friends in our little neighborhood. Sam is an outstanding chef, and the table was filled with beautiful salads, roasted potatoes, vegetables, breads, rice, and the most amazing pulled pork barbecue she had made from large legs of Iberico ham, slow roasted low temperature for six hours. It would have given any North Carolina BBQ joint a run for it’s money. Michael was choosing great music to play. Drinks flowed: champagne, beer, wine, gin and tonics.
A few hours into the afternoon I glanced outside and realized the drizzle had become a torrential downpour. Water was flowing in sheets off the roof and pounding against the windows. It was hard to make out their pool, which wasn’t even 10 meters from their house, much less the mountains in the distance. The party continued. It was a great mix of people from England, Australia, Spain, Poland, France, and the United States. As evening fell, the rain wasn’t even thinking about letting up. It was thundering and lightning, the wind was fierce, and the palm trees in the yard were whipping to and fro almost bending in half. Deep puddles of rain pooled on the stone patio. As the sky darkened and the music increased in volume as the party ramped up, it became harder to judge the rain. Sometimes a flash of lightning would illuminate the outside for a brief second and we could tell the rain was still coming down fast and furious.
Around 9:00PM the roof in the living room started leaking. Someone put a bucket under the drip and the party continued. No one wanted to leave. It would have been bad enough just walking to one’s car much less trying to drive. So the music was turned up even louder. Everyone was dancing. Another flash of lightning and the living room was backlight like the flash from a camera and for a split second there was a surreal freeze frame of dancers suspended mid-move, clutching drinks and laughing, all bathed in a weird, pinkish glow. It was like a still from a Fellini film. More buckets appeared to catch more leaks that appeared around the house. Towels were shoved in front of windows and doors. Now the sing-alongs became more raucous. The lights began flickering and the power cut off then back on again, then off and back on again. Candles were set out and the party kept going.
At 10:00PM I checked my phone and saw I had two missed calls from my Altamira, my sister-in-law, plus a text: “Don’t drive in low areas, water will come up fast.” I had heard about “gota frías” and I started to get nervous but the “good” news it was just a very heavy rain and not the former. A gota fría or “cold drop” is a rare meteorological phenomenon that occurs in the Spanish Mediterranean where a jet stream of cold polar air collides with the warmer, more humid air and results in extremely powerful and often damaging storms. But this was still a lot of rain.
I went into the master bedroom and called Altamira. She warned me that the entire downtown of Jávea – the Arenal or main beach strip – was completely flooded. The area was being evacuated and cars were submerged. Altamira doesn’t scare easily but she verbally repeated her text warning, “Do not drive. Your car can be washed away in a second and it is very dangerous.” I went back out to the living room and told a few people about my conversation. Some pulled out cell phones and soon found photos and videos of flooded roads and half submerged cars on the Facebook page “Jávea Connect.” Jade, Michael and Sam’s daughter, showed Tom and me a photo of a nearby waterspout: a tornado over the sea that had sucked up tons of water and dumped it on the town. Everyone shrugged and poured more drinks. No sense in going anywhere. May as well stay and party.
Then the real crisis happened. We’d run out of tonic water and ice and even without the storm the stores were all closed for the Easter holiday. But desperate times call for desperate measures and two guests bravely darted to their car and drove to Azahar, the local restaurant/pub, in hopes of buying supplies from the owner. Dirk, a cheerful, wise-cracking German whose excellent service and gemütlichkeit made his place the most popular establishment in Balcon al Mar, came through. They returned to the party victorious but drenched, telling of flooded streets and many homes without power. Sam and Michael gave them dry clothes to change into. The other guests cheered their exploits and went back to dancing. It was a bit like fiddling while Rome burned. Everyone was having the time of their life, except me. I was petrified.
Michael started playing songs in honor of the various guests’ nationalities. At one point in the rotation he put on Men at Work’s “Down Under” for Viv, an easy going, fun-loving Australian. Whenever the chorus came on Viv, with a big grin, would gamely shout out “Thunder!” “Plunder!” and, a word I always thought was nonsense but turned out to be Aussie slang, “Chunder!” My brother sent a text: “Power is back on and I went out and rigged an electric pump to our septic tank.” I texted back, “We are at a party and can’t leave because it’s raining too hard. No one seems worried but apparently the streets of our neighborhood are flooded and a lot of homes don’t have electricity. I’m scared our ceilings are leaking and the floors are flooded.” Paul’s reply, “Time for a boat drink, LOL.” In the meantime, Viv had ducked out to run across the street to check on his house. It too was leaking. He put out buckets to catch the drips, grabbed some beer from his fridge, and returned to the party, never once losing his relaxed demeanor. Priorities.
I tugged on the sleeve of my husband’s pink linen dinner jacket. Tom turned away from shouting over the music to Michael, who by this time was playing Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” for us at full volume, trying to explain that the song had been co-opted as an American pride anthem when it was really supposed to be ironic; a rebuke of the U.S. in the Vietnam War. I said, “I’m getting worried, I think we should leave and go home to check on the house. It’s almost 11:00PM” Tom sighed. He’s endlessly patient with my fretting, but I knew he didn’t want to go. Other guests who lived further away had already decided to spend the night. It would have been reckless and potentially disastrous for them to drive home. I wanted so badly to be as relaxed and carefree and “oh-what-the-hell-may-as-well-drink,” as our hosts and the other guests but I’m just not wired that way. I felt deficient — a worry-wart and a buzz kill.
In the end my out came in the form of a lovely woman who had just had knee surgery and couldn’t drive, but like me was ready to go home. Her friend was going to take her and then come back to the party but Tom, sensing my rising anxiety said we would be happy to do the honors. She lived just a few streets away from Sam and Michael and very close to our house. We said our goodbyes. I ran for the car to unlock it while Tom slowly helped the woman across the expansive stone patio and down the the steps to the street below. It was a distance of perhaps 30 meters but by the time we reached the car we were all soaked to the skin. We dropped her off. Her house had no electricity but she promised she would be okay. The roads were flooded with water and the rain was coming down so hard that even at full speed the windshield wipers were almost useless. But as we turned down our street I saw lights on in the houses, including our own. We had power, and even better, upon walking inside we found everything was dry. I looked at my phone to find another text from my brother: “Remind me again, how big is a cubit?” It turns out the most Biblical thing about my Easter was the rain; more Old Testament than New.
In the end I learned a valuable lesson about control. Life throws curve balls. We do the best we can but in the end so much is out of our hands. Ultimately, I had lost my cool for no reason. But even if I had had a reason and our house had been flooded or our roof had leaked, or something way worse had happened, stressing about it doesn’t help in the slightest. I thought back to Sam and Michael — putting out buckets under the leaks, stuffing towels along the windows, but first and foremost pouring drinks, playing music, and genuinely having a great time. I thought about my brother and his wife who live on lower ground with two young sons, running out in the rain to take care of their sump pump. I thought about the people down in the Arenal whose houses and cars were quite possibly damaged. I thought about the woman who had had knee surgery, gamely navigating her dark stone steps in a downpour in heels, entering a house without power.
The following morning the sun wasn’t yet out and the rain was still coming down. Tom and I suited up — this time, weather appropriately — and headed out to Sam and Michael’s to see if we could help clean. On the way, we swung by our little neighborhood bakery for fresh croissants and turnovers. The baker, who didn’t speak much English, laughed with us about the weather. What else can you do, really, but laugh? We arrived at our hosts’ to find them and their guests lounging around drinking coffee and joking about the night before. The roof was still leaking, the floor was wet, but no one cared. And this afternoon? The sun finally peeked out. Tomorrow and the rest of the week is expected to be hot and dry. We can collectively exhale.
I’ve set the intention that the next party we attend, even if it’s in the desert, in addition to coleslaw and Armagnac I’m bringing my Wellies. That much I can control. And then I’m going to dance the night away. “Can you hear, can you hear the thunder?”