Sunday, June 26, 2011


I am ten degrees above the equator, in a jungle, with salt spray from the surf waves mingling with the vapor rising from rotting and prolific enormous plants. It is now well into the rainy season. Clockwork downpours greet us at 11 am, sunset (6 pm), and 2 am, with occasional additional rain at mid-afternoon. This rain is the rain of the tropics, of myth, not the mere sprinkles we get in New England. Picture the hardest cats-and-dogs downpour you have ever seen. You cannot imagine it raining harder than that memory. Now imagine the entire sky as God’s showerhead, and She turns up the water: the entire sky is now the end of an effusive garden hose: you grin for a few minutes at the exuberance of the water’s profusion: She turns it up (just like with a handle, one second on one rain setting, then a surge and three seconds later a whole new type of rain): the entire expanse of the sky is now a firehose, a continually upended bucket: exhileration turns to worry: Will the tin roof withstand the beating, the weight of the water? Will the hillside on which this building sits wash away? The waves’ volume increases with the storm. Conversation becomes difficult. Roads do wash away, prehistoric trees become undermined and fall, solid columns of water establish themselves from the gutters. When the sun reappears, the world is revealed to be Wet, and there is only a brief window of pleasant rain-cooled air before the mist-making heating begins, and the world is humid.

I mean Humid. Try putting a blanket over yourself like a little tent, and breathe out, and breathe out again, until it is suffocating and sweat beads your lip and your temples and the air seems to slide liquid down your throat. Then make that air an almost physical presence over all your skin, even under your clothes. Make your clothes, all of them, bra and underwear and shirt and pants, warm and fully wet with sweat. Make that sweat slowly trickle down your spine, pool in your bellybutton, dribble into your eyes. Stand in a steamy room after a shower, and dry off with a damp towel, and before you’ve finished drying feel the sweat pinprickle emerging on your skin again, so you are never dry. Make the steamy air tactile so you feel covered in lotion, breathed on by a close animal, covered in a film of plastic or wet hot felt. The air smells of plant, of mud, of sweet flowers (frangipani/ plumeria/ something akin to Japanese witchhazel), cut papaya, mown lawn, mulch and rot, of candle wax and varnish and compost, of salt and green and sap. Now actually cover your skin with greasy suntan lotion and oily bug spray, so the sweat struggles to ooze out, and when it does it tickles in its slide down your greasy skin.

To sleep, you lie as naked as possible on sheets that are damper than your skin and cooler, wet from the air of the day. The coolness of the wet sheets is soothing but cloying, and soon turns to mildew and must. The air around your bed feels like a blanket, like a soft silk blanket laying perfectly draped on every part of your exposed skin. The feeling of slight weight on every pore induces the slightest amount of vertigo, not just with up and down but with inside and outside of your body; all of you feels like a mucus membrane, your skin feels like your mouth, the air in your lungs moist from your mouth feels like the air on your hand, the air on your thighs feels like it may be exhaling from between your legs, all over as if there is a bed partner hovering attentively inches above your body.

I enjoyed this description in the book I’m currently reading (Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, pg 4) of the heat of another tropical monsoon place: “The next thing I noticed was the heat. I stood in airport queues, not five minutes from the conditioned air of the plane, and my clothes clung to sudden sweat. My heart thumped under the command of the new climate. Each breath was an angry little victory. I came to know that it never stops, the jungle sweat, because the heat that makes it, night and day, is a wet heat. The choking humidity makes amphibians of us all, breathing water in air; you learn to live with it, and you learn to like it, or you leave.”

The humidity of the hot tropics is unsettling, intimate, tactile, and to me, familiar.

1 comment:

Lilli said...

Very does not encourage me to visit