Of Hurricanes and Tramuntanas

Dear Tasha,

I woke up this morning to a day so different than one the one I went to sleep to. The winds still haven’t stopped, and I finally shut my shutters against them and curled up in my bed at some point late into the night. My roommate had written me while I was out: “El viento esta locoooo. Are you ok?” I was okay, although not well-dressed against the wind and cold. The streets have become channels of icy air, and the entire city is littered with garbage that has blown out from trash cans upended. Listening to the winds howl from inside the house is exhausting. It reminds me of hurricane days back home, of the winds which often never hit until late at night, long after the hurricane parties had ended, when the world had retired to bed to wait and listen.

I used to hear the radio from the kitchen where my father sat and waited, the one that took batteries because the power had already gone out. I laid in bed upstairs and listened to the frogs sing their panicked song, a symphony so loud, I was grateful for the winds to drown it out. I would wait through break after break in their croaking, until the world finally went flat and quiet. It is the literal quiet before the storm, the eye passing overhead, a long and eerie silence–where the frogs go mute and nothing moves. It is the part that makes me more uneasy than the opening movement because the backlash is so much worse. Sometimes, I can’t stay awake that long, but when I do, I hate it.

I remember that morning after Andrew, I think it was, when I woke up, cautiously opening my eyes, my body still an electric buzz of brittle nerves and little sleep. My memory was creased and worn and I lay there, blinking, unaware of which hour I had finally fallen asleep from pure exhaustion. The windows, I saw, were still in place. The world outside was still. I crept from my bed into my bathroom, surveying, and found the light a forbidding shade. Something seemed not right. I left and went about my checks to see if everything was the same as I had left it. Eventually, when I went back into the bathroom, I crunched across a sea of oak leaves, curled and brown. I looked down disoriented, not registering what had happened. I suddenly realized then what I hadn’t earlier and looked up into a square of gray sky. The skylight had come off some time late into the night, cast into a neighbor’s yard several subdivisions away, where someone would finally discover it days later. The huge old trees above our house had rained leaves and twigs and branches all over everything, and I spent the morning sweeping the bathroom clean. Through the hole, I could hear the buzzsaws and leaf blowers ratchet on and the incessant buzz begin. After a hurricane, their drone is all you hear for days while you wait for the orange lights of the clean up crews and power trucks to finally appear. There is nothing else to do. It is impossible to leave the house, dangerous to drive the streets where power lines so often lay across them, live and waiting.

 

That was the last hurricane we weathered without a backup generator, one my dad finally ordered in a fit of anger, delivered all the way from Minnesota. It is enormous, much larger than we need, and sounds like the heavy, clattering semi engine that it is. It’s loud, although not as loud as the hundred saws, and in the end you don’t care because it gives you light and food and heat. We can use more of the house than we would with a smaller one, so we don’t have to live on top of each other for days. Each morning after, we would sit around the kitchen table, drinking coffee and listening to the news, watching the ticker at the bottom for updates on the power grid. The newspaper never arrives, and we instead entertain ourselves with stories while we watch the progress outside the window. The tree climbers arrive–a booming business during hurricane season–donning giant safety belts and clicking up the giant trees so quickly, it’s impossible to believe. In minutes, precarious trees–sick or old–are dismembered, their sagging branches felled. If enough damage has been done, the entire tree is brought down, leaving a strange space where it once stood. After a hurricane, the world around you always feels a little emptier.

When we felt brave enough, we would finally pile into the car and crawl out on the street, looking carefully for the snake-like tails of downed power lines and navigating chunks of wood and brick and mortar. Unlike tornadoes which flatten large areas in grids, the whip-lash winds of hurricanes make a different kind of mess. The bricks walls of subdivisions are downed in an undulating pattern–every hundred yards or so a massive gap–where the backhand of the winds battered it into oblivion. In some places, the bricks had entirely disappeared. Pool cages are rent and torn, shredded screens flying like flags in the breeze. In some places, entire housing developments are flattened. Because we are in a sturdy house in the center of the state, we are lucky to have come out of this one unscathed. I think about those days when the wind blows hard here, and I don’t miss them.

This morning here dawned clear and bright, the light papered over the buildings, blue skies finely wrought. I am watching the seagulls wheel above me as I write this. Yesterday was the first calçotada of the season. “The band” piled into the car, replete with a few hours of sleep, 1,5 liter bottles of water, and a hangover fatal, and headed down toward Tarragona to the cava caves just south of here.

 

Probably it wasn’t the most auspicious start to a day that normally requires copious amounts of Estrella, an iron stomach, and the force of good cheer, but the party doesn’t wait. So we went and drank our water, caught up with old friends, and watched the fire burn.


We soaked up the sun, despite the cold, watched as the others poured cup after cup of the house cava, rosa to remind me of summer.

 

There were enough calçots to feed an army, which is good, because we were one.

 

When they were good and charred, the onions were wrapped into perfect newsprint packets and delivered to the tables like presents.

 

We covered ourself in plastic, unwrapped our blackened onions from their newspaper cozies, and let the destruction begin. Strip, dip, eat, repeat. On and on it went.

 

I love the mess it makes, the cacophony of voices, the communal merriment of it all. It was a day I wish I could have shared with you, the original band reunited, before we were only two.

We waited long and patiently for the “Comando Postre” as Anna calls it. So coveted it is that by the end of lunch, six or seven people get up to guard the pile of boxes, brought all the way from a patisseria in Lleida. Until the coffee can be made, the bottles of Baileys and hierbas unearthed.

And then suddenly, it’s over. As we left the moon was rising, a white speck high above the dry and gnarled vines.

 

From the road, Montserrat popped pink and blue like a cut out against a sea of clouds, and we drove home in the fading light, sated.

 

It wasn’t the same without you. But nothing ever is.

xx, m.

Melissa Leighty