I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests.
I love the rain, I do. No one will ever convince me that we in the Pacific Northwest get "too much rain." We merely get a lot of rain. Sometimes we even get enough. We had great rain the other day. I titled an email to a friend, "It's Rainin' Zen." That pretty much sums it up for me. Rain takes me to a calm place, a place where I can wander the corridors of my mind at leisure. None of this frantic, "OMG, I have to do, I want to, I gotta... oh, and there's that, and... wait, I just...time, time, time... thinking thinking thinking..." No, when it rains, the inside of my head has a much more stroll-through-an-art-museum feel to it. Granted, there's some funkalicious art danglin' from the walls. C'est moi.
The other day I was asked if I have a happy place I go to in my mind when things get tough. You bet I do - several, in fact. Upon thinking about the places I 'go', I discovered that most of them are somewhere in Hungary. One such place is a tiny room at the top of my Uncle Rudi's house in Budapest, 1978. He had turned the room into a mini library of sorts. There was a small sofa in there, a chair, an end table and a lamp, and a wall lined with a book-heavy shelf. There was one small window that was just big enough to add a lighter shade of gloom to the existing gloom. A well worn oriental rug graced the floor and was anchored by stacks and stacks of old Hungarian newspapers. The room smelled like old books, used blankets, tea and as with everywhere in Hungary, that deep sexy lingering paprika scent.
So many places in Hungary reside in my mind as being places that are deeply magical. I think that's partly because when I went there as a child, my knowledge of the language was somewhat limited. So, I never knew where I was going, or going to end up. Such was the case one rainy summer afternoon in 1978. It was pouring rain, torrential even. The power went out and I was sitting in Rudi and Juliska's kitchen wondering, "Well now what do I do...?" Rudi didn't give me much time to think about it. He quietly said, "Gyere ide." (Come here.) I followed him up past the second floor, and further up, up, up the narrow stairway that lead to the converted attic.
I'd never seen the room before that day because they always kept doors shut, and I wasn't the type to go prying. So, when he opened the door and gestured me in, I was completely unprepared. I'd thought it was a closet. Instead, I found myself falling back in time, into an old Dostoyevsky novel. I rather timidly sat on the edge of the sofa while Rudi rummaged around behind a stack of newspapers. Finally, he pulled out an antique phonograph. It was the kind that needed no electricity, just a deft hand to crank it into action now and then. He also had a stack of about a dozen 78's. (Anyone else out there in TV Land old enough to remember 78's?) He cranked up the phonograph, gently set a record spinning, and lowered the needle. What I heard next took the whole experience to a new surreal level. I expected classical music, or maybe Hungarian folks tunes. But no, out came the sounds of some old bluesy American jazz from the 20's & 30's.
So, we sat there for a couple of hours, my Uncle Rudi and I, listening to the fine sound of those scratchy records, the music playing against the hiss of the rain. We didn't speak the entire time, I think my grin said it all for him (and probably translated much better than my shabby Hungarian). It was an afternoon that was absolutely lush in all its texture. It has it's own special box in my memory warehouse and I go there often, paw through it, sniff the old books, smile at my memory of Rudi who is long gone (rest his soul), hang out on the lumpy loveseat, listen to the slow low whine of the blues...
...and keep my eyes on the rain streaming past the little window.