pluviophile (plural pluviophiles)
1 . (biology) Any organism that thrives in conditions of heavy rainfall
2. One who loves rain, a rain-lover
Courtesy of Wiktionary, https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pluviophile
So finally I conclude, discerningly that I am, in fact, a pluviophile. This condition is evidently so rare that MS Word angrily underlines the word in red, bewildered at the term. My pluviophile identity emerged only after spending two and a half summers in Tel Aviv. But saying “summers,” is somewhat deceiving because here they last seven grueling, blinding months. Occasionally scattered August clouds tease weather, but they are just mocking. A dark October morning does not rain portend, but an encroaching waterless dust storm.
I first suspected that I held a limited tolerance for the sun when I lived in Colorado. Don’t get me wrong; the year-round weather in Denver is superb: four seasons, with occasional summer in winter, sometime winter in summer, occasional winter in spring and autumn, and well, anytime winter wants to visit Colorado she is welcome. However, sun reigns throughout the Coloradan annum. Bright, bright, blasting high-altitude radiation. But at least the ultra-variable weather will always bring clouds at some point, year round. Not like predictable Tel Aviv. Blah.
Tel Aviv summers are all the more puzzling because of the humidity. Where does the moisture come from??? A rainless dry heat would be so much more bearable in its biological comprehension – but humid scorching months on end without rain??? Where is the sense? Tel Aviv does not have its own unique weather. Half the year, this coast has NO weather; it suffers a lack of weather. It is anti-weather.
Last year I escaped the Mediterranean summer by working in Central Asia for a few weeks. Though thoroughly sunny, the weather in Kazakhstan was cool with occasional scents of ozone. It was enough to tide me over till the November rains returned to the Israeli coast.
This year anyway, I knew I couldn’t make it through the moist sunny furnace without a few weeks of weather. So I went to Scotland.
I flew across the Med and the Balkans, changed planes in the spaceship monstrosity that FRA has become, and then headed out on a quick hop over the North Sea to Edinburgh.
The immigration official was intrigued, and I was intrigued that he was intrigued. I can count on a hand a half how many times an immigration official has asked me any questions. Maybe he was just having a slow day. “What’ch your plans in Scotland?” he smiled inquisitively. “I’m going to do some kayaking up in Kyle of Lochalsh,” I answered. “Ha! Ha!” He chuckled out loud, like I had just told him the punch line of some clever joke. “Kayaking in Kyle of Lochalsh!!!” As I waited for my luggage to arrive, I pondered why he thought that was so funny.
This was my first trip back to the UK in 16 years. When I was here last, I was a third year foreign student at uni, and I studied British politics, specifically with regards to expansion of the European Union and devolution within the UK. Tony Blair was PM, and at that time he was still relatively popular. Since I’d left, they had had two PMs and we had elected two presidents, and just the week before the people of Great Britain had narrowly voted to leave the EU in the time it takes to finish a bowl of a molar-crunching breakfast cereal named Brexit.
The first thing I wanted to do was to get a proper pint of room temperature English bitter and eat some greasy pub fare. But first, I went out to the “Commie Pool” for some 50m laps.
On my way out to the Commie Pool, about two hours after I arrived in Edinburgh, I was walking along the sidewalk when a skinhead said something racist to a family walking along the street. They seemed to ignore him in a way that made me understand that it wasn’t the first time it had happened.
The Commie Pool is actually called the Commonwealth Pool, used during the Commonwealth Games when they were held in Scotland in the 60’s. I rather enjoyed it as it felt kind of like I was swimming laps in an Olympic sized pool built into a terminal at JFK airport in New York.
On my way to the pub from the pool, it started to rain for nearly two weeks.
Over a Guinness that can only taste that good in such proximity to Ireland, I cheered as Wales beat Belgium in the EuroCup. I walked back to my hotel, a converted social club for a Scottish regiment, and watched some fantastic British television as I waited till late, and in vain, for darkness to fall on Edinburgh.
Like any good tourist I began my Saturday morning circuit, powered by some severely craved corporate coffee paired with a sausage roll, waiting in the line of entry at the doorstep of Edinburgh Castle.
I had apparently arrived in the midst of some sort of hubbaloo. The castle would be delayed opening. The Queen was in town. She was down the hill at Holyrood Palace and was to speak at the Scottish Parliament that day. But she needed her Scottish crown and had sent her royal highness’s Royal Second-Nephew-Removed-or-Some-Such up the hill to fetch it. Of course, fortunately for the tourist, this being British royalty, national symbolism and such, this fetching demands some very photogenic ceremony.
First came the Scottish bagpipers. Then some Scottish regiment whose leader apologized for being a bit rusty as this was the first time they had performed in public in years, but the novice I am could judge only a perfect performance. Finally came a police motorcade bearing a royal black car. The motorcade disappeared into the keep for 15 minutes or so, and then emerged with the crown. It was perched atop at eye level on a velvet pillow inside with the car. The Royal Second-Nephew-Removed-or-Some-Such staring at the pillow with his hands placed tightly on his lap in a flawless Eton posture. And I thought I had a strange life.
Edinburgh Castle was interesting but way too crazy with tourists to be enjoyed, so I escaped down the hill to go shopping for scotch.
That night, I walked about Edinburgh. Warm light sprung from the residences and provided captions of daily life like as a picture book. A couple shared a seafood meal by candlelight in a basement tavern. A bachelor party concluded an all-day bender at an ornate dinner table - half the party collapsed unconscious in their chairs, or heads slumped in the crook of their arms while the front door hung ajar.
In Edinburgh and Glasgow, I found I rather enjoyed the air about Scottish cities in summer night. In the ne’er-ending twilight, seagulls soared and sung beneath the clouded ceiling.
Arriving in Kyle of Lochalsh the next day via Inverness and the Loch Ness, a coach deposited me on the doorstep of this windswept village on the Scottish coast.
It was an abandoned Sunday, and Scotrail was on strike, so likewise, I abandoned plans to overnight in more picturesque Plockton, and resigned myself to retiring an early night in a dilapidated inn perched on the foundations of its better days overlooking the Kyle Akin Strait.
On a rainy Independence Day morning, I walked down to the slip to meet the group for my five-day kayaking excursion. Our expedition consisted of two guides; one Scotsman, one Welshman, and five of us: one Englishman, one Scotswoman, a retired Glaswegian couple and me the lone Extra-Commonwealthian.
We drove to a coffee shop and the guides explained out intended route around the southern end of the Isle of Skye. We would put in at the village of Elgol, explore the harbors, caves and coves of the southern part of the island.
On the first day, Monday, we explored the bay off of Elgol, set up camp on the Isle of Soay and had some haggis for dinner. The second day was pretty fantastic kayaking with some of the most variable weather imaginable, and overall made for excellent wildlife sighting. Northern Gannets hunted from the air like feathery meteors and Cormorants dove from the surface like torpedoes, which was appropriate given that, according to the marine map we were traversing submarine exercise grounds. Plovers, snips, sandpipers and terns varied in their opinions at our passage in being hilarious, inconsequential or outrageous. We stopped in for a wee bit of spelunking at the Spar Cave and then transited Loch Slapin to enter the mouth of jaw-dropping Loch Eishort and camp at the far end of the loch somewhere opposite Drumfearn.
People wander the earth for a wide variety of reasons, but I think one phenomenon is universal among travelers. Let’s call it “euphoric exotica.” Euphoric exotica is the fleeting rush a traveler feels when she/he had “arrived” in a far flung corner of the world – that where you are and what you are doing feels quintessentially exotic from what you know or have known. It can be when you’re riding a camel in the Sahara, or sipping a cup of milk tea in a mud cup on the Ganges, or sweating the vodka off in a Ukrainian sauna. It doesn’t last long, but you sigh, smile and marvel at where you’re at and what you’re doing.
Of course, you don’t always have a camera handy when the euphoric exotica occurs. In many cases, that’s probably a good thing. So many tourists spend all their precious time documenting their experience that they don’t experience what their documentation.
In this case, there are photos out there somewhere of what occurred but I didn’t take them. I was sitting on my camping chair with a broad smile across my face and the best scotch I’ve ever had in my hand. There was a campfire, a double rainbow and a massive shaft of light descending from the heavens, anointing the emerald green carpet of croft. Oh well, a photo would have been useless anyway.
The next morn, I started out with a polar bear swim in the Loch with a severely inquisitive otter. Then I walked to the stone ruins of an abandoned village and bathed in what was once the town centre.
The highlight of Wednesday was a transverse across a cove with dozens of seals poking their Labrador-like heads up around the kayaking party, silently staring at us. It felt a bit interstellar. Is this how future mankind will feel when we land on a planet, and emerge intelligent or semi-intelligent beings to take a gander at our strangeness?
Wednesday tuned out to be a bit of a rough day due to the weather. A strong gale hit us from the south just as we paddled towards Sleat Pointe making for terrible kayaking conditions. At last, we relented and retreated to shelter on a point by the village of Tarskavaig.
That night the gale was so strong I thought for sure it would make nylon toilet paper out of my Big Agnes tent.
Multi-day sea kayaking excursions are wet, even without constant rain. You will spend your existence in a wet suit or dry suit, soaking up infiltrating water with a giant sponge. Waves will smack you broadside when paddling, or front side when launching or from the stern when sheltering. Water from the paddle or its splash will drift up you arms or splatter your face. And all of this is supposing no precipitation, so if it rains, you might as well have embarked on a five day swim.
As they concluded that the gale would persist and the present journey was untenable, the next morning the guides called the outfit to retrieve the cars and portage the kayaks over to an area with more sheltered kayaking.
We left Skye to put in again inland on calm Loch Duich, From there we kayaked past Dornie Castle, did a wee bit of surfing through some fast moving tidal currents into Loch Long where we camped for the final night.
The expedition braved a steady rain to walk the mile down the road it took to reach to the pub in Dornie. A few beers and a few whiskeys later, we shut the place down and returned to our tents.
I awoke with a terrible cold. After five days on the water, I also had a wee bit of a split lip, cut fingers and a back that I had aggravated carrying kayaks to/from the water’s edge.
On the way back, we stopped by Dornie Castle to take a couple of photos. My guide said that this was the quintessential Scotland view: a Loch and a castle – all that was missing was a bagpiper. Right on cue, at that moment a bagpiper emerged on the shore and started playing a ballad. I shit you not.
I’ll never know how mankind ever lived without daily bathing and hot water, but I suppose they simply didn’t know what they were missing. What’s really perplexing though is that modern man who knows both, but are able to swear off such things for months at a time. My guide, who leads expeditions in Patagonia, remarked he once went 30 days without ever taking off any of his clothes. I shuddered violently when thought of that.
Back in Kyle of Lochalsh, a twenty-minute hot shower and a three-course seafood dinner later (The Waterside Restaurant at the train station, I highly recommend it), I slept for 11 hours and awoke to feel like a new lad in the morning just in time for my 5-hour journey south to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.
Some of the best scenery on this leg of the trip is south of Ft. William, by the Vietnamese-sounding Bidean Nam Bien.
Disembarking at Tarbet, I transferred to the ferry that took me across Loch Lomond to Inversnaid.
I only went up to Inversnaid to do a wee bit hiking off of the Scottish version of the Appalachian Trail, The West Highland Way. It turned out to be atrocious for hiking as it not only rained, but also soaked for those two days. On the first afternoon, I walked along the lake to look at some of the waterfalls. The second day, I hiked out towards the Trossachs to Rob Roy’s homestead and his family cemetery. I believe I acquired the early stages of trench foot and everything I owned was soaked thoroughly, but I enjoyed myself anyway. The bunkhouse I stayed at had a superb collection of pale ale and a Jacuzzi. The EuroCup finals were on that night and everyone gathered around the small TV to watch it. A Frenchwoman sung the Marseilles, and we consoled her as the Portuguese won in OT.
I was done with nature by the time I arrived back in Tarbet, but apparently the Scots were not done with the rail strike. There were no trains to Glasgow, so a nice Swiss couple from Davos and I were lucky enough to snag the last three seats on a coach bound for Glasgow.
In Glasgow, I had some passable Korean food for dinner, walked around this cloudy cool town and went scotch shopping. That’s all I had time for in Glasgow before a night at a nice hotel near the station and making my way to London the next day.
In London, my plans were non-adventurist, but rather touristic. I stayed a four-star chain hotel in Westminster. I aimed to enter no less than three museums in my four days, and swim laps at no less than two swimming pools. I also planned to spend a wee bit of cash now that Brexit had made the pound as cheap as it had been since Margaret Thatcher was PM.
Brexit was on everyone’s lips. In the Tube, in the pubs, in the restaurants. Theresa May took up residence in 10 Downing while I was there. This was a consequential, exciting week in British politics. As a student of British politics, I never thought I’d see a consequential, exciting week in British politics in my lifetime. Notwithstanding, Parliament is much, much more fun to watch then the floor of the US Congress.
This bookend to my holiday was a resounding success. I walked the Tate, the British Museum, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and even made it out to Greenwich to see the Royal Maritime Museum, something I had wanted to do since I read about the Greenwich clock in a textbook when was a boy. I was inches from Lord Horatio Nelson’s waistcoat, an artifact experience I place in my hall of fame along with George Washington’s telescope and Abraham Lincoln’s hat.
As far as shopping, I bought myself a snazzy pair of English dress shoes, some business slacks, English tea and sweets, biscuits for the ladies at the office, museum books for my nieces and some souvenirs for the fam.
I’m only partially embarrassed that in that week I went to Five Guys for a burger and Chipotle for a burrito since I live in the Middle East and it’s been more than a year since I had either one. I never quite get over the fact that my country’s food culture permeates almost every city in the world like french fry grease through a paper bag.
I swam laps at the Ironmonger Row Baths, a small but classy local pool in the Golden Lane Estate area. Of course, I could not leave London without also swimming laps in the London Aquatics Centre at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
On my last night, I went back to the John Snow, an old pub in SoHo that I visited during my first trip to Europe 16 years ago. “Did the pub shrink since 2000?” I asked the bartender. “I was here a long time ago and it seems a lot smaller than what it was when I was last here.” He shook his head and smiled, “It hasn’t changed for a hundred years or so - it’s always been this size.”
I realized then, that in 16 years, it was the world that had shrunk, and not the pub.