Friday, March 18, 2011

Getting Down And Dirty: Rain, pollen and dust

"Red rain is pouring down. Pouring down all over me." Peter Gabriel.

I was once, some years ago, driving along the coast road between Alcúdia and Puerto Pollensa. What can, at times, be a dodgy road because of the winds and the stones tossed around by turbulent waves, became even more dodgy as it was transformed in its own little sea. A "mar petita" of mud. The brown stuff doesn't so much hit the fan but smacks against the windscreen with blinding power.

That was the worst I had experienced. It took an age to clean cars, terraces, gates, walls. Hedges and plants adopted the colour of a burning summer, yet it was only February. The red rain of the Sahara had fallen down; fallen down all over me, you and anyone or anything else either moving or motionless.

It happened again the other night, the following morning being one of hosing down, of car washing or of cars that looked as though they had suddenly succumbed to the rust induced by Mallorca's winter dampness. This latest bout of red rain was a little early; for spring and the arrival of warm air. As the local met office explained, air from north Africa had come before the start of the season which will occur at precisely 00.21 this coming Monday. How, as with the precision of statistics, officialdom and agencies love the precision of time here, and how peculiar it seems in a land where time is treated with general disregard or indifference.

Such precision also tells us that red rain of the type which fell over the night of Monday into Tuesday was the most recent to be added to 222 just such occurrences between 1979 and 2001. They don't seem to have got around to calculating the last ten years' worth. Yet.

For all this precision, however, there appears not to have been a great deal of scientific study of the phenomena which bring the red rain. For our purposes, which meteorologically stretch no further than cursing it, the influences are the coming together of cool and damp east winds and those from Africa together with sand lurking in the atmosphere that needs a damn good cleaning out. The atmosphere got its wash on Monday night, and we ended up anything but clean.

There is apparently another potential bringer of dirty rain - roll clouds that accompany meteotsunamis, i.e. tsunamis created by atmospherics as opposed to seismic movement, the cause of Japan's horror. Known locally as the "rissaga", it seems particularly prone to hitting Ciutadella in Menorca, as it did in June 2006 when 35 boats were sunk. A similar weather event has certainly also hit the port in Alcúdia in the past.

The red, dirty rain is just one way that nature gives us a smack in the gob in a late Mallorcan winter turning to early spring. Another is pollen. Terraces take on a dusty appearance, one, for once, not caused by sand being blown around. On a Dulux chart, I guess you'd put the colour of the pollen at somewhere between a luscious lime and a melon sorbet. Put a white t-shirt out to dry and what you get is something that looks like a Norwich City kit.

And amidst these naturally caused dirt events are those brought on by man. Or by many a workman. The winter's building season is coming to what might be hoped will be its climax and completion in time for the first real punters of spring.

In Puerto Alcúdia, the streets and roads have been covered for weeks with a silvery-grey dust, not dissimilar in colour to coal ash that forms lunar fields thanks to deposits from the power station. The dust has been the result of the work on digging everywhere up in order to install the water-recycling system for the resort's hotels. But not even water from the skies, especially not the dirty rain, washes the dust away. It lingers and is billowed up into dust clouds by every vehicle whose driver hasn't taken on board the government's pleas for petrol saving. Speed on the motorway may have been cut, but not on the main and side roads.

The red rain, the pollen and the dust. They all combine to turn landscapes, terraces and cars into abstracts of russet, greens and greys. And they place demands on water resources, recycled or not. The red rain is pouring down, pouring down all over me, making a goo with the powders, and then sending us all off for working at the car wash.

Any comments to please.

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