Never Striking the Same Place Twice: A Retrospective
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Monday, June 6, 2011

Never Striking the Same Place Twice: A Retrospective

My room with a view...
When the gods begin to grumble and Mother Nature’s long awaited tears of joy finally started to descend upon the city this weekend, Parisians breathed a collective sigh of relief.  Weeks of no rain have left the flowers, trees, and cakey sidewalk dog poo thirsty for a good soaking, and this weekend the thunderstorms did not disappoint.

Thunder roared and lightning stitched across the sky like brilliant blue ribbons.  The rain fell in sheets soaking those of us who poorly timed their return home and ran from the metro, seeking five minutes of reprieve at Pink Flamingo pizzeria before making the final dash home through the refreshing but drenching storm. 

As I, like the rest of Paris, turned off the music and TV and watched nature’s latest episode in awe, I was hit with pangs of nostalgia yet again.  Thunderstorms are a common feature of the Philadelphia lifestyle, but in Paris I have forgotten, until now, why I love a good old fashioned storm so much.

So much about a thunderstorm is universal – the elements, the dangers, etc.  My perceptions and reactions, however, have changed, and I notice that a storm isn’t just a storm.  Let’s take a look at the five essential differences between thunderstorms on the East Coast, per my childhood, and thunderstorm in Paris.

1.  American thunderstorms were always dangerously fun in that hop-in-your-bathtub-in-case-there’s-a-tornado sort of way.  In the Mid-Atlantic this was rarely a real threat, but we knew how dangerous storms could be.  Lightning, heavy winds and torrential downpours can be catastrophic.  French thunderstorms are known, according to my former Parisian colleagues, for rattling your windows and disrupting sleep.

2.  American thunderstorms risk cutting off the electricity.  As a youngster, I always loved watching the lights flicker, waiting for the moment when it would be necessary to start lighting the candles that we had on hand.  French thunderstorms interrupt drinks on the terraces.  Emergency tables located inside. 

3.  American thunderstorms require you to avoid using unnecessary electronics and prevent you from taking a shower, just in case lighting hits the house.  We would unplug the blender and anything else that did not require a digital clock to be reset.  My mother instilled in me the fear of dying by electrocution in the shower, however true or untrue it may have been.  French thunderstorms are no threat.  The Eiffel Tower is a citywide lighting rod, protecting us all.

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4.  American thunderstorms can be tracked systematically on televised Doppler radar, using color coded maps to indicate where the heaviest storm activity would be located, how much rain could be expected, which rivers would flood, and whether there would be a “watch” or a “warning.”  French thunderstorms are always a surprise. 

Just hanging out with Mother Nature...
5.  American thunderstorms don’t just hit without any build-up.  The air pressure changes noticeably, the darkened sky changes colors as the clouds roll in slowly, and the rain usually starts in a few drops releasing the distinctive smell of wet asphalt from the pavement.  In Paris, it’s the same, but the rain seems only to enhance the smell of the urine-soaked Parisian asphalt, so that almost-sweet scent that I recall from my days in the suburbs is no where to be found.

So it’s not exactly how I remembered it back home, but storms are still beautiful in Paris  Also, granted, this list is not exhaustive.  So, what did I miss??

2 comments:

  1. You missed nothing! Apparently there were a few hikers electrocuted (some of them died)in a storm recently somewhere in France but as a general rule, the fear of dying is much greater in the States, instilled, as you say, by our mothers. My dad used to sit in the garage, door open, watching thunderstorms while my dogs would cower in corners protecting themselves from the noise. I must admit, I was cowering right there with them! My appreciation for thunderstorms didn't develop until I got to Paris where they were so rare that they became a jaw-dropping novelty.

    Apt observation, sir!

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  2. Yup, totally remember as a child being so fearful of lightning and thunder and waiting for the storm to pass. And then in high school, running out in the rain just giddy with excitement while being drenched in the downpour. I do miss the good old storms like that every once in a while. Though got stuck in a major rainstorm last year with my kids that we still talk about. We were thoroughly drenched to the bone and stuck under a very small tree on Malesherbes as we waited for it to pass! (PS don't know why my comments are being published anonymously as I am logged in but it's Cat here!!!).

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