When I was at Bard, I once found a piece of paper on the ground that had been ripped from a notebook. I don’t remember exactly what it said, but I believe it was something like this: “The Greeks had a name for the smell of the earth after the rain. Isn’t that romantic?” It was written in blue ink on notebook paper, and it looked like a boy’s handwriting, though I’m not really an expert. I fell a little in love with the mystery writer and felt a little angry at the recipient of the note (because it must have been a note. It was folded so carefully) for letting it fall onto the ground.
I think I would have had a lot to say to the note-writer, because I also think there is something inherently romantic about the rain. I’ve since learned the word he was referring to: Petrichor. According to World Wide Words, Petrichor is “the pleasant smell that often accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather in certain regions.” Sadly, the writer was wrong about one thing: It is not a Greek word, though it does have its origins in the Greek word for stone petros. The second part of the word comes from ichor, which is the Greek word for “the fluid that flows like blood in the veins of the gods.” How romantic! But Petrichor doesn’t have the pedigree I would have hoped—it was named by two Australian researchers who discovered that the enchanting scent comes from an oil produced by plants that gets absorbed into the surface of rocks, only to be released again when it rains.
Normally, I consider this kind of knowledge somehow antithetical to romance, but I think I’ll always find rain (and the resulting earthy smell) somehow moving. Even when it’s cold and bleak, there’s something lovely about it, don’t you think?
Even if your answer is no, there are others who feel this way. Hence The Rain Room at Barbican’s Curve Gallery in London. Featured recently on Architizer, it is a unique installation that lets visitors pass through a room of rain without ever getting wet. Set on a dark stage, cameras map human movement through the room, sending instructions to the sprinklers to drop rain near people, yet never quite on them. As you move, the rain moves with you, keeping the visitor surrounded constantly by moving water, gently falling politely away from their day clothes.
If I could afford a ticket to London, I’d be on a plane right now. But I’ll just have to make do with Portland’s very real, very wet rain. Not that I’m complaining.