The Country Where the Rain Was Luminous by Amado Nervo
Translated from Spanish by Jessica Sequeira
After long journeys by horse over the course of half a month, following obscure routes and winding paths, we arrived at the country of luminous rain.
The capital of this country, unknown now though at one time it had been the stage of important events, was a gothic city with twisting passageways, full of romantic surprises, mysterious bends and angles of sculpted stone, in which the centuries had accumulated their stately patina, in venerable layers of steel.
The city was located on the shore of a little frequented sea, a sea whose waters, infinitely more phosphorescent than those of the Pacific Ocean, produced through their evaporation that phenomenon of luminous rain.
As is known, the phosphorescence of certain waters is due to bacteria that live on the surface of the seas, to microscopic animalcules that possess a great photogenic power similar in its properties to that of fire beetles, lightning bugs and glow worms (1).
These microorganisms, owing to their small size, ascend with the water as it evaporates, without any difficulty. That’s not all: since their innumerable colonies live on the surface, the evaporation carries them upward in myriads, and afterward, when the mist condenses and rain comes, in each drop there quiver countless animalcules, lavishing their light so as to produce the beautiful phenomenon to which we refer.
In truth, the sea on whose banks the city rose up at the end of my trip has not always been phosphorescent. The phenomenon goes back two or three generations. It began with the acclimatization of photogenic colonies that had once belonged to tropical waters, from thermic causes generated by a deviation in the Gulf Stream and other factors that experts at the time could explain perfectly well. Some of the oldest people in the area remember having seen, in their youth, the dark and monotonous rainfall of the cities in the North, mother to spleen and melancholy.
As we arrived in the city, with afternoon darkening after a magnificent sunny July day, low thick clouds could be seen flying through the sinister, electrified atmosphere.
The guide, upon observing them, said to me:
“Your grace, it is your fortune that it will rain tonight. And it is going to be a tremendous downpour.”
My soul filled with delight, confronted with the prospect of that deluge of light...
The horses, breathing in the vapors of the storm, quickened their monotonous rhythm.
We still had not yet passed through the city gates when the downpour was unleashed.
Such a spectacle met our eyes that we reigned in the steeds, and at the risk of soaking ourselves like sponges, we stopped to contemplate it.
It seemed as if the village had been engulfed all at once by the terrible, luminous cloud of Sinai...
Everything surrounding us was light; bluish light that splashed forth from the clouds in marvelous glass beads; light that trickled from the roofs and was vomited out by the gargoyles like pale melted gold; light that, pounded by the wind, collided against the walls as a swarm of sparks; light that with a deafening sound tumbled into the uneven streets, forming streams of sapphire or mother of pearl, trembling and changeable.
It seemed as if the full moon had melted and was falling in droplets all over the city...
Soon the downpour stopped and we passed through the gates. The atmosphere began to calm.
The flashing torrents had been replaced to marvelous effect by a glittering drizzle.
Shortly afterward, this too ceased and out came the stars, a sight even more astonishing: stars above, stars below, stars everywhere.
From the thousand gargoyles of the cathedral, faint milky threads still descended. In the centuries-old grooves of the towers, there gleamed thousands of tremulous fiery drops, as if gnomes had bejeweled the forest of stone. In the plinths, in the capitals, in the statues that rested on the columns; on the cornices, in the openwork of the ogives, on all the projections of the buildings, there dwelled globules of matte light. The medieval monsters, curled up in grotesque positions, seemed to cry tears of stars.
And down the sloping and twisted streets, like a dragon of melted opal, the shining lymph fled with frenzy, here jumping in cascades of pale flame, there bifurcating, elsewhere forming pearly pools that copied the eminent silhouettes of buildings, as in ancient metal mirrors...
The inhabitants of the city who started to move over the pavements of now shining old stone, especially the women, wore their hair adorned with gem-studded hairbands of rain.
And a mysterious glow, a gentle, enigmatic light, spilled over all things.
It was as if millions of fireflies had fallen from the sky and were beating their intangible wings.
Absorbed by a spectacle of which I had never dreamed, forever preceded by my guide, I arrived without realizing it at the main lodgings of the city.
At the big door, an overweight, friendly innkeeper looked at me with a smile and came forward obligingly, in order to help me descend from my mount, as a blonde damsel as luminous as all the rest around me said from the iron balcony crowning the façade:
“Welcome, your grace, to the city of luminous rain.”
And her voice was more harmonious than gold when it strikes crystal.
(1) According to a popularizing work before me, which appeared in a magazine after this story was written and refers to the luminosity of certain marine fauna, the age-old noctiluca, a luminous animalcule, is responsible in large part for the phosphorescence of the oceans. “It floats on the surface of the waters, over vast areas, on summer nights. The noctilucae are at times so numerous that due to their presence, the water forms a creamy gelatinous layer several millimeters in thickness. A single cubic centimeter can contain 1000 to 1500 individuals.”
Amado Nervo (August 27, 1870 – May 24, 1919) also known as Juan Crisóstomo Ruiz de Nervo, was a Mexican poet, journalist, educator and diplomat. A member of the Modernismo movement, his poetry is noted for its use of metaphor and mystical subject matter, Nervo having studied for the Catholic priesthood. He produced 22 volumes of writing in his relatively short life.
Jessica Sequeira is a writer and literary translator. Her work includes A Furious Oyster, Rhombus and Oval, Other Paradises: Poetic Approaches to Thinking in a Technological Age and A Luminous History of the Palm, and she has translated many books by Latin American authors, most recently Daniel Guebel’s novel The Absolute. She also edits the magazine Firmament, published by Sublunary Editions. Currently she is based at the Centre of Latin American Studies at the University of Cambridge.
Paradise Almanac is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.