Saturday, July 2 2022

OWhat’s Sydney without sunshine? It’s full of personal trainers who can’t train, dog walkers who can’t walk, tradesmen who can’t build, gardeners who can’t garden, and swimmers who don’t swim for fear of developing a pink eye because of dirty waterways.

As of May 24, Sydney had experienced only 48 days this year without rain. Melbourne, on the other hand, had seen 128.

Heavy rain is expected to continue in Sydney throughout the winter, with the Bureau of Meteorology’s fortnightly report on climatic influences indicating “the big rain that will stretch over the coming months”, says Peter Hannam of the Guardian.

“The La Niña event, already in its second year, could still persist in a third.”

Sydney is a city where you almost always have to bring your sunglasses. The exterior is usually bright blue, with a special type of bright light – almost harsh – almost too bright for the naked eye. It saturates everything with a pure, blinding white brilliance. But now it’s like someone put a dimmer on the city and turns on the sprinklers. We live in a Blade Runner biodome.

Sydney and its people are not built for do so much rain.

The outdoor Covid recovery seats that Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet has installed around Sydney are smooth and unused. Pools of water in the chairs; everything is wet to the touch. The Astroturf is soggy. From each path, your face stares at you, reflected in a puddle.

Autumn leaves are slip hazards and the relentless rush of rain sweeps everything down the drain in a disgusting rush of cigarette butts and Big Gulp containers. The rats emerge from the soggy heaps of garbage in the street – larger than usual, as if clogged with moisture.

The whole city feels and smells different: extinguished, swollen, infected, septic.

After confinement, a friend, Grace, moved to Manly in a rental with her two children to spend a year at the beach. “It’s awful – we had to pay $800 for a humidifier [and] heavy rains cause livelihood problems in our house because we have an adjoining block. The water comes in from the side, which brings a lot of moisture into the house through the floors and so the mold is unbelievable.

“Everyone gets sick. We moved to Manly for the beach but you can’t swim as there is pollution everywhere.

Another friend, Simon, who moved from the UK to Bondi to live his best beach life, tells me: “In the summer we went to the beach once. The quality of the water is catastrophic. Twice during the rains, water entered his house “and it runs down the walls, like a pool of water.”

I laugh when I think of myself in February, deciding not to buy an umbrella or rubber boots because “the rain will pass”. We are now at the end of May and it will not pass.

It’s not even the sun I crave – I crave the lack of humidity that’s been chasing us since the whole La Niña thing started. The effects of incessant rain don’t just last as long as water falls from the sky; even on relatively dry days, things still look damp from previous rainy days.

Clothing, furniture, anything that has a tactile surface gives them a new and specific feel. They are – to use the wrong word – wet. Nothing really ever dries up in this weather. Memories of how a crisp, dry towel straight off the clothesline felt on your skin are fading.

Even the children are wet. My friend Rebecca told me that “parenting in the rain is a nightmare. Bringing the kids to school makes difficult logistical juggling even harder in the rain. Kids end up with wet shoes and socks that last all day – and it makes them cranky. I don’t want them getting wet and cold, that’s my #1 priority as a parent.

But in the endless rain, “the dog is wet, the carpets are wet, the bedding is wet – everything is wet. We live in a wet world – it’s a word everyone hates and it’s the state everyone hates.

Weekend in Australia

Things aren’t just nasty when they’re wet: they’re dangerous. Wet alchemies in the mould. And living in a house with mold can lead to depression and anxiety, according to some research, as well as asthma and respiratory problems.

Where once the Sydneysiders might have swapped stories about the housing market or what they’re working on right now, everyone now has a mold story. Either they will tell you in disbelief that they don’t have mold, which is weird because they had mold two summers ago and their clothes were moldy, and their favorite pair of shoes had mold – but right now their house isn’t no mold.

Or they’ll tell you horrific stories of mold spreading all over their walls and ceiling in giant, thriving spores, creating dynamic Rorschach tests throughout their home. Tenants have even reported fungus growing in the crevices of their bathrooms.

Last month I returned home to Sydney after a few weeks in Victoria to find that my soy sauce had large chunks of mold in it. Soy sauce is generally a hostile environment for the creation of new life forms! But not in this climate.

Then there are the roads. Learning to drive in Sydney this summer and fall was a lesson in the instability of materials. Some days classes were canceled because the rain was too heavy to drive there. After particularly heavy falls in February and March, new potholes and cracks have appeared on Sydney’s eastern roads.

My friend Erik from Melbourne was amazed at Sydney’s softness. “The whole town is rotten. They will have to rebuild. Darlinghurst with all these terraces seems on the verge of collapse.

Other friends in the interior west have reported, in horror, burst sewer lines.

Then there’s the effect all that rain has on mood. After months of this, it’s no exaggeration to say that everyone is less happy with this weather – if only because there has been too much of it.

In Byron Bay, my friend Trav tells me that everyone has Sads (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and it hasn’t stopped raining for ages. “It’s so constant and it’s ruining my favorite suede shoes.”

Rain is changing lives – not just dramatically as we have seen with the floods in Lismore and Queensland. This week my personal trainer told me he was quitting and going into real estate. His trade couldn’t work this year because he had to cancel too many sessions due to rain. Friends suffer from illnesses they associate with the rain: from diarrhea caused by bad oysters from rain-stricken parts of the coast and earaches from swimming in the dirty water of the harbour, to a low-level funk they attribute to endless gray skies.

Meteorologists say it could rain like this until spring – by then we’ll be used to it, right?


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