The Summer of reading immersion is indeed gone. As Winter draws near and the weather worsens, the use of the umbrella increases. However, being (unprecedented) overcautious, Portuguese people, or at least Lisboetas, bring their umbrellas with them at the least threat of showers. Cautious as this behaviour may be on rainy days, it kind of brings about a bit of chaos to Lisboa, in particular when it is not raining. Used to rain as they should be, Lisboetas do not know what to do with their umbrellas during Winter’s “dry spells”. Rather than using their umbrellas, or better still, refraining from using them, my beloved Lisboetas convert their sunflower shaped, waterproofed canvas into an accessory. It is then, in these odd moments, that housewives, businessmen, businesswomen, students, commuters are all transformed – quite magically I may add – into fairytale characters. From Mary Poppins, to chimney sweepers, witches and warlocks, knights, Lisboetas are transformed by their umbrellas.
Mary Poppins (or John Poppins) are my favourite. The closed umbrella is rendered as an useless utensil and therefore, it’s closed and the Poppins in question either hangs it around the arm or, if possible, puts it inside her bag (suitcase, purse). And there it is, safely kept, unobtrusive and discreet, causing no discomfort to fellow sidewalk companions.
The Chimney Sweeper (I do have a soft spot for Dick Van Dyke, since I watched Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang for the first time…) has a strategy of his own. With the same elegance as Mary Poppins, the umbrella is converted into a practical, handy cane. More than a friend, the umbrella-cane is an important walking accessory. It doesn’t improve the walk so much as it gives a certain Old World charm to its bearer, while strolling. And, as the transformation takes place, so does the body language of the Chimney Sweeper changes. There is something stout in his strolling, the walk has a rhythm of its own, and the umbrella-cane waltzes to the stroke of the hand in an elegant, but very uncomfortable for other passersby, dance of its own. It goes something like this: 1) vertical thump on the floor; 2) up in the air and pointing forward; 3) back and a new thump. And now, like any waltz 1-2-3,1-2-3, that’s it, you got it! You really get it if you are walking rather fast and behind the Chimney Sweeper and get the umbrella-cane on your knees, whilst the “cane” is going backwards from step 2 and 3. One, two – bang of pain in the knees – three; one, two, dodge, three; one, two, safe in front of the Chimney Sweeper, three. The Chimney Sweeper will be too engrossed in his own waltz to realize that an empty space is surrounding him in the crowded street, with people avoiding him.
Then there are the less friendly fairytale characters of witches and warlocks. For these people the unused umbrella is a nuisance to be reckoned with. However, instead of carrying vertically, pretty much like witches and warlocks grab the broomstick in the middle to ride in it, so do these people. They do not really hold it in the middle, but rather in the upper part of the umbrella, parallel to them and diagonally to the ground. Usually, there is a lot going on in the mind of these Witches and Warlocks – a rain spell, perhaps?! – and they walk around furiously, umbrella-broomstick in hand, keeping everyone around them at a distance for safety (other people’s safety, not their own). Absent minded passersby will find their coats caught by the umbrella or suddenly encountering the pointy end of the umbrella hitting them on the kneecaps.
And finally there are the knights. The Knight has a quest of his own, most likely to fight off Saint Peter or whomever he finds responsible for the foul Winter weather. The Knight brandishes the umbrella pretty much like a Middle Age knight would hold his lance. Crusader or not, the fearless Knight holds his umbrella-lance forward, next to his body but pointing upwards (the opposite of Witches and Warlocks). The Knight is invested in his own crusade and walks rather briskly. I have never seen a real confrontation between two Knights, but I can only imagine the sparks going off and the umbrellas opening up in fantastic apotheosis.
Unfortunately, what we do not have in Lisboa are the fabulous singers in the rain: happy, in love, chaotic dancers. But then again, there’s something magical in this transformation of my beloved Lisboetas, so…”come down with the rain, I’m happy again!”.