Umbrellas amaze me.
They’re just one of those inventions that make you stop and wonder. They aren’t as mind-blowing as, say, photocopiers—they staple and collate!—or mirrors that don’t fog up in the shower. But still, umbrellas are awesome.
For one thing, there’s their ubiquity. I always thought that the inevitable appearance-en-masse of umbrellas whenever rain starts was something created by Roller Coaster Tycoon to force you into buying those over-priced information kiosks. As is becoming clearer every time it rains in Montreal (read: every single day) though, those devious RCT architects were right. People seem to have an umbrella ready to pull out at the first droplet. Apparently I am the only person who faces an existential dilemma when deciding whether to pack—and where to put—an umbrella in the morning.
Umbrellas are also surprisingly diverse. There are big ones and small ones, those with buttons and those that are impossible to open, ones with swear words that pass for appropriate because I don’t speak French, and those ones with frog eyes on top. And somehow, no matter what, they always keep out the rain.
Well, sort of. If you were outside during the onslaught of slightly more miserable weather than usual last Friday, you probably noticed the impromptu umbrella graveyard erected across the city. This indicated the most important point about umbrellas: they are, unavoidably, barriers. And not just to the rain.
My umbrella didn’t break on Friday. But after about 20 minutes of summoning my reserves of herculean strength to walk against the twister strength winds I decided to save my energy for the daily battle with my door-lock that doesn’t work properly, acknowledge that having dry shoes was a pipe dream, and put my soaking umbrella somewhere it couldn’t be harmed.
Life without an umbrella was a whole new world. Not that this was my first time. During the last major rainstorm of the summer, I walked home from the Eaton Centre sans shoes, shirt, or umbrella. But I always forget how liberating it can be to put the umbrella away. Suddenly, I saw people’s faces again. I didn’t have to hold my arms in the air, propping up my insularity from the rest of the world. Instead I let them drop comfortably back to their place at my sides. I just pulled up my hood (ok, yes, I did have a raincoat), straightened by back, and let the rain fall down like Hilary Duff. It was great.
It’s kind of strange, actually, how terrified we are of the rain. Yes, it can be cold and unpleasant. True, it can make people incredibly sick. And fine, rain can destroy clothes and shoes and make jeans feel less comfortable than when they put that show about tattoos on at the gym and you’re trying not to throw up on the stationary bikes even as half your effort is devoted to keeping your feet on the pedals because for some reason none of them have foot straps. And while we’re discussing the gym why do they put the music so loud when they know everybody just wants to listen to their iPods? But I digress.
I guess the real reasons umbrellas amaze me, for the same reason that obsessions with clothing or cars fascinate me, is that they represent this insatiable desire to cover up what’s common to us. Different clothes obscure the fact that the one thing all people have in common is their skin, fancy cars hide the universality of the need for transportation, and umbrellas are a literal force field against what can also deflected with a simple rain jacket, or can even be pleasant in the right circumstances. Which is not to say we should stop using them, any more than I’m going to stop buying new clothes or eyeing nice cars. Individuality is great too, and I will always be a fan of not getting pneumonia. But, as a self-important opinion writer, I like to think that everything that catches my eye must have some broader meaning. So if there’s anything to conclude from the legions of discarded umbrellas and the liberation of not carrying one the other day, I guess it would be as follows:
Why does it rain so freakin’ much in Montreal?
And when are we going to start coming up with ways to enjoy our common surroundings instead of trying so hard to avoid them?