The first few drops began to fall on Tuesday evening, the 10th of September. During the following three days the skies opened and rain fell in torrents on the Mediterranean Coast. Now it’s Saturday and the rains have stopped. Valencia seems to have been spared from the worst damage, but outside the city and along the coast south towards Murcia, dams and walls have collapsed, thousands of people have been displaced, crops are drowned under chocolate-colored lakes created by the floods, innumerable houses have been destroyed and six people have died, two swept away in their cars. It was awful to watch the video on the news, the cars tumbling like toys in the muddy waters, headlights still burning.
Older Valencianos recall the worst rains in memory that occurred sixty-two years ago, on the 14th of October, 1957, when the River Turia overflowed its banks, destroyed a large part of city and left at least 81 corpses in its wake. The devastation was so catastrophic that the city and the Spanish government decided to re-rout the course of the river. It took engineers and workers nearly ten years to accomplish the task, but since 1973 the Turia still carries water from the mountains into the Mediterranean, but it flows around Valencia, not through it. In its place the old bed of the river has become a seven-mile-long park with gardens, a concert hall, innumerable trees, playgrounds, bicycle paths, a zoo, soccer pitches, even a baseball diamond.
When I first came to Valencia thirty-one years ago, I knew nothing about the city, the biblical flood or the meandering park. Many things attracted me, but the most curious were the bridges crossing a river that no longer existed, and statues of saints looking down on the people crossing it.
During that first visit, I painted these two watercolors within days of each other, put them away in a portfolio with some other sketches and nearly forgot about them. But when I returned to Valencia a few days ago, I thought it might be fun to paint the bridge again. Here is a photograph of El Puente del Mar as it looks now.
How silly it was not to have imagined the changes that would have happened during the years. But the evidence is clear: trees don’t lie. Neither does a calendar. Nor a mirror.