1-7 July: Too Darn Hot
Starting last weekend, the Dog Days of summer arrived in Paris with a full-throated howl. It’s the kind of heat where sitting perfectly still is a sweaty workout and you spend half your time with your head shoved in the refrigerator. If you venture outside, the streets shimmering and warping before your eyes through heat mirages, you beeline for the nearest supermarket and loiter in the freezer section until you’re kicked out. You wake up in the middle of the night not knowing where you are until it dawns on you that, in your sleep, you have migrated to the relative coolness of the hardwood floor where you lie spread-eagled and panting on your back. Despite your discomfort, you decide to stay there the rest of the night and in your fitful sleep you wistfully dream about being a polar explorer trapped in arctic pack ice.
When the alarm went off last Tuesday, I managed to drag myself up off the floor to my knees and crawl over to the corner where my phone was charging. When the weather app informed me the heat wave was to continue on for several more days I collapsed again and, rapidly blinking at the ceiling, mulled the merits of drowning myself in the Seine.
Suffice it to say, I abhor the heat and helio-thermophiles are more mysterious to me than aliens. For example, despite the sizzling heat, my wife and I went for a walk along the Coulée verte René-Dumont* and, staring in horror down below at the hordes of sunbathers, slathered slick with lotion and sprawled out like corpses strewn across a battlefield, I could almost smell their flesh roasting; I could almost hear their melanomas metastasizing. What pleasure does anyone possibly get from that? And just how is scorched brown, prematurely wrinkled skin attractive?
Given that I have lived most of my adult life in Montreal, where to say “winter is coming” takes on an even more portentous foreboding than in Game of Thrones, people are sometimes taken aback by my almost xenophobic helio-thermophobia. If the winters, which rival Moscow’s for plunging mercury and bury the population up to their hardened nipples in snow, last the better part of 6 months then wouldn’t the heat of summer, when it finally arrives, be a sweet and blessed relief? In fact, here is a meme doing the rounds in Montreal where there was record-breaking heat last week:
This “friendly reminder”, however, fails to acknowledge that in Montreal the steamy summer heat (taking into account the damnable humidex), which has claimed 54 lives so far this year, handily beats the extremes of winter (taking into account the damnable windchill factor) at the other end of the thermometer. For years now, I have passionately argued that we have every right to bitterly bitch during summer heat waves on the grounds that no matter how cold it gets in winter, even when the mucus in your nostrils starts to freeze and your eyelashes become prettily beaded with ice pellets, there is no reason for you to die or even be uncomfortable if you have proper tip-to-toe winter clothing. And once you stagger in from the cold, there is nothing more pleasing than (in no particular order): lazily steaming the cold out of your bone marrow in the tub, tucking into a plate of hot comforting food, watching TV under thick blankets with a hot water bottle stuffed down your sweater for good measure, sitting around a roaring fire, tossing back a hot toddy, climbing into a big soft bed and slipping into a deep dreamless sleep after outrageous sex with your better half. Thank you, I’ll take that any day of the week over sleeping alone in a pool of sweat on a hardwood floor.
Still not convinced? What if you were given the unpalatable choice of either being cast out into the desert to die in the heat or cast out into some arctic waste to die in the cold? Here are the two scenarios:
Desert: First, you will undergo the process of dehydration. Beyond becoming so thirsty you would murder a child for a glass of water, you will feel agonizing pain as your kidneys send less water to your bladder and your blood becomes thick and sluggish. Your heart will start to race like a helicopter to maintain oxygen levels and your already wrinkly skin from too much dangerous sunbathing will begin shriveling up like an apple core left out on the counter. On top of that you will experience heat stroke. This will cause excruciating headaches no amount of codeine could relieve, confusion, and even dementia. Once your body temperature cracks 40° C under your beloved sun, the proteins in your body will literally start frying, particularly those in your brain (assuming you even have one considering you opted for this scenario). After your damaged kidneys stop functioning properly you will be officially dying, your vital organs commencing the slow process of shutting down. Although you will temporarily faint from time to time throughout the ordeal, you will remain conscious right up until the horrific end when you suffer a massive fatal heart attack much to the delight of the cawing buzzards that have been merrily swirling overhead for the past few hours. Not exactly a party trick. You chose poorly.
Arctic waste: It is undeniable that, initially, you will experience significant pain from being so cold. Soon though, as hypothermia sets in, your sensory organs will become numb and unresponsive. And not only that, your body will likely even undergo a “warming” phenomenon as it experiences “temperature confusion” (it is not uncommon for frozen corpses to be discovered buck naked and surrounded by discarded clothing). Although you will experience some unpleasant hunger and nausea, these will give way to apathy and sluggishness. Then you will be overcome with drowsiness and torpidly plop to the ground wherever you find yourself. Although your vital organs will also commence the slow process of shutting down, you will not be in pain and you will enjoy some trippy hallucinations that will remind you of your youth when you experimented with acid. In the end, although you will also die of a massive heart attack, you will have slipped peacefully into oblivion (i.e. a coma) well before it strikes. Not too bad, no? And no irritating buzzards either. You chose wisely.
Don’t get me wrong. When I lived in Montreal, by the end of February, a month in which weather is blamed for annual surges in suicide rates across Southwestern Quebec, I too suffered acute SAD-ness** and fled to Cuba to roast myself half to death under the iron-hard blue Caribbean sky. But it’s fundamentally different coping with oppressive heat when you’re on a short, all-inclusive vacation at a resort right on a charmed white sand beach. You spend the entire day, every day, lying under the shade of a palm frond beach umbrella. The only time you ever expend any energy is when you tilt your head down to suck greedily on the straw violating the large, hollowed-out coconut full of rum your fingers are stretched around. When it gets too hot to even manage that, you simply wade out into the bracingly cool turquoise sea and flap around in the playful waves under lovely, goosepimple-inducing breezes. Utterly refreshed, you clamber out and collapse back under your umbrella calling for another coconut.
Indulging in this kind of sun-drenched decadence in the depths of winter, especially satisfying when you sadistically imagine your colleagues still slaving away at their desks after barely staving off hypothermia getting to the office in the morning darkness, always reminded me of the heroically indolent lifestyle of male lions:
MALE LION [waking up at noon with an almighty yawn]: God it’s hot on the savanna today…
FEMALE LION [scowling]: Finally awake, are we? I’ve been up for hours chasing around after your rotten, good-for-nothing kids. Most of them aren’t even mine, you know. Little bastards.
MALE LION [rolling over on his back and stretching his massive paws up into the sky]: Good. Very good. Oh my, it’s too hot today. I think I’ll take a little nap.
FEMALE LION: You just woke up!
MALE LION [hauling himself to his feet and giving his regal mane a good shake]: Ugh, very well. Perhaps I’ll take a nice dip instead. Don’t you find it too hot today?
FEMALE LION [sarcastically]: As opposed to yesterday? Or the day before that? Or the day before that? We live in Africa!!!
MALE LION [lazily swishing his tail at the flies harassing his big swollen balls]: Yes, indeed. I suppose we do. When’s breakfast, woman? I’m starving.
FEMALE LION [shrilly]: Breakfast?!
MALE LION [cocking his ear to his grumbling tummy]: Mmmm, I fancy a bit of gazelle today for a change. Starting to go a bit off zebra all the time.
FEMALE LION [red-faced, with her paws on her hips]: Did it ever cross your mind that you could do the hunting just for once? Especially if my food is getting soooooo boring for you. You’re supposed to be an apex predator! You’re supposed to be the fucking king of the jungle?!
MALE LION [flumping back down again and examining his long, lethal claws]: Never mind. It’s just too hot today. I suppose Zebra will be fine again. Don’t forget to save a bit for yourself.
FEMALE LION [fat vein pulsing metronomically down the middle of her forehead]: Anything else, your majesty?!
MALE LION [hesitantly]: Do you think you could maybe find me one of those big hollowed-out coconuts full of rum I’ve been reading about? I’m so thirsty under this cursed sun but I can’t be bothered to go over to the pond.
FEMALE LION [turning and marching away, tail swishing furiously]: Gaaaaaa!
MALE LION [sighing wearily]: It’s tough to be the king…
So, you see how the infernal heat can even be responsible for marital strife at the upper echelons of the animal kingdom. Moreover, despite the Tweeter-in-Chief’s brainless bluster about global warming being a hoax invented by the Chinese, our planet is undeniably getting apocalyptically hotter each year.*** Not too fussed by all that? Well, then listen to this peppy Cole Porter cover from 1990, a testament to how heat even destroys sexual desire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMt8MgbXPGc
* Paris’s version of the High Line park in New York City and well worth checking out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coul%C3%A9e_verte_Ren%C3%A9-Dumont
** Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seasonal_affective_disorder
*** Here is the evidence from NASA: https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/