Monday, June 27, 2011

In the summer when it sizzles

It’s HOT in Paris right now. Hot-hot-hottttttt. It’s so hot that my boss has asked everyone in the office to draw the window shades and turn off our desk lamps, thus betraying his insanity for he must suspect that our energy-saving Ikea light bulbs are partially to blame. Ever the rebel, I have not obeyed orders because first of all, no way do these silly lamps generate any heat worth mentioning and secondly, never underestimate the parakeet effect, i.e. darkness = zzzzzz. I personally have no desire to awaken hours from now, the right side of my face decorated with key-shaped indentations, only to spend the rest of the afternoon taking witty remarks from my colleagues like, “Hey, fall asleep on your keyboard again?”

This sudden heat thing happens every year, always with the same effect: June gloom takes up most of the month, everyone bitches and moans about how wretched Paris weather is and how lucky those bastards in the south of France are and then, all of sudden, BONJOUR la canicule! Overnight the temperatures sky rocket and everyone seamlessly switches to bitching and moaning about how unbearably hot it is. It doesn’t last, generally speaking (the heat, not the bitching; this is France after all). A notable exception was of course the summer of 2003, which featured endless days of scorching heat, alternating with endless nights of scorching heat, and ended only after some 15,000 people had died of dehydration (a public health catastrophe that bizarrely no one seems to discuss anymore).

Never one to shun an occasion for harrowing adventure, my family made the trip over the big blue water to visit me in the middle of that very same 2003 heat wave. I remember us all sitting around my 5th floor apartment dinner table, eating only after 10:30 pm—when the heat had subsided just enough to allow us to conceive of consuming anything solid. We took cold showers at regular intervals, slept with spray bottles next to our beds and would awaken in the middle of the night, wander over to the open windows and stretch our sweating arms out into the stifling darkness, attempting in vain to catch even the slightest whisper of a breeze. Yeah, it sucked.

At the time, I had no fan (still don’t). This of course shocked my parents, even after my explanation that Paris seldom heats up enough to warrant a fan and that besides, where would I store such a thing during the 11.5 cooler months of the year? But faced with day after day of 100+ degree weather, even I was willing to hoist the proverbial white flag. We thus embarked on a wild goose chase through the city, visiting shop after shop after shop, only to be told that no fans were to be found—not there, not anywhere—and that furthermore, no new deliveries were expected anytime soon. This of course DOUBLY shocked my parents, who could not believe that a first world country could just run out of something as common as a stupid fan—and at the height of summer no less! France in their eyes was demoted right then and there to second world status (where it shall remain indefinitely). So we resorted to fanning ourselves with anything lying around my apartment: newspapers, museum brochures, table mats....

I have since discovered that the acme of H-O-T in Paris is in fact underground: aboard the RER, a mode of public transportation that is half métro, half suburban train. In the suburbs, the RER runs above ground, but when it passes through Paris, it actually descends below the métro—much closer to Hades in other words, which I suppose would account for the heat, as well as for the demon-like characters one may spot while on board. In addition to being damn hot, the RER is notoriously poorly-kept (that’s a euphemism for “ghetto on rails”). All of this leaves RER passengers with a serious dilemma during the hotter months: either a) dress conservatively and sweat away in silence (but avoid drawing any unwanted attention) or b) dress in skimpy summer attire and take their chances with the more dubious of their fellow passengers. Tricky. My tactic is to avoid the hot heinousness of the RER like the plague (incidentally, the RER and the plague have something in common: rats).

Between us, I am enjoying the heat this time around. It’s nice to eat outdoors, nice to wear sandals to work, nice to leave the jacket at home. And I’m sure that if, heaven forbid, the heat wave were to stay past its welcome, I could always just pop out and buy a fan (surely they are back in stock by now).


  1. I hate the heat! So, why am I going to Kansas on Saturday in the middle of a heat wave? Not to mention the high humidity there! Only my family "roots" trip could get me there this time of year!

    Have you thought of buying a fan on Amazon?
    Anne G

  2. Bummer dude. You could always try and go to the internet and buy a fan..or a swamp cooler if that works for you