Europe’s Heat Wave

P1100648I write this from the dark hole of my office, the large, east-facing window covered by a black-out shade that helps enormously to reduce the greenhouse effect. The heat wave, or canicule, has ended in our region, but it’s still 27 C (80 F) in my office.

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Carcassonne’s main shopping street is shaded by colorful parasols.

All of Europe has been in the furnace this week. We’ve been spared the worst of it. We got to 31 C (88 F) yesterday, though our own thermometer showed 98 F. It was hotter in Paris, which set a record of 42.6 C (108.7 F) and in London, with a record 36.9 C (98.4 F). In normally cool and rainy Belgium (when I was moving there, a colleague told me not to bother packing short-sleeved shirts because I wouldn’t need them), fields were so hot and dry they caught fire.

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Here, not Belgium. (Those are vineyards in the background). Looks like the crewcuts my brothers got in the summer… back when they had hair….
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Same wheat, a month ago.

In France, the Mediterranean basin was relatively spared. Between the last heat wave at the end of June and this one, the weather has been delightful. Warm days with highs around 30 C (85 F) and cool nights with lows around 16 C (60 F). Really perfect summer weather, with clear blue skies and the thrumming of the cidadas (check out my Instagram for a video). The south of France is called the Midi, which doesn’t refer to the middle but to noon–it’s the region where it’s always noon, or warm. As such, it’s designed for heat, with narrow streets that get shade from buildings, and buildings constructed like caves, with stone walls two feet thick. Even our house, built after WWII, has two-foot-thick stone walls.

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As you can see, it’s worse around Paris. We are down in the corner, by the sea and Spain.
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The number of days of orange alert since 2010, by department. Aude is in the 5-9 range. What constitutes orange alert differs by department and has to do with highs and lows for three consecutive days.

The rest of the house is less gloomy, with shutters closed on the east but open on the west. For now. When the sun crosses over, I’ll shut the shutters on the west and open the ones on the east. I shut the windows around 9 to keep the cool air in and the hot air out. Even with all the windows open, the house never cools down quite as much as outside. Like 95% of Europeans, we don’t have air conditioning, and I’m glad. Yesterday, I sat outside to soak up the cool morning air. It was 24 C (75 F), and I was cold. That is the benefit of not having air conditioning. You get used to the heat. But only up to a point. It’s hard to put up with long stretches higher than body temperature.

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From a few weeks ago.
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This week. Future wine!

My parents had a whole-house fan in the ceiling of the hallway at the center of the house.  It was hidden by shutters that would clack open when the fan was turned on. The fan sucked in air from every window. It was heavenly. When we were little, we had only a window air conditioner, in the living room. Heat spells were party time. Usually we were sent to bed on time, I think by 8 p.m., because that’s when the “family” shows were over and the “adult” shows came on. But during heat spells, my dad spread out a feather bed, handmade by my grandma from down plucked from geese my dad had hunted (and eaten). My siblings and I staked our claims, angling for a good view of the TV. My dad would eat ice cream straight out of the box, and so would we, jousting with our spoons to mine a good vein of chocolate ripple or whatever, while watching TV shows our mother usually prohibited because of violence: “Mission Impossible,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “Mash,” “The Rockford Files”….P1100651The nuclear reactor near Toulouse had to be shut down because the river that provides cooling water was too hot. Meanwhile, France set a record for electricity consumption yesterday. Imagine how much more it would have been with widespread air conditioning. There have to be other ways to deal with the heat, to keep things from getting worse. To me, air conditioning is the equivalent of Thneedville, the comfortable but completely artificial town in Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax,” where people move once they’ve destroyed the rest of the environment.P1100658

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Just so French village: if you don’t have a yard, you make a clothesline on the sidewalk.

0A9BAE15-858C-40D1-A509-62DA9837A6FBWhat kind of world are we bequeathing to our kids? A real living hell? I’m not a fan of Vice, but check out this article.

This week has been too hot to do anything physical. It was too hot to do anything mental. I couldn’t work anyway–my computer overheated and shut down. My kid and I binge-watched TV shows, waiting for the respite of evening, when the pool would be in the shade for a cool soak. We ate almost nothing. Fruit and yogurt. No cooking. Nothing was appealing, certainly nothing hot.

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This candle always melts before even getting lit.

Some people don’t get a choice about taking it easy. Workers were chopping down enormous platanes, or plane trees, hundreds of years old but infected with a fungus. Garbage trucks circulated, relieving us of our overconsumption. The baker turned out loaf after fresh loaf. I remembered the workers in Lamu, unloading bags of cement by hand in a kind of bucket brigade from dhows at the dock, shimmering with sweat in the heat and humidity, unable to drink because it was Ramadan. But they never slowed their pace.

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That’s 82 F at 6:50 A.M. It’s in Fahrenheit because we got it at Lowe’s.

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Besides cooler temperatures, early risers get spectacular sunrises. I couldn’t choose between with or without the village, so you get both.

After receiving numerous appeals to give blood, I realized I needed to act quickly because I had a dentist appointment–there’s a waiting period after dental work, which had fouled me up previously. I had a checkup on Thursday. I called the donor office and they gave me a 12:30 appointment on Wednesday. No problem, I thought. My car and the hospital have A/C. And it was fine … until I walked out into the parking lot and felt like I got hit by a frying pan. Je suis tombée dans les pommes–I fell into the apples, which is the poetic French way of saying I passed out. Eventually I recovered but was more or less wiped out for the rest of the day. I felt as droopy and wilted as my hydrangeas.

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Canicule style: Nurse in flipflops and shorts at the blood drive office.

The hydrangeas are out of luck. We aren’t under watering restictions that some other departements face, but I’m only watering the fruits and vegetables. I try to remember to catch water from washing fruits and vegetables, or cooking pasta (the extent of turning on the stove these days), to give to the flowers. When I lived in Africa and had no running water, every drop was precious. I’d catch my “shower” water (my shower was me pouring cupfuls on myself) for washing clothes, and then that water would be poured on trees. It is shameful that we have designed our buildings–our lives–to pour purified water down the drain.

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Bring on the rain.

We are supposed to get rain today and tomorrow. We’ve had day after day of perfectly blue skies, so the change is welcome. It’s hard to believe we could have a drought after the deadly deluge in October. Extreme drought, extreme floods. Welcome to the new normal. Not just here, but everywhere.

How are you dealing with heat where you are? Has it gotten worse?P1100641

 

Heat Wave

P1100624By the time this is published, the canicule, or heat wave, is over. But for about a week, it was just a tad too hot. And hardly anybody, ourselves included, has air conditioning in the south of France.

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Same candle on June 26…it’s almost gone now.

The word canicule comes from canine, as in the dog days of summer. It’s because Sirius, the brightest star in constellation Big Dog, or Canis Major, rises and sets with the sun in late July–often the hottest period of the year.

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Fishing on the Aude river…a cool activity.

The south of France is called le Midi, which sounds like middle, but it means middle of the day–noon. It’s the region where it’s always noon. Italy uses the same terminology–the mezzogiorno.

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Yes, that’s the Eiffel Tower below la Cité.
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There was an open-air showing of “La La Land.” 

We really shouldn’t complain–the hottest it has gotten was 36 Celsius, or 97 Fahrenheit. However, the nights never really cooled down–sometimes only to 27 C (81 F). This compares to averages for July and August of 27-28 C (81-82 F) for highs and 16 C (71 F) for lows.

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The wildflowers are going gangbusters.
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These blue ones are gorgeous.

Despite no precipitation since an incredible rainstorm in mid-July, the moisture has stuck around. We have the first summer dew I’ve seen since moving here and the grass is holding onto an aura of green. Usually it would be dry straw. OTOH, we haven’t seen the firefighting planes this summer either.

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Dew!

We open all the windows at night to let in the coolish air, then close them when the sun starts to hit the house. The shutters, too, get closed. We hide in the penumbra, not moving too much. On entering the house from the pitiless sunshine, it feels surprisingly cool, but one soon adapts, and even inside it seems too hot.

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Thank goodness for the woods. Exercise is at dawn or not at all.

My brain melts. I can’t focus. A fan blows straight on me, and I get an earache on the side it’s on. But I can’t take turning it off. My computer melts down a few times, refusing to toil on because it’s too darn hot.P1100588We eat food that doesn’t require cooking: salads, melon with prociutto, tomatoes and peaches stuffed with tuna.

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Somebody’s garden entrance.

The village looks drained of color, the beige stone and stucco dazzlingly bright and the shadows so sharp and black. Nobody is out. A cat sleeps in the shade under a car. Even the birds seem to be hiding in the shade. Only the cicadas thrum deafeningly, starting as early as 8:30 and continuing until almost 10 p.m. Peak summer torpor.P1100626Finally, some clouds come through, bringing lots of lightning and thunder though the rain is limited to a few drops. It is amazing to feel the suddenly cool, almost cold, air blow in with the storm. Today we’re going to have a high of 27 C and a refreshing low of 17 C, right on the average, and it looks like the rest of the month will be the same–warm enough to feel like summer but not uncomfortable. Thank goodness!

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I love these dramatic clouds.

How do you beat the heat?