The Heat

Aug 19, 2013

It's been hot – hot in Long Island and Connecticut, and hot in Europe too. How hot is too hot? It depends where you happen to live. In Saudi Arabia, a hundred degrees is scarcely worth noticing. In Antarctica, people get out the sunscreen and frozen drinks when the thermometer creeps above forty. In Britain, any temperature above seventy is treated as a dangerous heat wave.

But, after a chilly, dark winter and spring, this little burst of heat has come as a relief to those of us who prefer to be warm rather than cold. It's a deep biological thing I'm sure. If your ancestors came from Scandinavia or Russia, cold weather suits you very nicely. But mine obviously came from some sunny corner of southern Europe, where ninety degrees was just a pleasant summer day to be celebrated with a long drink and a long siesta.

Heat is luxurious, which is why we love beaches, and saunas, and hot baths. It soaks into the bones and into the brain, and it saps our energy. We can't do anything, so we don't, thus achieving the state of relaxation that all the medical authorities agree is necessary and beneficial, especially for older folks.

The great enemy of summer relaxation is, of course, air conditioning. The human race got along very well without air conditioning for most of history. Our ancestors lived and farmed and fished through the summers for hundreds of years without air conditioning. The most tropical areas of world were explored and settled without air conditioning. Great empires were gained and lost without air conditioning. Capitalism, factories, and railroads were built without air conditioning. Just about all the most important works of art and science and philosophy in the world were created by people who had no air conditioning, as was the United States itself.

But air conditioning cuts us off from the real sensations of summer. Going out into the full sun on a really hot day (although this may not be recommended by the dermatologist), is a reminder of what kind of universe we are living in. Up in the sky our friendly local star, the sun, is blazing away at about ten thousand degrees Fahrenheit, and we can be practically prostrated by the heat even though the sun is ninety million miles away. If nothing else this gives some perspective on the competition we face we face when we dial down the air conditioning thermostat at home. Air conditioning simply moves the heat from inside to outside, where it makes everything hotter still. I have a feeling that we can't win this contest in the long run.

Other nations with hot summers, like Greece and Italy, cope in part by having a different thermometer. There's no question that thirty degrees centigrade sounds much cooler than eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit. When it gets warm, they open windows, run low-tech fans, and live outdoors as much as possible. They drink lots of warm wine, and hot drinks, which are scientifically proven to be better than cold drinks for reducing real body temperature. When the sun reaches its blazing zenith, they take a siesta for two or three hours, and start life again when things have cooled down. Coolness, as any young person can tell you, is a state of mind.

Copyright: David Bouchier