“Man it’s hot. It’s like Africa hot. Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of hot.” -Neil Simon, Biloxi Blues
People like me are not supposed to live anyplace where it gets to be 90 degrees. I know people, lots of them, who are thrilled when they can live in tank tops and shorts, spend days at the pool and “soak up the sun.” I am getting better about summer, really I am; I am enamored with the abundance of produce, the lightweight clothes, the longer days, the profuse foliage and the relaxation of schedules. When the mercury pushes above 85ish, however, I feel like someone has drained my blood in my sleep. I feel the lethargy of moving through deep, heavy water that slows my body and fills my brain, and my skin seems to be made up entirely of sweat and mosquito bites. I would rather, frankly, be shivering in a parka near the Arctic Circle.
I have decided that this difficulty with the “Lazy, hazy days of summer” is probably mine by birthright. On one side I come from a solid Scot/Irish bloodline, and the other is Hungarian and Russian. No one who contributed to my DNA lived anywhere where it was 90 degrees at any time of year, at least not until they were driven away by the absence of potatoes or the presence of pogroms. I am, therefore, programmed for the cool, the foggy and the snowbound life, a creature meant by nature to eat Yorkshire Pudding and Pierogen in a sweater somewhere near a roaring fire. Years ago, based on this uninformed but sincere anthropological analysis, I made a plan. On the hottest days, the days like today when I wake up and it is already 80, I simply adopt a different set of cultural influences. I choose places where the natives deal particularly well with extreme heat, and transform my frizzy, pasty self into a hot-blooded creature, a Frida Kahlo lizard with bright azure toenails sitting in the brightest patch of sunlight. I have, for purposes of my fantasy, created a kind of composite nationality that is about half Italian and half Indian .(In case you are rolling your eyes about the influence of “Eat, Pray, Love,” I hasten to assure you that this particular cultural Frankenstein was created long before Elizabeth Gilbert ever started her pasta tour of Rome. It is all mine, all mine, and Julia Roberts is not interested in playing me in the movie version).
The way this thing works, and it does work, is that I slow everything down and become languid and graceful. Rushing around is the cause of sweat and frizz. Gliding slowly I can imagine myself in a sari, walking through a crowded, cardamom-scented open air market choosing the best cauliflower for my Aloo Gobi. I cook spicy things when it’s terribly hot, and while I am cooking them I play ragas and Satayajit Ray soundtracks in the kitchen. I put a tiny bit of Nag Champa oil in my hair, clip it up, off my neck, and wear dangly earrings. It is still hot, really too hot for me, but I find great succor in a gauzy blouse, a fresh mango and a fan that turns my earrings into wind chimes.
My Fauxtalian ancestry is more informed by actual fact; I have never set foot in India, but I have spent time in Italy during the summer. I am interested not in the high-heeled, sunny, horn-honking blitz of a busy day in Rome, but in the practice of shutting everything down for a couple of hours after lunch in order to take a nap. It makes perfect sense, particularly when it is really too hot to stay awake, to close the shutters, turn on the ceiling fan and put a “chiuso” sign in the window until the sun pulls in its claws. One misses the killing mid-day heat, and works into the early evening, trading the hottest hours of the day for those that are cooler, quieter, and possibly aligned with Campari on ice. There is also, of course, the cooking – there is nothing better than a Caprese salad when the tomatoes are fresh, or a quick Pasta Pomodoro.
Today it is supposedly going to be 96 degrees, when all is said and done. I am off to work in my hot, hot kitchen with the fluidity of a Bollywood heroine and the philosophical acceptance of a Buddhist. At noon I will eat fruit and cheese and lie down on crisp, white linens until it’s time to head back to work. Call me Arundhati Funicello.