The spell of heat


The screen displays a ‘Sunny 40’. Switching to Fahrenheit, it says 104. There is no air-conditioning at home. The scorching heat seeps inside, its force inescapable.

The body senses this before the mind grasps it. Skin turns sticky, breathing is a labour, eyes squint in the white heat, thirst is hard to slake, flies pester the ears. A lethargy sets in. Sleep descends, like a drug promising relief.

The spell of heat turns the neighbourhood foreign, like someplace distant and unfamiliar. Women walk hugging the church wall, following its sliver of shade. Men lick their ice cones like babies. Decent girls tread the streets in swimwear. Buildings wear an unfriendly, shuttered look. Their shadows seem darker, sharper. Shops lure passersby with air-conditioned drafts. Temperature figures in every second conversation. The drowsy librarian blames the soporific heat. The erratic barber cannot deal with the stickiness of hair.

The Germans think I have it easy. You’re from India, they say. But after years in a freshwater lake, a sea turtle forgets the taste of salt.

There is no air-conditioning at the workplace either. A memo arrives in the mailbox, ‘Staying cool in summer’:

Only open the windows to ventilate your office during the cooler morning hours when the outside temperature is lower than the room temperature.

Keep the windows closed during the day. As the day gets hotter, the amount of ozone in the air can increase. Keeping the windows closed prevents ozone from entering your office.

Start work as early as you can. You can then avoid working during the hottest part of the day, between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Working during peak temperatures is not only unpleasant, it can impair your performance, too.

The memo goes on to offer dietary tips:

Avoid fatty foods. Carbohydrate-rich foods, such as wholegrain bread, pasta, rice, vegetables, and potatoes, are easier to digest. Eating plenty of fruit during the day also has a very positive effect on your sense of well-being. Low-fat dairy products such as buttermilk or natural yogurt can offer cool, healthy relief from soaring temperatures. As a rule, you can’t go wrong if you follow a Mediterranean diet. It is healthy and does not put undue strain on the body as a whole. The key elements of Mediterranean cuisine are olive oil, vegetables, fruit, and fish.

Beyond the river the sun sinks, but leaves the heat behind. The cover of darkness foils its escape. The heat hangs around like a ghost, awaiting another day.

4 thoughts on “The spell of heat

  1. Looking at your picture of Ploeck (?) in the heat brought back vivid memories of hot, but never quite as hot as now (this is a record heatwave), summers during my student years in Heidelberg. All of the places I lived in were under a roof and pretty unbearable and impossible to sleep in at night. We often slept out in the open down by the river. Lots of us, but nice and quiet, maybe a guitar and a couple of beers.

    1. I was at the Uni Bibliothek the other day, another scorching one. No A/C there either, but the reading room was full and the semi-clad students were absorbed in their material. I thought of your comment then, and wondered if some of them would later walk down to the riverside with a guitar and a couple of beers.

    1. Such memos now come in both languages. German first, then English. Fourteen years ago, when I arrived in Germany, most memos were only in German.

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