Oooh-La-Leave

It's like a foreign country

A friend and I have resolved that this will be the first summer of our lives during which we never once complain about the heat. Each of us has spent our lives here in the desert, and both of us are champion whiners -- she about injustices against children and the price of Swarovski crystal beads, I about pretty much everything that crosses my mind. Especially the unbearable heat of summer, which I've never liked and which I find harder to tolerate every year. So not carping about the soon-to-be-soaring temperature will be a challenge.

I told my spouse, a man so enraptured by triple-digit weather that until recently he drove a truck with no air conditioning, about my plan not to complain about the heat.

"So then you won't be speaking at all until October?" he replied.

I see his point. Kvetching about the heat has become, for me, like buying another box of dishware on eBay: something I do without even realizing I have. But I'd already tried several different approaches to dealing with the heat, all of them failures. There was the summer I didn't leave the house before sundown, doing my grocery shopping at midnight and meeting with friends for dinner rather than lunch. I was living in a one-bedroom apartment in a high-rise at the time, and after six weeks of this self-imposed vampire routine, I was beginning to hallucinate.

That was the same summer I tried self-hypnosis, hoping to trick my mind into thinking it was winter. But the first exercise required that I visualize a beach, and the one I conjured up was apparently located at the corner of Sahara and Equator; it was so warm there that I was usually drenched with sweat and panting before arriving at semi-consciousness. I never made it to Exercise Two.

The following summer, I decided to embrace the heat. I would, I decided, pretend that I lived on the surface of the sun, and focus on getting the best suntan of my life. Instead, after only about 10 minutes on a slippery chaise, I had the best heat rash of my life. "You've been dodging the sun for so long that your skin has developed an allergy to sunlight," the dermatologist I visited told me. "Better stay indoors during the day."

Short of walking around with a bag of frozen peas in my shorts or switching to an all-Popsicle diet, I had tried everything to stay out of the heat -- everything except leave for the summer, that is. And so my beau and I bought a vacation home in the small town in Ohio where I'd been born. The house had been in my family for decades, built by my great-grandparents and then handed down from one generation to the next, until there was no one in my family left in Ohio who wanted it. My family sold the house in 1970 and it eventually became a derelict; my genius plan was to buy the house and restore it to its former glory, while enjoying the cooler Ohio summers. Everyone I knew warned me about the Midwest's humid weather, but I wasn't listening. I knew that summer temperatures never climbed much higher than 95 degrees in Ohio; how bad, I thought, could a little humidity be, compared to Phoenix's 118-degree July afternoons?

Really, really bad, as it turned out. Our tiny ramshackle Ohio home didn't have air conditioning, and, after a week of 85-degree days with 90 percent humidity, I was back in the desert -- where at least my home was air-conditioned -- and back to my vampiric summer ways.

That is, until we discovered the summer joys of Provence. A trip there one July revealed daytime temperatures that hover in the high 70s with next to no humidity, despite the nearness of a rather attractive ocean. We've since purchased a wee Provençal home there, and now spend a good chunk of every summer in the south of France rather than south of McDowell Road. And while I enjoy the weather, the scenic beauty, the cuisine, and the culture, my favorite part about being en Provence is listening to the natives complain about their horrible summer heat. The bitching usually begins in late June, when the mercury climbs all the way to 83 degrees with 4 percent humidity -- temperatures familiar to a Phoenix winter day -- and the cries of "Mon Dieu!" and "C'est trop chaud!" begin. It's a summertime sound that warms my heart.

 
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