Want Heat? You Betcha!

One of my favorite movie moments is all about “we’re having a heat wave”–In the Seven Year Itch, Marilyn (the quintessential Marilyn, one of the greatest of all time) stands over an exhaust grate. It’s New York, circa 1955–air pours up to the street level from the subway. As a rush of cool air rises, Marilyn throws back her head, holds down her pleated white skirt, and gives a squeal of delight. We are voyeurs of her cool.

     It’s hard not to want to throw off your clothes when the temperature’s rising. In some African countries, I’ve been told, women soak their long winding dresses in water, then simply wrap themselves in them. Not a bad idea: I wet down in a bath tub with a half-inch of water, then barely pat myself dry. So what if my shorts and top get wet–all the better. Evaporation takes heat away from the body.

     I remember the summer of 1988, the one that weather forcasters keep mentioning as a sister to this one: Day after day of high 90s–check! Day after day of sun. In fact, so much sun that we went for six weeks in the Twin Cities without rain. Every day, I watered some new tree. Finally, as I drove to the airport in mid-July to pick up my daughter (she’d been on a student trip to Taiwan), the skies opened and we ran into the house, pelted with rain. Six inches fell in four hours. Streets were flooded all over the metro area. In fact, my step-daughter’s car was swamped. She and friends had to leave it at the curb and come back a day later.

      We had one window airconditioner then. In the bedroom. It whirred and sputtered day and night. Since then we’ve had the windows in the second floor–those leaky, rattling 1912 windows–replaced with beautiful, tight, ultraviolet-retardant windows. We got rid of the air-conditioner. Now here is how I get through the heat:

     * Open all the windows on the north side of the house, and one or two on the south. Set fans to blow cross currents.

     * Sleep in the most north-facing room. Or if you have a decent room in the basement, equip it with a dehumidifier (we have two running in our old basement), and in the very worst heat, I sleep there, work there. The temp is usually 15 – 20 degrees lower than any other floor, plus the humidity is way way lower.

     * Lower blinds (they need to be dark and rather thick) over all windows where sun pours in. Close the windows where heat and light pour in around 2-3 p.m. And lower the shades. Don’t open them until 7-8 in the evening.

     * WEAR ONLY COTTON. No, I’m not receiving a kick-back from the cotton growers of America. Through trial and error, I’ve discovered that synthetics do not breathe. It doesn’t matter, ladies, how filmy it is. If it’s not cotton, it will stick to you and trap sweat. COTTON COTTON COTTON!

     * Don’t be afraid of sweating. It’s nature’s way of cooling you off. Keep make-up to a minimum, wear light colors, and loose clothing, and sandals. No socks is you can avoid them.

     * Sun glasses, a big straw hat to keep out the glare, AND A WHITE, COTTON, long-sleeved shirt for driving or walking outside in the heat. White reflects heat. Remember all those men and women from India in their saris and white jackets? They know what heat is.

     *Drink lots of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages–lemonade, any kind of juice–I dilute with lots of water. Caffein and alcohol leach water from your body. You’re already sweating like a horse that’s run a mile. You need to replenish water!

     * Eat light! No heavy steaks, but salads, frozen nonfat yogurt, bits of barbequed meat. No hot potatoes.

     * Keep fans running everywhere. Sit on the floor–REMEMBER, HEAT RISES! If you must cook on the stove, do so early in the morning.

     * Exercise before 10 a.m.

     * Go slow.

     My favorite weather-guy, Paul Douglas, just opined “This too will pass.” Yup. But we are probably in for more and more summers like this one. Pity the Adele penguins in the Antarctic, the polar bears in the Arctic. They among many ice-loving creatures are facing a learning-curve that we humans have forced on them. Bets are that they will not survive. As a researcher in the Antarctic wrote about the penguins, “It’s a pity they have to suffer because another species far to the north can’t decide what to do about this problem they’ve created.”


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