FEELING THE HEAT
For decades, our eyes and ears have been brought up to think of summer as a season in which anything romantic and/or exciting might happen. In the film ‘Summertime’ (1955), a lonely Katherine Hepburn goes to Venice and falls unexpectedly in love with Rossano Brazzi (the title song by George Gershwin, with its famous opening line - ‘Summertime, and the livin’ is easy’ - has been covered approximately 25,000 times); in 1961’s ‘The Young Ones’, Cliff Richard and the Shadows cavort about while they croon ‘We’re all going on a summer holiday’; and in ‘The Greengage Summer’, which came out in the same year, a teenage Susannah York spends an unforgettably dramatic summer in France; in 1978’s ‘Grease’, the late Olivia Newton-John famously falls in love with a hoodlumish John Travolta during a summer visit to the US; in 1984, Jonathan Richman brought out his song ‘That Summer Feeling’ (‘This joy I’ve named shall not be tamed’); in 2016, the astonishingly good Catalan director Carla Simón premiered ‘Estiu 1993’, the story, set in the year of the title, of a young girl spending her first summer with people who are not her parents; and in 2012, Lana Del Rey released ‘Summertime Sadness’ (‘Kiss me hard before you go’). And so on and so forth: there are hundreds upon hundreds, if not thousands upon thousands, of similar examples over the years. The summer has always been presented, and regarded, as a long, languid period in which memorable things can happen to us; as a break in our lives that allows opportunities to pop up in them; or as more or less happy months of warmth which later may give rise to life-long bouts of nostalgia.
It hardly needs saying that the time has come to bid goodbye to all that. The summer of 2022 turned out be a sinister and even dangerous season, and not just because of the criminal invasion launched by the gremlins of the Kremlin against the nation of Ukraine. Temperatures in Europe, the north included, have hovered around or over 30 degrees. As I write, the highest recorded temperatures in Europe are in the Valencian area, with towns like Xàtiva hitting 45º. In western Catalonia, current temperatures are between 42º and 43º, and in eastern Catalonia we are living in the region of 35º, 24/7, with no mercy shown. In London, where air conditioning is almost non-existent and fans are scarce, people are putting up with 30º going up to a record 40º on certain days: I well remember the London Underground in normal summers over thirty years ago, whose claustrophobic carriages with their tiny sliding vents were stifling enough; what travelling in them must be like now doesn’t bear thinking about. In countries further south, the situation is even worse: Tunisia and Iran, for instance, have experienced temperatures of up to 55º. According to a 2010 report issued by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, any temperature over 35º paired with 100% humidity or over 46º paired with just 50% humidity, is edging close to being lethal. People over 65 - who are more susceptible to heart disease, respiratory problems and other health issues - account for around 85% of heat related deaths (which are often unexpected, leading Kristie Ebi, a weather researcher at the University of Washington, to describe heat waves as ‘silent killers’). On top of which, everything indicates that temperatures will go on rising, summer after summer, around the world. As Gershwin would have put it if he could have: ‘Summertime, and the livin’ ain’t easy…at all.’