Thursday, July 8, 2010

I have never lived in a house with air conditioning. But that's been fine, for in Maine A/C is mostly beside the point. This week, however, the north country feels rather like Washington, D.C., except with fewer politicians and more deerflies. So I have been learning to live the lifestyle of heat. This means getting up early and immediately doing animal chores and whatever gardening is necessary. Then, as the day begins to scorch, I move on to laundry and dinner preparation. Making a cold dinner takes a great deal of time, especially since I am going out of my way to invent good ones, as some recompense to poor Tom, who has been doing a renovation job in this weather and thus needs whatever comfort I can offer.

By the afternoon, no matter what steps I take to avoid it, our house is sweltering. The boys and I sit in the darkish kitchen with our books and our ice tea, in point-blank range of the fan. Eventually, finally, Tom makes his way home, black with sweat. He showers, he collapses on the couch, and I wait till he composes himself into consciousness. Then we have dinner by the fan, then we watch (last night) Barbarella by the fan; and then we spend a restless night in a hot bed, the two of us rolled to far edges of the double mattress to avoid any possible skin contact.

I've been thinking a lot this week about the literature of empire--particularly those novels (such as Forster's A Passage to India and Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur) that show how hard the English tried to maintain their English habits in the stultifying heat of India. At least, I say to myself, I am not wearing a corset. At least, a naked, poverty-stricken old man is not constantly operating a half-hearted room fan. But I've also been thinking about Lampedusa's The Leopard, which is set in nineteenth-century Sicily and is one of my favorite, favorite novels. I know of no other book that tells the beautiful cruel tale of a landscape so well. Here, for instance, is the opening of chapter 2.


August, 1860

[from The Leopard by Prince Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (translated by Archibald Colquhoun)]

"The trees! The trees!"

This shout from the leading carriage eddied back along the following four, almost invisible in clouds of white dust; and at every window perspiring faces expressed tired gratification.

The trees were only three, in truth, and eucalyptus at that, scruffiest of Mother Nature's children. But they were also the first seen by the Salina family since leaving Bisacquino at six that morning. It was now eleven, and for the last five hours all they had set eyes on were bare hillsides flaming yellow under the sun. Trots over level ground had alternated briefly with long slow trudges uphill and then careful shuffles down; both trudge and trot merging, anyway, into the constant jingle of harness bells, imperceptible now to the dazed senses except as sound equivalent of the blazing landscape. They had passed through crazed-looking villages washed in palest blue; crossed dry beds of torrents over fantastic bridges; skirted sheer precipices which no sage and broom could temper. Never a tree, never a drop of water; just sun and dust. Inside the carriages, tight shut against that sun and dust, the temperature must have been well over 120 degrees. Those desiccated trees yearning away under bleached sky bore many a message; that they were now within a couple of hours from their journey's end; that they were entering the family estates; that they could lunch, and perhaps even wash their faces in the verminous water of the well.

But here in Harmony, Maine, we have trees galore and gloriously cold non-verminous well water. Clearly I have nothing to complain about; nothing at all.

Dinner tonight: gazpacho (from M.F.K. Fisher's delightful yet peculiar recipe, which measures everything in "glasses" without ever mentioning how large a "glass" might be), deviled eggs with garlic mayonnaise, arugula and shiitake salad, homemade tortilla chips, cold Portugese white wine, root beer floats.

P.S. Paul and I read the opening of act 5 of A Winter's Tale yesterday. It didn't make us feel any cooler, but it did make us happy to be Shakespearean once again. I'll be posting about it later this week, to give you time to catch up too, if you're reading it.


Ruth said...

1. I'll get going on my Shakespeare.
2. You are so very creative with your cooking.
3. Here at a mere 43 N, 87W we do not usually need AC, but!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
4. I simply MUST find Lampedusa's The Leopard. Thanks

Dawn Potter said...

I can't speak highly enough of this novel. The main character, the Prince, is one of the most thoughtful and interesting character studies in literature. And then there's Sicily. . . .