I keep a bottle of Maple Syrup in my fridge for emergencies. A pine tree pillow in my closet. You’ll find me in the fetal position on the cooler tile floors – clutching it to my nose when it’s August and 114F degrees outside here in Italy and I feel like I’m breathing underwater. If I close my eyes and inhale deep enough, the shaded pines and cool summer nights visit me through the smell. In the syrup, I can taste the ice-cold rivers that flow over smoothed granite rocks, the bonfires at night when its still chilly enough for a sweatshirt. I am pale. I like snow. My theory is that if it’s cold, eventually I will obtain enough layers to make me feel invincible. There’s something safe about it – unless I’m skiing and my circulation goes out the window. But even numbness (both in ski boots and the Atlantic Ocean beach waves) is apparently more acceptable to me than this heat.
The heat. The first summer I lived in Florence, I was on a top-floor apartment above an entire three-story shopping mall, at least three restaurants, and who knows how many additional air condition vents all exhaling up into our open, screenless windows. Uninsulated terracotta roof tiles lined the ceiling above our heads. Know what else is made out of terracotta? Pizza ovens.
The shower would run at a temperature more appropriate for a hot tub. I felt myself sweating even as I stood under the halfhearted stream of warm water and cried, dreaming of ski slopes, snowmen, ice baths. At night, you couldn’t close the windows or you’d suffocate, so they’d swing wide open, allowing the mosquitoes to eat you alive as you sweat in misery.
I grew up where there would be warnings on the television if it hit above 90F (32C) for more than two days in a row. HEAT WAVE the Breaking News would scream against pictures of crowded beaches and newscasters telling you how much water to drink and don’t leave the dog outside.
Here? That’s a nice day. It is going to be 30C (86F) tomorrow, then we’re at 35C (95F) for the following few days, and it’s only June, and it even came late this year. And the humidity. The humidity. It accosts you as you open the windows
I am not meant to be here. Not weather-wise.
Thankfully I’ve upgraded to screens, and air conditioning, that my husband thankfully doesn’t have a phobia too (most Italians do), and as I live more years with less snow and AC, and more heat and ridiculous humidity, I’m getting better at regulating it. I have now gotten past the point of what I used to call “sad pants” – when I had to wear pants in temperatures past 75F in April/May because if I didn’t I’d be breaking Italian rules and my legs would blind people with their whiteness. I’d unravel the skinny jeans onto my sweaty legs in agony each day, wondering when the day would come when it was “appropriate” to wear shorts.
Seven years in, I can finally wear pants in almost all temperatures if need to “fit in,” but I mostly do it because I know what’s coming later, and I know it may get “cooler” (60F?) at night and I’ll be freezing (because that’s a thing my body does now). But the biggest reason makes me begrudgingly think back to 4th grade when the classrooms of the big, old, brick building would be cold in the fall but it wouldn’t be time to turn the heat on yet, and Mrs. Sullivan wouldn’t let us wear our sweaters inside because “if you wear it now, your body will adjust to the temperature and then when you go outside without a jacket and only the sweater that you’ve been wearing you’ll get COLD.”
I’d sneer at her when she told us this, but now, in early June, when I walk around Florence and look at all the silly people that have already stripped down to as little clothing as possible in the humid heat, I pity them, because by August, they’ll want to be naked, and my months and years wearing sad pants will make my sundresses feel just perfect – even if its over 100F.