Thursday, July 30, 2009

`The Brain is Still Distempered'

To escape the Houstonian heat which we thought we had escaped when we escaped Houston, I took the boys to the new Harry Potter film. We enjoyed the air conditioning for three hours, and they enjoyed the movie for more than two and a half hours, and my only complaint was that they dimmed the house lights so low I was unable to read Anthony Powell. The film is loud, baffling and emotionally unengaging, rather like a former girlfriend, all of which makes it difficult to ignore (ditto).

I called my wife as we left the theater and walked into the Tandoori oven of a parking lot. She confirmed greater Seattle on Wednesday had registered its highest temperature ever – 102 degrees Fahrenheit. The thermometer on my dashboard said 116 but plummeted to a brisk 103 by the time we got home. I wanted a medical opinion on the effects of prolonged heat on the human mind and body, and consulted Dr. Robert Burton, whom I quote:

“Piso, Benedictus Victorius Faventinus, will have [melancholy] proceed from a hot distemperature of the brain; and Montaltus… from the brain's heat, scorching the blood. The brain is still distempered by himself, or by consent: by himself or his proper affection, as Faventinus calls it, or by vapours which arise from the other parts, and fume up into the head, altering the animal facilities.”

My animal facilities and my family’s are cooked so we’ve booked a room in a nearby hotel for Friday night and plan to abuse the environment with air conditioning and anything else that cools our scorched blood. Wednesday and Thursday nights were already booked solid. Throughout the interminable, Powell-free movie I thought about the steamiest literary evocation of summer I know, the first paragraph of Bellow’s The Victim:

“On summer nights New York is as hot as Bangkok. The whole continent seems to have moved from its place and slid nearer the equator, the bitter gray Atlantic to have become green and tropical, and the people, thronging the streets, barbaric fellahin among the stupendous monuments of their mystery, the lights of which, a dazing profusion, climb upward endlessly into the heat of the sky.”


Jonathan said...

We made it to 104 here yesterday. With something called the humidex (apparently the summer equivalent of the the windchill) the temperature felt like 116.

I hereby unreservedly and sheepishly take back every uncharitable or small thought I have ever entertained about those in the American South. A whole Summer of this? Ugh.

There is almost a palpable resentment and certainly a deep jealousy aimed at those who actually have air-conditioned homes (If you can find such a rarity). Normally, they're the targets of mild and good-natured derision - "Wow, some wimps live there. Air conditioning for 80 degree highs."

There is some truth, I guess, to the old saw about laughing last.

That said, I do enjoy experiencing some of the seasonal extremes that our corner of the continent usually escapes.

Enjoy that air conditioning tomorrow.

Mr. Kringle said...

I'd been vacationing in Seattle, but when I saw the temperature forecasts I high-tailed it over to friends in the Tri-Cities. It's just as hot or hotter, but everyone here has air conditioning. So do the tasting rooms at the wineries, where I'm spending a lot of my time.

Fran Manushkin said...

I became sick today at a very hot NYC subway station, and I'll never forget the kindness I received from two of my fellow citizens, who insisted on staying with me until I felt better. Sometimes the heat brings out the best in people.