I've discovered the secret of French living: they don't need oxygen. Gallic bodies have some sort of internal cooling system whereby they can sit in a 100-degree room with the windows closed and no fans, let alone AC, in a grand edifice into which apparently no new air has been introduced since Baron Haussmann rebuilt the town 140 years ago, and they can remain as cool and collected as if it were just another cold, rainy day in Paris — of which there have been none, by the way, in almost a month. French people never break a sweat. Maybe, on the fifth day of weather more befitting Miami than Mont St. Michel, their opalescent skin gets a little shinier as they sit at their café tables — where the chairs always face outward — watching bemusedly the American tourists mopping their brows as they march, moaning, from one crowded sight to another.
The French have a lot of theories (a.k.a. myths), and one of them holds that the old stone walls retain the coldness of winter for weeks after summer has arrived. My theory is that they are projecting. It's the French people who can keep the cool in their own skins. They do it by speaking softly. By making small, exact gestures rather than waving their arms about. By producing gentle exhaling noises that not only add commentary to conversations but act like the release valves on steam radiators. By sitting at those tables, under awnings, not rushing about, in the hottest season. And by not needing to breathe.
Also, the French are smart. When the going gets sweltering, they get out of town. France has a humane socioeconomic culture that allows residents to take month-long vacations to the cool ocean breezes of the coasts. Restaurants and stores close for business for stretches of time that would be considered suicidal or socialistic or anti-American in the States.
As you've no doubt deduced, it's a blistering-hot summer in France. I understand that the French are fine with this; they have evolved sophisticated pulmonary systems, on top of their impeccable style and palates for processed animal organs. But for us hapless foreigners, here are a few simple modern inventions I highly recommend to our hosts:
- Air conditioners. Very few buildings have them, and if they do, they lazily puff out a bit of slightly cooler air before getting bored and looking the other way. If you have no choice but to come to Paris in the summer, make sure your hotel has AC. Or do what we do: hang out in a Picard frozen-goods store, leaning over the immaculate freezers and staring at ice cream.
- Fans. Okay, they just move the hot air around, but at least the air is then moving.
- Screens. France may not have mosquitoes like Michigan has, but if global warming keeps creating weather this hot and sticky, they're going to have swarms. And it only takes one critter to keep you awake at night, doing that spastic hand batting of the pillow every time the skeeter buzzes near your ears. Natives just close their windows because, well, they don't need air. Ah, what a little bit of steel mesh would do for the rest of us.
- Top sheets. The only way to keep that one mosquito from turning your body into a Braille essay is a nice, cool, cotton sheet covering his midnight snack. They don't have them here. (I noticed this in Spain too.)
Other than that, very nice civilization you've got here, France. Love the croissants.
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Evelyn McDonnell has written or coedited six books, including Mamarama: A Memoir of Sex, Kids and Rock 'n Roll, Rent, and Rock She Wrote: Women Write about Rock, Pop and Rap. Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways is her latest book.
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Evelyn McDonnell is the author of Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways