During one of the many heatwaves this summer, my Parisian friend invited me to come visit her and her family at their country house "because it's cooler there." I said yes right away.
The word for heatwave in French is canicule, which is pronounced "can-ee-cool" and while that sounds nice and "cool" in French, in life, the thing itself, it is not.
I'd sweated my way through ten days and nights during the previous canicule and now another one was forecasted for the day I was to take the train to her house.
It had been freaky hot, like, you know when you're at the club, and there is one person dancing who seems a little freaky and you're like hmm, that looks kind of nice in a freaky way, I could be into that?
And then after a couple more hours of really sweaty, freaky dancing, they're dripping wet and their hair is sticking to their face, and you realize they're not freaky, they're just a freak? And you're glad you didn't sleep with them? Now imagine if that sweaty freak was the weather, and you're starting to get an idea.
On the Sweaty Freak Weather days that I had to do errands, large, dark, unladylike stains would soak my clothes below my boobs and down my back. In the fashion capitol of the world, I was perspiring like a farmhand.
At first I cared, a lot, and was embarrassed, but after a few days I resigned myself to this natural process, my body trying to not die, and that I should allow it to do its thing. On the Metro I hoped I didn't smell as bad as everyone else, whose bodies were also trying to not die.
At night the air in my apartment became a solid mass which my fan was either unable or unwilling to move, as it did not want to overexert itself in the heat, either. Nor could I force it. (It's French and if it's protesting, you just have to let it.)
If the countryside could offer even a few few degrees relief, I'd put myself on a train, postehaste.
Having learned a thing or two, I walked to the station at a dignified pace. Rushing causes one to begin sweating in rivulets all down one's body and that process does not stop even once one has boarded an air-conditioned train.
But, because the heat had caused me to be inefficient in all areas of my life, by the time I got to Gare Montparnasse, I was not only sweating, I was also running late, which forced me to walk as fast as I could to the train platform, and then, with sweat soaking my clothing, to board the emptiest car. To my delight, there was no one sitting on the upper deck, so I, with great dignity, climbed the stairs.
About halfway up the few steps, I felt It. The reason there was no one sitting up there. The Heat. It was rude, offensive, like being slapped over and over in the face with a side of ribs still sizzling from the grill. It did occur to me that the lower level might be a couple of degrees less hot, but malaise had already begun to set in, and with what little energy I had left, I dragged myself to a window seat.
Have you ever been in a sauna? They run around 150 degrees, give or take. This train car was much, much hotter than that.
Once, in Texas, I raced during a heatwave, and the technicians told us that the cockpits of our racecars were measuring at 160 degrees. Drivers were pulling into the pits and falling out of their cars.
The train car was much, much hotter than that.
For a few moments, I sat very still, hoping that if I didn't move, the heat would move on, and look for bigger prey.
When it didn't relent, I pulled my little paper-and-bamboo folding fan out of my purse, congratulating myself on my forethought. But it seemed to be broken. When I fanned, hot air blew up at me, like there was a heater in between the slivers of wood. I tried again. More heat, not more cool.
I put the fan away, marveling that it somehow managed to make air hotter. Rules of physics don't apply on this train?
I rested my weary, sweaty arm on the armrest and felt my flesh begin to sear. The metal arm of the seat had been weaponized into a curling iron set on high. I arranged myself to ensure no part of me would come into contact with any of the seat arms in near proximity and fell into a lull of stupefied complacency.
Until! The train began to move, and a tiny little bit of air moved in the train car. My heart didn't dare hope; could this be the beginnings of a/c? My heart was wise to remain unmoved. That little bit of air was no more than a wispy, hopeful mirage in the desert, and once we were under way, the air got hotter and thicker and I could no more move than if I were in a giant vat of boiling jello.
I cannot move, so I mentally compose a letter to the only French authority whose name I can think of, Emanuel Macron.
Dear Monsieur Macron,
Thank you for welcoming me to your beautiful country. I have enjoyed my time here very much, and have been very productive while I have been here, and wonder if you would mind looking into the matter of air on the SNCF.
You see, I used to be in one piece and now I am afraid I have melted into the seat of one of your RER trains. I write this from the third train car, but since I forgot to check for a seat number, you'll have to look for the black wheeled suitcase sitting next to what might appear to be an empty seat but if you look closer, you'll find possibly, some evidence that I was there, before I evaporated. Please ask your best scientists to reconstitute me because I have a long life ahead of me and don't want to spend all of my time on this one train.
But since I was too hot to write a letter, Monsieur Macron would never know what happened to me. Instead, it would be more like this scenario;
"Hmm what's this? Someone left a rather large wheel of brie on the train seat, and now it's all melted into a puddle on the floor!"
"No! It's wearing a dress, and shoes, I think it was a person!"
There was only another 45 minutes to go. Because every movement felt like I was putting my head into an oven, I stayed in my seat instead of moving downstairs. I justified this by thinking that even if it was hot out when I arrived, it would feel cool in comparison to the sweat-lodge of the train.
And so it did. While others on the platform were fanning themselves in the heat, I was enjoying the contrast, which felt like a cool breeze after having survived the surface of the sun.