Tropical Heatwave


Headline-worthy heat. Heatworthy headline?

January is normally the rainy season in Brisbane, but this year has been anything but.

Recordbreaking heat had us sweltering in our basement apartment over the weekend, sitting in the crossfire of two fans. On Saturday, we failed to leave the house, though we should have:  to visit a pool, a museum, a movie theater, even the mall would have given us respite in air conditioning.  Even a riverboat ride, with the speed of the ferry and the cool of the water, would have been sufficient.

We figured that out in the evening on the way to a dinner party with one of Matt’s colleagues, when we stopped at the liquor store for a bottle of wine. A cool blast met us at the door. We walked home after the party around midnight, and the heat was just about bearable — that was my exercise for the day, and I couldn’t imagine running the next morning.  

On Sunday afternoon, though, we managed to get to a beach. We walked to a tiny island ringed with mangroves at low tide, bathed in a cooling breeze to make the high temperatures bearable. We poked our feet in the few remaining pools of cool water in the sandy flats, looking for crabs and sidestepping the poisonous coneshelled water snails that were scrawling trails across the warm sand. By suppertime, surprisingly, at a restaurant along the shore where we could watch the tide come in, it was practically cold, as the wind kicked up when darkness fell.

The heat with its attendant humidity is indeed oppressive: It weighs down on your body, pressing you into the couch as you sweat. And it weighs on your mind too — my brain slowed down to a crawl yesterday. That mental lethargy is attributable also in part to the fact that it is hard to sleep well in the heat.  We lie there sweating and smelling the smoke of far-off fires.

The fires are far away, but when the wind turns, we catch the drift.  It’s not that bad — just mildly alarming.  I pull the sheets over my head to keep the smell away, and sweat even more. 

And I am amazed to think that here on the coast, Brisbane is not even close to as hot as the inner deserts, where reports are that people have stopped pumping gas in the midday heat — at 47 deg C, the fuel vaporizes. (I hope I am not repeating a myth here!)

Which leads me to some potentially culturally insensitive observations.  How do you get anything done efficiently, or even at all, in places with extremely hot weather?  You need to have the infrastructure to keep cool — not just to cool the people, but the electronic gadgets too.  Think of all those computers and servers heating up with the transit of electrons and power.  And the cars, to give them gas.  This is why Spain has siesta, why things slow to a crawl in the heat of summer in parts of Italy.  No one has air conditioning there.  This is why embassy workers dispatched to Washington, D.C., got combat pay, or so the story goes.

And why I’m happy to have an office to sit in at the moment, so I can think a little more clearly (thanks, Matt’s colleagues!).

[Maybe one of my next posts will be about how the heat addles clothing designers’ brains, but I will digress on that topic another day… hopefully with photos!  In the meantime, I’m sitting here freezing at my desk!]

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