Summer is a magical season. Enchanted beyond childhood memories of school vacations, which began around Memorial Day and ended on Labor Day. Bookended by holidays, centered on the Fourth of July, and fi reworks proclaiming all three events—how could summer not seem special. As an adult, vacations often still occur during these months, but rarely for more than a week or so. Even students and teachers, who once received three leisurely months off, now have two at best. Still…the magic is there, embedded in our imaginations, our recollections.
Summertime may not always allow for vacations, but the segue back to my childhood will take place. As a kid, I’d throw a pair of shorts over my swimsuit and walk barefoot to the neighbor’s pool. Now I do pretty much the same (just adding shoes and some wrinkles) as I meander to the city pool a few blocks away. I become that kid again every time I bike through various neighborhoods, tool along the levee, or ride to the lake, take a dip, and drip-dry on the return home.
The heat of summer is synonymous with crawfi sh boils, fresh-cut grass, honeysuckle; pore-clogging sweat and blinding heat. Anyone familiar with life here knows that by July, we’re all just about done— overcooked like that forgotten burger on the grill. So, when thoughts occur of a hurricane as a good cooling device, you know it is time to rethink outdoor activities.
By the way, when did we start factoring in the dreaded “heat index”? When growing up, I do not recall this form of measurement used to ascertain how hot we were. It was simply hot…or not so hot. I realize it’s to help us understand the ratio of humidity to heat, or some such nonsense; but don’t you feel hotter just knowing that the heat index is 115 degrees? Didn’t 100 degrees (real temp) seem so much easier to tolerate? Well, maybe not—when it’s hot here, there is nothing to do but seek air conditioning.
There are a multitude of ways to pass the time without sweating a drop. If you do not have a library card, then go get one. It is your ticket to relaxed travel. So back away from the computer, and hold in your hands words, thoughts, and adventures. There are no better ways to trek the universe; each turn of a page steers you further and further along foreign paths. No cost, no luggage.
As a kid I preferred the great outdoors and, with the attention span of a gnat, I was not a frequent traveler of the printed word. And yet, some of my strongest memories are of the libraries in my hometown. The mobile units that served as “Books on Wheels” were always a hoot—it felt like a road trip, albeit a stationary one, and I was always surprised to exit into the same parking lot.
There are smells that take us back to our childhood, and if we’re lucky, some scents stay with us throughout our lives—always reminding us of something special. Libraries are like Christmas trees: both have a signature fragrance that transports me to another place and time. Once when visiting a small coastal town, I came across its library locked up tight on that Sunday. yet, standing outside the door, amid all that sea breeze, came the unmistakable smell of leatherbound books, musty paperbacks, lemon Pledge, and old wood. Inside that door was a world of knowledge, discovery, and hushed voices. Decades of curiosity seeking clues inside the card catalog and hunting through the mysterious Dewey Decimal System to fi nd that hidden gem—perhaps a book almost banned, yet rescued by the oddly quiet ladies behind the desk.
I was always impressed (intimidated) by a librarian’s ability to maintain order among us unruly kids without ever raising her voice above a whisper. While staring you down with what was certainly a death ray waiting to discipline, they would guide you to the most marvelous books and some of the best adventures of your entire summer.
I came to fi nd out that librarians do not inhabit some mysterious world. They do not have muted voices or the ability to paralyze with a single glance. But they are still in charge of the magic.
When the allure of sitting curled up with a book gives way to leg cramps and you need a slightly more active approach to cerebral bliss, I suggest getting a little culture (and for God’s sake, not in the blazing sun).
Nothing is more amazing than the artifi cially produced arctic air that blasts forth from my window unit. My air conditioner is like a beloved member of the family. And despite its ability to destroy the planet’s ozone layer, I remain enamored. But occasionally I have to minimize the cost to both the environment and my pocketbook, and turn it off. So I fi nd those places that are constantly chilled regardless of my selfi sh needs or guilty conscience, and exploit them.
My favorite place is the New Orleans Museum of Art out at City Park. As soon as I walk into this deliciously cool building, I have to resist the urge to strip down and lie naked on its cold marble fl oors. And even if I did so, no one would notice due to the wealth of great art offered for viewing at a nominal membership fee, or free every Wednesday to the public. Hours can be spent there preventing heat stroke and raising your IQ.
The torrid summers of our city can either be contested or confronted. I do both, darting in and out of the cool corridors of the Quarter, strolling the frozen food aisle of Winn-Dixie, or admiring Monet. And sometimes I simply give in to the season and mow the lawn, dip my toes in the lake, follow my nose to a neighbor’s cookout, or just close my eyes and listen to the summer sounds of my childhood.