The last ghost of summer days
There are no seasons in Venezuela – not in the sense that we tend to think about them in places that are farther from the equator.
I lived there for more than three years – and it was incredibly disorienting for me to be in a place where the temperature stayed basically the same year-round, and the change in the hours of sunlight per day was almost imperceptible. (In Caracas in June, the longest day of the year was 12 hours and 44 minutes long. In December the shortest day of the year will be 11 hours and 31 minutes).
I missed seasons.
I felt like I lost all sense of time passing. Weeks, months and years stopped having any weight or meaning because I no longer had any way of separating one from another.
Maybe people brought up close to the belt of the planet develop a different system for pacing life and giving meaning to time – but if they do, I never picked up on their secret while I was there, and three years drifted by like one long season. I think many more could have passed like that, dreamlike and hazy, if I hadn’t left Venezuela.
I moved to France in the wintertime. After living in Caracas, after 80 degree days had become an assumption, winter at first seemed so claustraphobic – it felt daunting to be somewhere again where cold could be so intense and unrelenting – and where you wouldn’t be able escape it for months. I felt a sudden fear of the cold, like it was contrary to life.
But my memory of seasons quickly returned to me and with it my love for winter. Seasons are now only problematic in that I fall so much for each one, that I feel a kind of despair as it reaches its natural end.
In the last days of winter this year, although the concept of spring sounded pleasant enough, I had been thoroughly enjoying the snow, the storms, the bundling up, the crisp, energetic air of winter. I wasn’t sure how I could let that weather go for something milder. And then I found the spring so refreshing, so full of growth and change and evidence of things happening everywhere, so full of beautiful colors and amazing smells, that I wasn’t sure how I could be ready for summer, a period that might feel so much more static in comparison.
Today I find it very difficult to imagine having to give up the lazy heat of summer days that are followed by languid summer nights. What will I do when the air isn’t hot and inviting, practically demanding that I go and find some quiet, shady spot to lie down in, lie down and do nothing, nothing at all – well maybe start reading – but inevitably the book drops from my hands over my face and then everything goes to stillness inside and all of life seems to be sounds swirling around into a hum with me at the quiet center. Where could I find stillness and comfort like that in the fall?
Each season I get convinced that no matter which it is, it is absolutely my favorite and I wish that it could go on for a lot longer. But the fact that it doesn’t, and instead it transforms into something else that I love equally well, is why the system is so perfect. It reminds me of time passing, and how I have no control over any of it. This precisely is what I was craving in that other land without time and consequence.
Today was a perfect day – high of 84 degrees, sunny with a breeze.
In the late afternoon I went to enjoy the heat in the central plaza of Pau, because I realized it was my last chance – that we are unlikely to get another day like this till next year. The highs are predicted to be in the 60’s for the coming week. I’m sure we’ll get days in the 70’s sprinkled throughout the fall – but it won’t feel like this.
For a moment, sitting there in the expansive Place Clemenceau, a part of town that looks cheerful and bright even on a cloudy day in the dead of winter, the claustrophobia hit me again. How could I let go of these hot summer days? How will I get by knowing it might take as long as eight months before it gets this warm again?
Women were walking through the plaza wearing their summer dresses with a vengeance, a resolute last hurrah of summer fashion. And I realized that summer was already dead and gone, and this day was just a ghost.
Because as deceptively warm as some days have been, somehow the nighttime can no longer maintain the warmth like it could just a few weeks ago.
So when did summer actually end in Pau? Was it when people began to close their windows as night fell? Was it two weeks back when the blanket we used in the winter and spring came out of the cupboard and was put back on our bed? Was it that day when I was surprised to find I wished I were wearing a scarf when I headed to the market?
Are seasons distinct like wavelengths of light, carefully defined by neat divisions? Or are they blended, gradated like a color wheel? Perhaps they are both – because while the change from one season to another happens slowly, there is always a day when you wake up and you know everything has changed, that everything feels different, that a season has passed. Perhaps it’s a different day for each person – or perhaps it’s something we realize collectively. Because I think something in us changes too.
As the sun set on the last ghost of summer days, I noticed something else I will miss. I realized that summer nights in Pau sound so different than nights of other seasons. In the summer all the doors and windows are left wide open in almost every home, even at night, and in the evening you can hear all the noises from people’s kitchens as they prepare dinner, and sit to eat and drink and talk. All the sounds from the whole neighborhood come together and it’s almost like you are all partaking of a meal together. When it gets colder Pau won’t echo with so many voices at this time of night, with chopping, rustling and clinking, and my windows won’t be open to hear what’s left of it anyway.