April in Paris, Autumn in New York, but never -- if one can help it -- August in Washington. The problem is, of course, that often one can't.
You know you'll survive it physically, but mentally, oh dear! Being stuck in town, forced to limp along to September, can addle the sharpest brain and lead it to look for silly ways to wile away a sticky month:
*Have a celebration of Leos.
Although Virgo the Virgin creeps in at the end, most of this difficult month belongs to the Lion. Give a party for a pride of Lions -- everyone you know born under that sun sign. Ask each Leo to write down his or her strongest traits -- good and bad -- and see if, as the astrologers say, a sun sign is destiny. Sing appropriate songs ("Your Lyin' Eyes"), have a Mane Event with a prize for the most outlandish hair style, play pin the crown on the Lion (no one would dare to pin a tail on the king of the beasts) and serve steak tartare.
*Instead of fighting August, go along with it by having a sticky party.
Sticky sweets (baklava); sticky wines (Sauternes or a Barsac); sticky games (a modeling clay contest, fingerpaints, a taffy pull). Set out stacks of washcloths and towels and when everyone is ready to go home, hose them all down.
*Celebrate Izaak (The Compleat Angler) Walton's birthday this Friday by serving two of the things he liked best -- fish and the heavenly strawberry.
"We may say of angling as Dr. Boteler [17th-century writer William Butler] said of strawberries: 'Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did," wrote Walton. The fish first -- grilled swordfish perhaps, or pan-fried trout -- and then a simple strawberry shortcake or a custardy tart topped with row upon row of the bright red berries. And drink, of course, but in moderation in honor of the man who also wrote, "I love such mirth as does not make friends ashamed to look upon one another next morning."
*Work your way through an alphabet dinner.
When you give the invitations, explain that there will be a secret plan to the dinner, and anyone who guesses it will win a prize. Serve Aperitifs with tin slices of Bread and Butter heaped around a mound of Caviar; Duck breast cut into into small chunks and tucked into Endive leaves; Fish pa te'; Gravalax and Herring.
Ah, here we pause for a tart fruit Ice to clear the palate.
Then the soup course, a Jellied consomme', followed by the main course: a bed of chopped Kale on which rests a leg of Lamb, served with Mint Jelly, Noodles, Onions, Peas and Quince preserves. For the salad -- Romaine, Spinach, cherry Tomatoes and Umbrella mushrooms tossed with a Vinaigrette. And then a switch to a sweet dessert Wine (announced by a tune played on a Xylophone, or we will be left without an X; alternatively, you may, at this point, introduce an X-husband or an X-wife into the party) served with a Yellow cake, topped with fruit and a Zabaglione sauce. Prize for anyone who guesses (and to be fair you will have announced each dish) is Baby's First Alphabet.
*Scout around for an empty school playground and field your own sandlot team.
Each Saturday or Sunday during August, match your noble nine against another local group. Lining up the pitchers, batters and fielders will, if nothing else, teach you which of your friends are right-handed and which left. Beer and burgers afterward at the nearest dugout.
*All right, so you're not in Tuscany or the Dordogne. Pretend you are.
Invite four or five people for the kind of lazy lunch that fills a summer day. Ask everyone to arrive at 10 a.m. and feed them coffee and croissants before heading for the nearest farmer's market. There may not be the variety that you'll find in their European counterparts, but the colorful stalls and party atmosphere is the same, and so is the desire to buy much more than you can possibily use. (If you don't have a favorite local market, the Montgomery Farm Women's Cooperative Market, 7155 Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda, is open mornings on Wednesdays and Saturdays; it is all hustle-bustle and a little bit of everything.) Buy breads and cheeses, fresh fruits, greens, whatever appeals. You will have far too much food and you and your guests will lug it home and share an aperitif while preparing the lunch. It will be late, of course, because of the shopping, and because having all that help means that everything will take twice as long, but at last you will be sitting outside around a table set with bottles of wine and all that lovely food. There will be music in the background and one by one, as people tire of eating, they will wander off to fall asleep on the lawn, dreaming of sunny days in other lands.
A dog days musicale doesn't require star performers. Ask friends to learn at least two songs ("Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" will not strain anyone) on an instrument of their choice and to join you with their instrument for an August concert. You may wind up with six kazoos, a harmonica and a wash basin -- or you may discover that your circle harbors a virtuoso violinist. But it will be fun and the closed windows and hum of the air conditioner means that the neighbors won't have to hear.