The problem with Washington's weather is that it's not hot enough like this more often.
All right-thinking Americans, not to mention those in Rangoon, Recife and other capitals of climatological correctness, know and appreciate a certain heady intoxication once the mercury tops 100. True, the arid sands of Phoenix hold no such charm. But fortunately summers here arrive properly freighted with humidity. This stimulates lush and refreshing greenery, prevents us all from drying out like horned toads and imparts an evocative sensuality to the atmosphere.
It's just the sort of weather that inspired generations of smoldering Tennessee Williams heroines to sip mint tea on the front porch, wave a hand fan printed with the logo of the local funeral home and declare throatily, "My, ain't it sultry!"
Not everyone, of course, appreciates the moist perfection of such a July. Cole Porter may have had Washington in mind when he penned the lyrics to "Too Darn Hot":
According to the Kinsey Report
Every average man you know
Much prefers to play his favorite sport
When the temperature is low
But when the thermometer goes way up
And the weather is sizzling hot
For his madam
Porter was from Peru, Ind., which may have prejudiced his outlook. What could he know of the steamy intoxication of summers like those in New Orleans when, in the days before air conditioning, residents would close all but the bedroom windows, crank on a roaring attic fan, and, as the curtains flew horizontally from their rods, fall blissfully asleep naked amid the hurricane?
Washington is too rarely this perfect. Those who grow up with summers like this know 100-degree temperatures are God's way of telling us to slow down and smell the kudzu.
Unfortunately such native intelligence has been compromised by air conditioning. The legions of alarmists in government and the media would have us forget that entire nations around the globe live most of their lives amid temperatures like this and consider it unremarkable.
Many of those brave equatorial populations actually work out of doors in the bargain.
They get along quite nicely by donning cotton and doffing underwear, by eating spicy food that heats the tongue but cools the temple, by laboring in the steamy shade of morning and napping in the heat of the day.
However much--or little--one accomplishes before the sun gets high, the siesta conveys the seduction of indolence; of lassitude surrendered to while doves coo rhythmically; of assignations as lazy as they are heated in the sweet surrender of an endless afternoon. Guilt and civilization melt away.
On the other hand, heat is a wellspring of culture. Try to imagine William Faulkner, Jorge Amado or Gabriel Garcia Marquez writing in Oslo. Imagine the salsa or bossa nova evolving in Reykjavik. Consider how remote the possibility of Manhattan giving birth to the oyster po' boy or the soft-crab sandwich.
It goes without saying that July days are more fragrant than those of January or February, that cold beer and lemonade taste better this week, that corn on the cob, hot dogs and watermelon are unsurpassed.
But the appeal of thermal days is obvious. The real heat wave magic lies in the sweaty fecundity of steamy nights. Here Washington usually disappoints. At night here things normally cool down. In the really magical fever ports--Havana, Lagos, Jakarta, Phnom Penh--the nights feel even hotter. Spirits walk then and whisper, along with shadow puppets and voodoo drums.
That's when your head drifts somewhere amid "Rain," "Body Heat" and "The Year of Living Dangerously"; when you dream of walking naked through the city streets and wake to wonder if maybe you did; when you toss sleepless in the rumpled fragrance of your sweaty sheets and swear you can hear the orchids and bamboo growing outside; when a sudden squall feels like a warm shower and your clothes cling like a lover's hands.
Only if you have no soul.