"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Monday, February 18, 2013

In which cold and hot are opposites and going to the movies solves everything

Since I've been in England, I think about the weather a lot, check the forecast a lot, complain, predict, stare out the window, calculate the relative merits of different keep-warm outfits. And today I was thinking about how differently people respond to different climates. It's not just that the weather changes your mood or your habits. It also changes your attitude toward weather itself - or at least this seems to be true for me.

For the last four years, I lived in a very hot place, basically the desert. Now I live in a very cold place. Both kinds of climate can be really unpleasant of course, but in really different ways. There's something about cold weather that makes people complain about it. Even when I'm happy that it's raining or snowing, I kind of feel the need to gripe. I also fill a lot of conversations with speculations about the chance of precipitation tomorrow, the next day, over the weekend, next week....The international student handbooks weren't kidding when they said that the English love to talk about the weather.

What's ironic is that no matter how much you check the forecast or exchange predictions, it will always surprise you. The forecast changes daily. A rainy day will clear up unexpectedly, leaving you looking silly in your rain boots. And a dry day turns out to have such a thick mist that it's practically raining.

And then there's the actual cold. I really don't mind rain, but I do mind the freezing cold air that blows that rain into my face and makes my lips numb on the walk to school. Who decided it would be a good idea to settle on this island in the first place? Couldn't we just leave it to some other animals who are better adapted to the cold? And why do so many English people insist on wearing the lightest of jackets, or even no jacket at all, when it's below freezing? And then complain about how cold it is!

So that's the dynamic around cold, wet, grey weather - you talk about it endlessly, you try to predict it, you gripe and gripe, but in the end it eludes your predictions and you never do anything to make it better, never try to find the silver linings, like the fresh smell of rain or the fact that your country doesn't have a drought problem, or the fun of cozying up when it's snowing outside and drinking hot chocolate.

Hot weather is a totally different thing. I just don't remember talking about the heat so much when I was living in southern California. I suffered in it, definitely. There were days when wearing any clothes at all seemed unbearable, when working was out of the question. But when the sun is beating down, people seem to expect to feel happy, to revel in the heat - the opposite of the assumption that cold weather is always miserable and we must complain about it. Hot weather isn't an excuse to complain, it's an excuse to put on your bikini and sun bathe or buy yourself a refreshing drink.

I think part of this is that, when it is truly and really hot, silence and stillness are your best friends. Heat melts your energy away, and no one wants to waste the precious energy they have left by talking about how low-energy they are. Better to summon up some last strength and drift through the heat waves toward an air-conditioned place or a glass of cold water.

There is one constant in both extremes of climates. Going to the movies is always good. In cold places, it's a warm place to curl up for a few hours. In hot places, it's a haven of cool darkness. So yesterday I went to see a remastered print of Roman Holiday and accompanied Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck to beautiful, summery Rome, where people roll up their sleeves and eat gelato. That's the other thing about weather - it always makes you wish for its opposite - and I was really jealous of Audrey and Gregory as I stood waiting for the bus after the movie, freezing my face off.

But jealousy aside, it was a great way to spend a Sunday evening. It's such an adorable movie, with jokes that don't get old and great side characters - little sketches perfectly realized in a few moments as the journalist and the princess zoom through Rome on their Vespa. No matter what you're needing an escape from - the heat or the cold or school work or work work - it's great to watch Audrey Hepburn's princess escape her duties and responsibilities and jaunt around a beautiful city, basking in the heat, beautifully captured in the cool tones of classic black-and-white film.

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