It's that time of year again in New Orleans. Though it may only be spring
in other parts of the world, it is full scale summer here already. You can tell just by looking at the windows of grocery stores and Blockbuster
s. Already they are coated with a slick, sweaty layer of mist, indicating that businesses around the city have geared up for another long season of summer heat
, humidity, and daily but short thunderstorms.
When I think of the term "air conditioning," I think more about the conditioning than the air, in that we are being conditioned to expect cool air at a time of year when cool air is not so much hard to come by as it is almost over-prevalent. To compensate for the hot temperatures we endure because we choose to live in such a maniacal weather pattern area (living between the Mississippi River and Lake Ponchartrain and being several feet below sea level never was a very smart idea, even for New Orleans' first developers), offices and all enclosed public spaces kick their A/C so far down that it's a shock to the system to go from inside to outside and back again with any regularity.
Because the hot season here is so long (mostly 9 months out of a year on the average), this happens so often that I truly believe it is partly responsible for all the sinus infections and colds people seem to get all year round down here.
People think I'm nuts to wear a long sleeved jacket inside the office once I come in from outside, but I believe I am better preparing my body for the temperature change. Most of the time New Orleans has been around, there was no such thing as air conditioning and that somehow, people just tolerated it. People also think I'm nuts to not have central air (well, I would if I could, but even if I did, I could never afford to keep it on all the time), that I come home to a hot apartment and simply take time to adjust.
I am not saying that people should not be allowed to have A/C or that they should suffer because it would build character, blah blah blah. What I am saying is that as with any modern convenience that has shifted to a necessity, we should still be cautious with regard to our bodies. New Orleans is one of the top 10 fattest cities in the US, so there a fair share of people who are more sensitive to heat. But that's also not to say that every overweight person is inside sucking up the A/C. We're all equally guilty of air conditioning.
The American mentality has in no way hit an all time high in demand for convenience, but it has been on the rise for quite some time. Sweltering in the heat is seen as barbaric, something portrayed in films or books as something belonging solely to the middle and lower classes of the lower Southern states. These states themselves are states of mind, New Orleans in particular having its own all too well known eccentricities. The lush, always green foilage, in addition to the humidity and common revelry associated with the city, gives New Orleans an erotic, sultry essence, and this is something I like about living here. I see the moist shoulders and limbs of passersby as they head into the Quarter for a night of partying, and I am comforted by the fact that these people can always find shelter from the heat.
I am no saint, either. I seek out the well air-conditioned bars and coffee shops on days off in the summer. But I also willfully sweat when I exercise. To me, it's healthy to sweat when you're doing something productive, not when you're just sitting in traffic. It's ironic to me that, if sweating indeed purges the body of toxins, that we in New Orleans should and do sweat more than perhaps other places. We will always have a lot to cleanse from our systems.
For all the complaining people do about the heat, which here is so common it's taken as small talk, people never stop coming here, even in the summer months. I think we subconsciously need to sweat on occasion to bring us back into communication with our bodies, which can so often be overlooked in lieu of climate/light control used in most offices and workplaces. I think that the more detached we become from our bodies, the more anxious and unfulfilled we get, the more dangerous we become. I mean, people here will sit in bars all day (provided they don't have to be anywhere) just to avoid the heat. They stay inside and wait for the sun to go down, wait for the sidewalk to cool off. Air conditioning isn't just pleasant, it's practically necessary for business to survive in the summer. With the slow season being summer for us, people work the whole rest of the year (mainly in the restaurant/entertainment industries) just to get through the slump of summer when tourism is at its lowest. And still, we have festivals all summer long with record attendances every year. People in droves crowd on July 4th by the River to watch the fireworks.
I guess what I'm trying to say here is that I appreciate New Orleans for not letting its burdensome weather dampen its spirit. If we can do it, you can do it too. To keep people from losing their sanity in the summer's relentless heat, I guess it also helps that we have such a cornicopia of places to take your mind off it. This place has a slowness to it that, I think, helps in these situations.
So I'm buckling down for the summer, eyeing my electric bill with a savage leer, and hoping for that next storm.