It was only a matter of time before I had to talk about the weather! With a fierce heatwave sweeping across Europe, the news reports show Spain turning a deep, aggressive shade of red on the map. And that can only mean one thing – it’s July!
At least this year, I sort of know what to expect. I must have acclimatised a bit, or maybe I just have a better understanding of how to survive summer in Spain!
Last year was an adjustment. Arriving in June, it was already scorching hot. I was missing the beach, and craving sight of any body of water since even the río had almost dried up. Public fountains tormented me. I would hover close, praying that the trusty Madrid breeze would blow the right direction so the spray would provide a quick (and subtle) cool-down. One day I lingered just a little too long, and the light spray I was expecting ended up as a heavy (and very public) drenching!
I remember the first time I felt 40°C here. The temperature had stayed consistently around 38°C for weeks, but I waited for it to rise just a few grados more- it felt exciting, and a little dangerous! The journey home from my dance class coincided with the hottest hour of the day and I was out there exposed, darting between shady spots until I made it on to the air-conditioned metro.
Once home, I slipped off my sandals and stepped onto the cool tiles, which provided instant relief! Then I poured myself a glass of something lemony and plunged my swollen flamenco feet into a basin of icy water. This became my effective body-cooling ritual which I would race home for after a hot day out (and by race, I mean shuffle very slowly).
I had only felt temperatures like this once before, very briefly in Abu Dhabi, where the streets were deserted during the days, everyone living a sensibly nocturnal life.
But this was my new normal, and I started taking stock of my sunscreen supplies and drinking agua like my life depended on it…
Because life doesn’t stop here. People still go about their daily business – working, exercising, eating out. Even moving house and home renovations are surprisingly popular in the summer months!
The public transport still runs, the roads don’t melt and even during last year’s heatwave, when other European countries allowed the public to cool off in fountains (much to my envy), Spain continued as normal, unphased by the sizzling temperatures which brought other countries to a standstill.
The only time Madrid takes a break is between the hours of around 2 and 5pm, when some of (but not all) life pauses. This is just one of the ways the Madrileños beat the heat, or at least deal with it every year. As well as the trusty siesta, other hacks include drinking cañas (because anything bigger than this tiny beer would become warm and unappealing, very quickly), flocking to public swimming pools on weekends, and taking that all-important evening stroll at an hour that we would usually be in bed!
I was reassured to learn that the Spanish like to talk about the weather just as much as the British. Except, instead of comparing inches of rainfall, the focus is very much on the temperature. Weather-related expressions are one of the first things you learn in Spanish, and it is always a safe topic of conversation, or so I thought…
People will fan themselves continuously while saying things like “Hace mucho calor” (It’s hot or literally: it makes much heat). But trying to express that you are feeling the heat is where things get risky. We must use “Tengo calor” (I have heat) because saying “Estoy caliente” (I am hot) means something entirely different altogether…
So, unless you intend on announcing your “state of arousal” to an unfortunate someone (while already sweaty and breathless) then be careful! It’s an easy mistake to make after all and one that can at least be blamed on the brain-frazzling heat!
I have been guilty of glorifying the weather here, sharing the forecast with friends and family back home. The novelty of sunshine in February or a hot day in October is hard not to show off, but June-August can be tough – particularly this year with the compulsory use of masks.
Even now, with the AC blasting and three additional fans circulating warm air around my apartment, it can be impossible to stay cool. I am currently averaging two cold showers and four outfit changes per day (not to mention perspiring in peculiar places)! And the heat can be draining; it is responsible for zapping my appetite, drying out my contact lenses and causing my phone to overheat and crash daily (much like myself, it requires respite in a cool, dark room from time to time).
But I soon realised that I wouldn’t have it any other way, because the fresh food, the good mood, the glowing tan and the healthy dose of Vitamin D are only some of the benefits of life in the sun. Plus, the (once-boring) topic of the weather allows me to practise speaking some simple Español, even if I do confuse calor and caliente (or hot and horny) from time to time…
And when the sun sets behind the mountains, there is life on the streets as people return, revived from their afternoon rest. Chatter and reguetón beats are carried by the warm breeze which is ever-present in this city, and I know that the incomparable vibe of a Spanish summer is the only refreshment I need!