I don’t know if it’s made international news, but Europe is having the mother of heat waves. Apparently a large air mass, straight off the Sahara desert, pushed by a high pressure cell, has descended over the continent affecting countries from Spain up to Poland. The result: record breaking temperatures and horrible consequences. People are dying. Literally, dying of the heat.
In 2003, the last time time this happened, 20,000 people died, 15,000 of whom were in France. The elderly were most at risk, especially those who lived alone. Sadly, many locked themselves indoors and simply dehydrated. As a consequence, French authorities have leapt into action this time, with a risk management plan. A state of emergency has been declared and warnings have been issued. People are being asked to check on neighbours and relatives living alone, churches have been opened for accommodation for those seeking refuge from the heat. Portable water has brought into cities and officials are handing out water to the homeless. Even so, in these early days, a few people have already died. Surprisingly, two of them from what’s being called temperature shock, when they immersed themselves in cold water after being out in the sun – the sudden change in temperature from extreme heat to extreme cold caused them to go into shock. New warnings have now been issued about this. It’s pretty sobering.
Buildings here just aren’t designed for the heat. Only the churches, with their deep stone walls, seem to stay cool. Historically, homes were designed to keep heat in, so in conditions like this, quickly turn into ovens. Airconditioning is rare, even in all but the largest commercial buildings. It’s a sobering thought that weather events such as this only might only escalate in the future. We have worse heat at home, certainly and regularly, but we’ve built to take refuge from it. And truth be told, we hide in the safety of air-conditioning a lot – home, car, office, shops and back, dashing through and complaining about the heat in between. Growing up in Adelaide I lived through more than my fair share of heat – summers where thongs (flip flops) melted on contact with bitumen. But we lived by the sea – I think I spent more time in the water than out. Never a favourite, I lost my resilience to the heat decades ago.
In light of all of this, we’ve taken a decision to stay put for a few days. The refuge we’ve found by the river is shady, has access to the water for swimming and being in the mountains, is blessed with the occasional breeze.
The thought of moving on, finding ourselves potentially stuck with no shade, too hot to be out, too hot to be in, is rather too awful to contemplate. Whilst we have airconditioning when we drive, one can’t drive forever. The nights are cool in the mountains too – that helps.
And so a few days pass, reading in the shade, taking the odd swim in the afternoon, looking for otters, pretending to be otters, listening to the frog chorus at night. They’re a noisy bunch – I had no idea.
It’s the first time I’ve swum in fresh water – it’s a novelty to emerge neither salted nor chlorinated. Himself assures me there’s nothing dangerous in the water. No killer frogs or such like.
It’s a pretty spot and popular with the locals. Our neighbours have dogs who are our new best friends. Tidbits are involved.
Their owner plays an acoustic guitar, gently soothing in early evenings. When the breeze comes, it’s full off seed on the wing – the honey scented blossoms have burst into fluff that carries, seeding the next generation.
It’s the stillest we’ve been in 7 years of motorhoming. And whilst I welcome any refuge from the heat, still is not my natural state. Without things to do, places to see, I’m a little adrift. My nocturnal companions, sing their froggy sympathies well into the night.