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Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Yes, we had good weather

The hottest day of my life. Well, not quite. That occurred in the former Yugoslavia on a day which did not support life, when even the locals, habituated to the Adriatic furnace, moved so slowly you'd have sworn they were en route to Hell. Where the eighteen-year-old waiter (in a restaurant chosen because it was embedded in a cliff and thus hidden from the sun) took our order for beer without speaking, all energy drained away.

But the day I have in mind - hot enough at 40 deg. plus - touched on Hell in another way. Oradour-sur-Glane, a little township in the Limousin in France, was the scene of a WW2 atrocity and has been left as it was when the last resident died: in a wrecked garage the remains of a pre-war car, a sewing machine visible through a house window.

A banner across the street announced that what remains is a special type of war memorial and exhorted visitors to move about the streets without speaking. The French are famous for disobeying official orders but in this instance they took heed. The oppressive heat seemed to connive with the banner's sentiments.

Away from Oradour we ordered beer but it had no more placating effect than our own saliva. The frozen food department of a supermarket in Limoges provided temporary relief but hardly encouraged us to linger; the store lacked other customers and the girl at the check-out overhung her till like a wilting flower.

Back at the villa we put on our bathing costumes, jumped in the nearby river and I sat on the top of the weir, causing the diverted water to flow over my shoulders. I'd like to pretend to deep thoughts but all I can remember is the physical gratification at having escaped the sun's influence. I have no wish to be facile but the day remains a salutary, unforgettable memory.

4 comments:

Sir Hugh said...

Why do certain happenings remain as powerful memories for a lifetime when they were not hugely significant? For me I remember a certain ambience or atmosphere that is completely intangible and separate from the more sensory connections of sight, taste, smell, sound, and touch. The nearest I can get in simile is the number the camera attaches to a photograph when downloaded to the computer - it is there but you would be hard pushed to describe its qualities, but even then what remains in my head about these events does have qualities which may include a sort of distillation and amalgamation of some of those sensory ingredients, but with something else added.

Your described experience arose from two factors, the heat, and the reminder of evil which linked to the imagery of Hell, so it is understandable that it remains powerfully in your mind, therefore it is more significant than the kind of memory I am trying to describe. A personal example has me sitting high up in a frozen gully in Glencoe on a belay waiting for the guy above to shout and tell me he was ready to take in rope. I was in no danger, and the rest of the day was uneventful, but as I sat there I found myself squinting at the scene below through an icicle that was dangling near my face. I have been in many similar situations, but that occasion, with its special ambience, is still so clear from more than forty years ago.

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When we read a post, or join in conversation everybody’s urge is to relate their own similar experience to that of their interlocutor. My only defence is that I have tried to make a meaningful contribution first.

On the second day of my Pyrenees walk I arrived at the destination gîte d’étape early in the afternoon and had to wait for it to open. I walked about 500m in intense heat to a bar, had a drink and walked back. It was so hot my feet were burning from the road, and the heat seemed to pounding in my head like the fiery core of the Earth; it was even difficult to breath the hot air. I thought to myself that if the heat stayed like that there was no way I would be able to continue with this two month walk. I found out it was 40 degrees plus, and as you say that is somewhere near the limit of tolerance for western Europeans, especially if any exertion is required. Fortunately it was cooler next day.

Ellena said...

The locals were having their afternoon nap and missed an occasion to say "stupid tourists" as we were walking on a paved road up to Akropolis one early afternoon during the month of July. Don't ask.

Joe Hyam said...

Once walking in the Lake District on a hot day I jumped into a tarn on the slopes of The Old Man of Coniston. It was the coldest water I have ever encountered. A memory remains of one if not two closely linked extremes.

Roderick Robinson said...

Sir Hugh. Two queries, then. Let me make a guess. Our minds work subconsciously as well as consciously. I think it's reasonable to say our senses work similarly. Take observation. During conscious observation our mind is fully active asking questions and providing answers relating to what we see there and then. Subconscious observation is simply a type of recording but with this especial added value: the recording may be accessed at any time and the questions/answers applied retrospectively. I say "may be accessed" but the accessing may also be random. Recordings may simply pop up without links that are immediately obvious. However the application of questions/answers to a randomly accessed "recording" gives it a special feel; remote, unexplained and therefore in some ways more intense.

The heat experience. Because such events are rare they inevitably have more impact. Our imagination receives greater stimulus and the variety of subsequent results increases. But the processes are fleeting and don't necessarily contain any "truths".

Ellena: "Don't ask" worries me. Is it a joky attachment or are you forbidding me? I am cast adrift.

Joe: I have paddled my feet in that tarn and I agree. There was a warning about this on the News At Ten. If the water is deep enough the temperature of the lower depths never rises, however hot the sun. Thus the shock of immersion is more intense, especially if one dives in.