Friday, June 18, 2004

I Want My Summer!

Okay, it's late June, it's a little after noon, and it's 58 degrees Fahrenheit out there. We've been having intermittent torrential rains, the kind that screw up the sewers and cause the water level in my toilet to yo-yo up and down until you get these columns of water out of a Winslow Homer painting and flecks of something dark drying in puddles on the floor. The last weather report I saw says we're in for about a week more of this (although it changes fairly often, so this may not be the case when you look).

This pisses me off, because one of the undeniably good things about Berlin is the summer, short as it is. Berliners love the outdoors, and start sitting at tables along the sidewalk as soon as ice stops forming on the puddles in the gutters. When the sun comes out, as I've said previously, they flock to the parks and cast their clothes off, sometimes entirely. (Let's face it: these people are unreconstructed pagans deep down, and in many ways, that's not a bad thing at all). And, because we're so far north, often the last light doesn't fade until well after 10pm, and the day's heat lingers and resolves at a pleasant 70 degrees or so. This is what the beer garden phenomenon is all about, although the cramped city makes it difficult for there to be many of them. But there's just something about sitting outdoors with a bunch of friends, drinking and talking and generally feelling physically comfortable, something that's pretty much impossible in, say, February, that creates fond memories.

Also, given Berlin's huge amount of green space -- more per square mile than any other European city, I've been told, although I think Berlin cheats by including huge forests like the Grunewald, Tegler Forst, and Berliner Stadtforst within the city limits -- it's just a pleasant place to see. Grim as the buildings here are, few as the pleasant groupings of them may be, you don't have to be among them very long if you're in motion, be it on a bike, on a bus, or on foot, because shortly you'll come to an expanse of green and an involuntary psychological effect comes into play and you just feel better. No matter that these places are as anally meticulously planned as any housing project: it's green, there are trees and bushes and often flowers, and you get the feeling that things aren't as bad as you actually, in your saner moments, know they are.

When the summer actually gets hot -- over 90 degrees -- it also gets dangerous here. People's tempers fray quickly, the drivers, who are already among the worst in Europe, get worse, and no beer garden or forest offers relief. I remember one year being on the subway when a guy exploded at some Balkan woman after one of her kids had crashed into him. He yelled at her for not taking care of her kids, told her she should be sterilized so she couldn't have any more children, that she shouldn't be here in the first place, and she should be deported. The rest of the passengers just looked on in disbelief, but they didn't do anything: the guy was huge, but at the end of his tirade, his face was a color I more commonly associate with unaged steak, so maybe he's not harrassing people in the subway any more. But on hot nights, I can lie in bed and hear domestic disputes turn violent and the skid of tires on Torstr., hardly an uncommon sound, often end with a crunch, followed by sirens.

These spells never last long, because the summer starts dying early in September, so the vast majority of the summer sees temperatures between, oh, 70 and 82 during the day. Every time the mercury climbs to perilous heights, spectacular thunderstorms come along, echoing like bombs through the buildings with their open courtyards. I'll get up the next morning, and the Lesbian Threat's garden will have sprouted a whole new species of flowers that weren't there yesterday. It's telling that nothing whatever has happened over there so far this year, although they both spend plenty of after-work time out snipping and trimming and murmuring to each other. My cilantro grew about two inches high and turned brown. The basil has sprouted close to the ground and is doubtless making huge roots to compensate for the leaves it's not going to develop. And the shiso hasn't shown signs of life for weeks. I wonder if the seeds are dead.

But wiser folks than me tell me that this is all part of the change that has been erroneously termed "global warming." It's not global warming so much as it's climate change, they say, and this summer cold has to do with the Gulf Stream, I believe, or perhaps it's the Atlantic Current. Whatever it is, it's a catastrophe in the making, and, for me, yet another reason to want to get out of this place. It's depressing enough in the winter, but if the summers are going to be wintry, too, that's a deal-breaker.

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