As I think I may have mentioned before, it can get extremely hot here in DC. We had a sneak preview back in early April (when I truly thought I might melt)… but then things got back to normal again. However, with the Memorial Day holiday well and truly over (this, apparently, is the start of summer here) the temperatures seem to hover consistently between about 25 and, yes, 35 degrees. Whenever I mention to others here that I’m finding this somewhat hard to cope with, they tend to exclaim darkly ‘Oh, this is nothing! There is MUCH worse to come…’
In fact, I was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue to the bank the other day, in bright glaring sun and 33 degree heat, when I was hailed by a woman outside the shop next door having a cigarette break. “Hey honey!” she boomed. I wasn’t sure if she was indeed talking to me but it was clear she was when she continued “Y’all better keep in the shade, huh! Y’all ain’t built for the sun!” I’m not sure what I’d done to look so particularly vampiric and pale, but do you know, she is absolutely right.
Something happened last weekend which made me realise I’m going to have to adjust to my new, oven-like surroundings gradually. We had been invited to some friends’ house for a barbecue. This in itself is exciting – friends! AND a barbecue! The latter – not, fortunately, the former – were banned in Paris, even in the privacy of your own garden or courtyard, because of the fire risk. You couldn’t even buy little foil disposable ones in the supermarket. (A group of us did once manage to have an illegal barbecue in a park by the Seine, but kept having to stand up to obscure the smoke from the gendarmes who were cycling on the nearby towpath. And then we had to wolf down our steak as quickly as possible once it was done!)
So we were pleased not only to be invited to a nice social occasion, but also to be going to one that involved outdoor cooking, in temperatures which – unlike most barbecues in Britain, let’s face it – were actually appropriate for the activity. Said friends live in Georgetown, a beautiful and quite expensive part of the city not known for its public transport links. As in, there really aren’t any. We decided that the easiest thing, given the lovely weather, would be to cycle. Husband gamely took the satchel containing the beer and wine we were bringing as our contribution to the festivities and we set off on ‘City Bikes’ (equivalent to Boris Bikes in London or Velibs in Paris – except more expensive.)
At first, all went well. Although it was hot, it was around 7pm and things were cooling down a little after the heat of the day. There was also hardly any traffic on the roads and it was lovely to speed along the big wide boulevards with nary a care in the world (except the surprisingly frequent potholes – some parts of DC’s roads do seem in rather bad repair.) Eventually, though, we reached some quite hilly bits as we got nearer to Georgetown. Not wanting Husband to accuse me of lingering, I made sure I attacked these with gusto (he, after all, was the one carrying several tonnes of booze on his back, not me.) At the top of one quite long hill, Husband paused to consult the map (or rather, the iPhone.) I stopped behind him and was congratulating myself on not being particularly out of breath when I started to feel quite strange… then everything went a little bit fuzzy round the edges and my head felt very tight. I got off the bike and stood on the pavement, thinking it would pass in a second or two. But it kept getting worse. Husband was blissfully unaware that anything was amiss until I propped up the bike and started putting my head between my knees. I asked him if he had any water… but although he had a great quantity of liquid with him, all of it was alcoholic…
I sat down on the pavement but unfortunately was still feeling very odd. Husband’s chivalric gene is clearly not dead, because he disappeared over to a nearby house and knocked on the door to ask for a glass of water. When we later recounted this at the barbecue, some of the people we were with – Brits and Americans – seemed quite shocked that he would risk doing such a thing… at the time, I didn’t think it was at all unusual, but on reflection, we probably wouldn’t have done that in Paris (partly because there are very few individual houses… most front doors are only to the lobbies of blocks of flats…) Anyway, he came back with a most concerned looking tall man in a white polo shirt and shorts, who was extremely solicitous. Before I knew it, we were both ushered up some steps into the hallway of a palatial looking dwelling, which was extremely empty except for a few Louis XV style chairs and several boxes. I staggered into the living room and sat on a chair, whereupon the man said ‘This is Cathy…’ and pointed to a woman lounging on the sofa and looking both wide eyed and confused. I thought, even in my befuddled state, that this was fair enough given we were total strangers, but she seemed especially disorientated by everything.
The man kindly handed me a glass of water and explained that he had to dash to pick up his kids from somewhere, but ‘Cathy’ would look after us. As he disappeared, Cathy gave us a long, glassy-eyed look and then said, in a slightly high pitched, Blanche Dubois kind of a voice, ‘You’re very pretty….’ I was unsure what to make of this, especially as, hot, sweaty and dizzy, I was NOT feeling at my most attractive. She then placed on my lap the small, rat-like creature that had hitherto been running around the room making scritter scratter noises on the wooden floor with its tiny claws. It turned out to be a tiny dog… As you know, I love all things canine but this one seemed barely worthy of the name, and I could see its skin through its barely-there fur… Was trying to look as though I thought it was sweet, when the woman said ‘Yeah, we’ve had her for years…. but she still does what she wants… she still pees in the house quite often.’ The thing was sitting on my KNEE. I waited a few moments before gingerly putting it on the floor again…
Meanwhile, a cowboy film of some kind was on mute on the TV… Cathy gestured to it and said blearily ‘Yeah… this is the first time I’ve watched TV’. Husband and I didn’t want to be rude and say, ‘What, the first time EVER?’ but that’s what she seemed to be implying… the whole thing was getting decidedly strange when eventually she came to a little bit and asked ‘So where y’all from?’ We said England, and that we were journalists who’d just moved here. This animated her a great deal. ‘Ohhh! Journalists! One of my best girlfriends is a journalist!’ We enquired politely as to what this friend did exactly. ‘Oh…’ said Cathy distractedly. ‘She owns the Washington Post.’
Before we knew it, she was then telling us all about her daughter’s tenth birthday party the next day, which was going to be a ‘golden ten’ – ‘like a sweet sixteen but younger!’ she explained helpfully – and how we really MUST come along. “You can meet ALL sorts of people!” she exclaimed. By now I had finished my water, was feeling a lot better and really wanted to leave, but clearly it would have been impolite just to get up and vamoose. So we listened to the plans for her daughter’s party, and how ‘I grew up poor, but she’s growing up rich rich rich!’ – which left us pretty stumped as to what to say… Generally she was being very kind, but in such a bleary, addled way and saying such odd things that we really didn’t know how to take them. Eventually we managed to take our leave, but not before she’d glassily asked us if we’d like to take a nap – “We have thirteen bedrooms, you know! You picked the RIGHT house to stop at!” She wouldn’t let us leave without promising to come to the birthday party….
…but needless to say, we didn’t quite make it. If we had, I don’t think she’d have remembered who we were.