Every summer, I am seduced by the scent of sunscreen and the promise of languid afternoons spent at the beach. But every year, despite my best intentions to wear cute sundresses, shop at farmer’s markets, and be all dewy and cheery in the heat, I seem to wind up cranky and sweaty on a subway platform, cursing the convection oven that once was Manhattan.
This summer has been unremarkable, save the bomb scare in Times Square and a relentless heat wave, neither of which were particularly enjoyable. So I suppose it makes sense that I’ve been reminiscing about a few, more voluptuous, summers of yore. To wit:
The summer I turned 17, I moved to Italy. The honeyed late-August sun poured itself on everything and the world and I were very, very young. I swooned daily over fresh basil, fresh boys and the lushness of life lived in a foreign language.
One Seattle summer was all faux-sophistication at sidewalk cafés and drinking rosé as twilight whispered across Puget Sound. I remember goat cheese and asparagus omelets in the morning and garden parties at dusk. I was free in the way that is only possible when one is 23 and unfettered by ambition or obligation.
And recently, I found a journal entry from the summer I lived in Spanish Harlem:
In the absence of a working air conditioner, an ancient fan hums in front of my open window. My rigid and long-standing habit of falling to sleep in total silence has been broken. The noise from the street has become a lullaby of sorts. The shouts of neighbor children and the Spanish admonitions of their mothers are accompanied by the alto saxophone sighing on my stereo as I drift off to sleep. That the saxophonist in question has broken my heart seems vital.
I have always slept on my stomach, a straight line, arms folded above my head. My sleep has always been deep and long and still. July finds me splayed across the whole of my bed, stirring throughout the night. I sleep in satin slips, occasionally with a sheet for cover. My sleep has become light and I rise earlier, perhaps to clear space in the cooler morning for writing, thinking, tea. Perhaps to clear space for the afternoon siesta that has become routine.
I cannot get enough quenepas, the peculiar fruit that was foreign to me until a brief liaison with a Cuban guitarist. He called them mamoncillos. The fruits resemble tiny limes and they hang in a bunch, like grapes. When I crack the peel with my teeth, the taste is bitter and the fruit inside, a pulpy pit, comes out easily. I keep the quenepas in the refrigerator and suck on the cold tart fruit until my mouth is sore.
When my errands are finished, I am anxious to leave midtown Manhattan, with its stodgy businessmen and ladies who lunch. I see blonde Amazons with Coach bags and Banana Republic khaki skirts and I imagine that their lives are as immaculate and crisp as the white cotton blouses they wear. The 6 train can never come soon enough.
I look forward to leaving the stark chill of the subway and ascending the stairs into the enveloping heat of the barrio. I let my hair curl in the humidity. I feel my hips circling in figure eights as I walk. I no longer hurry. Sometimes I stop and buy an horchata, the Mexican drink of rice milk and almond, sold by a young woman who speaks no English, from a sidewalk stand.
Tito Puente and Arturo Sandoval follow me everywhere; when their mambos are not playing on my iPod, their paint-peeling trumpet sections squeal from shop windows and passing cars. My heart has begun beating clave rhythms, although clapping them is still tricky.
Much has changed since my halcyon summers in Italy, Seattle, and Spanish Harlem. I’ve long since traded the barrio for Brooklyn, and I’m happy to report that both my air conditioner and my relationship are highly functional. The beach awaits, Tito Puente is still on my iPod, and today a farmer’s market is bustling a mere block from my home. Even as I type, August is leaning into the sun, beckoning me to follow, suggesting that perhaps this summer is not unremarkable, after all.