Salies is a gentle, peaceful town. It is generally quiet around here so it was no wonder that when the thermometer started hitting 30+ºC last Saturday, everything got quieter. There wasn’t a wisp of breeze; nothing seemed to be breathing. The town sweltered as the thermometer rose. On Sunday, it hit 37º, on Monday it topped 38º and in some places was reported to have hit 42º. Nothing moved; the air was so thick it could have been eaten with a spoon. The sidewalk was too hot to walk on. The violet colored petunias outside my bedroom window wilted, drooped and folded their burnt petals. Everyone closed their shutters and kept the windows shut against the hot clammy air that lay upon the town. Whole fields of wildflowers burnt to a crisp under the midday sun.
I sat in my small apartment under a roof that could no longer keep the heat out, behind closed shutters, too limp to write, too hot to even watch a movie. At night I slept naked without even pulling the sheet over me and awoke sweating, my head on a damp pillow. Both days I ended up taking an hour’s siesta, the only thing possible in the midday bake.
And then it hit! It was eight o’clock in the evening and the temperature hadn’t given up a degree. Then, out of nowhere, suddenly as if it had been hiding behind a tree and had violently sprung forth, a wind so strong it bent the trees nearly to the ground and threw dead branches against nearby buildings. Salomé cowered at the suddenness of it and came to sit beneath my chair. I ran to the window and stood, open-mouthed watching the wildness of it as the wind lashed at everything movable whooshing and thumping, banging and tearing with gusts (later reported) of up to 60kph. It took but a quarter of an hour for the temperature to drop ten degrees and then the wind slowed to a stiff breeze. By three in the morning the thermometers had gone from 38º+ to 18º and the whole town seemed to sigh with relief. By the morning, my petunias had picked up their heads again and even began to look perky after I cut off the scorched blossoms.
Tuesday the temperature barely went over 20º and storm clouds gathered all day like angry neighbors elbowing each other for space. By evening the scowling skys had crowded together and covered the South-West like the “indignados” in La Puerta del Sol in Madrid. At nightfall thunder rolled in angry growls across the sky and into the surrounding hills; and then the rain hit, bucketing down in torrents that swept through trees and over streets and sidewalks washing everything clean. It lasted no more than thirty minutes, leaving behind it riverlets and streams and tiny currents that gurgled merrily as they disappeared down drains and waterways.
The air smelled fresh as Salomé and I stepped out into the night for one last stroll up and down the sidewalk. The magnolia blossoms half a block away exuded their heavy, sweet perfume and the snails that had not dried up and died of thirst during the heat wave emerged from their hiding places into the welcome wetness. I breathed in the cool, damp air. It was as if a battle had been waged and won and the small town of Salies could now settle back into its gentle peacefulness for tonight; and I, the observer, could go to my bed with my pajamas on and a light summer blanket to protect me from the morning chill.
As I drift gently off to sleep with the cool night breeze wafting through the window, I think of the fields of corn and the vineyards and the heads of lettuce in the kitchen gardens and all the flowers that make Salies a Ville Fleurie and I’m happy: I’m happy it rained.