Sometime near the end of September, I started wondering if it was ever going to be cool again. It was the eight or ninth heatwave, long stretches of days approaching 100 degrees. In August, I escaped north, only to be stopped by a wildfire running along the continental divide, just below the Canadian border; a few days later, I drove past a smoking rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula. Halfway through October, as the temperatures again subsided, venomous sea snakes began to wash ashore. Every month has been the hottest month on record and it’s difficult to imagine anything other than a succession of newly hottest months stretching out ahead.
One form of evasion is to work in a climate-controlled vault on the top of a hill and wait until dusk to walk down, descending slowly into the heat. Half of the time, though, I work from home, in an apartment built for the California of a hundred (or ten) years ago, one perpetually temperate.
During the fifth heatwave, I found I had unknowingly slipped into a routine that would leave me with, at most, a few stifling hours. I would wake up into the darkness when the day was at its coolest, before even the birds, and begin to work as the sun was rising. After seven or eight hours and many thousands of translated words, when I could no longer tell which language I was bound to and it had become too hot to bear, I would drink glass after glass of water and find abandonment in books. (Elena Ferrante’s novels are particularly suited to this; so wholly absorbing that it’s disorienting to leave the house and not be in Naples.) An hour before sunset, it would finally be cooler outside than in and I would walk the mile to the nearest lake, and then around and around until dark.
But perhaps there are some few small comforts:
- a morning trip to the supermarket for two or three bottles of seltzer, to avoid drinking an entire case of Topo Chico in a single afternoon
- frozen blueberries, to eat with a spoon or purplish fingers
- a desk pushed up against an open window, to stare out at the motionless palm trees
This last heatwave was the worst in twenty-five years, but the headlines have already swung from historic drought to historic El Niño, and no one knows exactly what that portends. It will be 90 degrees again tomorrow and I’m watching the strongest hurricane ever measured make landfall.
Audrey Young is wise and magical, a fortuitous combo - especially, selfishly, for Barbara, who has often called on Audrey for advice: on life, education (specifically, on whether or not to move to Austin and study archives), twitter, art, literature, what to read, and especially literary translation. Audrey has lived all over the place, growing up and ever since, and somehow, at some point, Barbara bamboozled her into becoming her pen pal. They even once thought up a brilliant plan for archiving Gertrude Stein online, which would have addressed the point of archives. And obviously also solved all the world’s problems.
Another way to say it is that Audrey is an amazing and thoughtful archivist who works with film and art, making those dark tunnels and caves under libraries seem as wonderful and open as they should. She’s worked in archives in Brazil and in Lisbon. And a couple of years ago, while living in Mexico City, she led the amazing initiative to preserve and share Mexico’s technologically obsolete home movies. And then Audrey is also a prolific reader who picks up languages as she goes, and she translates from Spanish and Portuguese into English and so shares her reading & writing, not to mention her excellent ear for language. In the words of Jennifer Higgie, bow down!