Thursday last week, the temperature soared to 44°C (111°F) in the shade.
I discovered that I have developed, unconsciously, an extremely effective strategy to cope with the sweltering heat.
No, it does not involve hosing down the horses and getting thoroughly soaked in the process. That only works for about 20 minutes.
Nor does it have anything to do with lying down flat on my back in the kitchen on 200-year old terracotta tiles, although it does provide relief for a slightly longer period.
You would think that here in the sun-blessed south of France we would by now have insulated our houses and installed airconditioning. We have not, because of reverse snobbism. We live in 200, 300, 400 and even 800-year old houses, that have been built to withstand exceptionally hot conditions and that have effectively done so for several centuries.
Not any more.
Whether it has anything to do with global warming, I do not know. All I know is that during the canicule (heatwave,) I am incapacitated from noon each day until at least 9 o’clock each night.
Without noticing and without giving it much thought, I have devised a surprisingly efficient coping strategy. I will share it here with you so that you can benefit too, whether you are trying to deal with the suffocating heat of the summer in the northern hemisphere or the mind-numbing cold of winter in the south.
So what do I do?
Admittedly, escaping stressful situations by losing myself in a good book has long been a favourite coping strategy of mine as I am sure it is for many of you.
To cope with the heat I read, but not just any old book. I usually read murder mysteries.
In this heat, I read murder mysteries set in Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Greenland and Denmark. Preferably somewhere where all the action happens in subzero temperatures with elaborate descriptions of ice-covered landscapes.
My favourite Nordic Noir authors:
Jo Nesbo – I can devour his books about Harry Hole, from Oslo, Norway, a “driven detective with unorthodox methods” at any time, but never with more relish that when the temperature outside reaches the upper 30’s and low 40’s.
Camilla Lacksberg – Her best-selling books are set in Fjallbacka, in Sweden, where a well-characterised married couple, Patrik Hedstrom and Erica Falck, work together to solve well-constructed crimes. My favourite is the first one, the Ice Princess, but any of her books are as effective as airconditioning, especially those featuring frozen lakes and frostbite.
Ragnar Johanson – I have just started reading his books about a young detective called Ari Thor. Johanson’s Dark Iceland series unfold in and around Siglufjörður, in the north of Iceland. I have read Snowblind and Blackout this summer, mostly at night, when it was too hot to sleep. I was all set to read the rest of the series when I got distracted by another excellent author of Scandinavian Noir:
Viveca Sten – 7 books in the series so far and I have read the first 6 in less than 2 weeks. I am currently reading the 7th book, In the Shadow of Power. Most of her stories happen on Sandhamn, an island off the Swedish coast, 50km east of Stockholm. Her temperature-regulating descriptions made me curious about the island, so I googled “Sandhamn in the winter” and found several wonderfully cooling pictures of a snow-covered island with huge ice blocks floating in the sea around it. I binge-read these books not only because of the heat, but also to find out what happens to the two central characters, Thomas Andersson, a divorced detective inspector whose daughter died of SIDS and Nora Linde, a lawyer struggling to balance career and motherhood.
Stieg Larsson – I have read his three books, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, gripped by a reading frenzy in 2010 or 2011. I have reread them again this summer, purely because they are so outstandingly good, good enough to make you forget the temperature outside (as well as every other mediocre detail of everyday life, such as what day of the week it is or when you have last had something to eat.)
Lars Kepler – hailed as the next Stieg Larsson – is actually the pen name for husband/wife duo Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril. Their books differ in various ways from Larsson’s books, although they do have one thing in common, especially my all-time favourite The Hypnotist, which has been likened by reviewers to Silence of the Lambs: they make you forget about everything else that is going on around you.
Henning Mankell – Kurt Wallander works for the Ystad police department, 50 km south-east of the city of Malmö, in the southern province of Skåne in Sweden. He drinks too much, exercises too little, eats mainly junk food and loves opera. He manages to solve intricate crimes because he has a remarkable ability to mentally process crime scenes. His daughter, Linda Wallander, also becomes a policewoman during the series. My favourite of his books is The Dogs of Riga – partly set in the Baltic state of Latvia.
Torquil MacLeod – Next, I am going to read Meet me in Malmö: the first Inspector Anita Sundström mystery and it that is any good, I’ll read the rest of the series.
So if you are struggling in extreme temperatures, I unreservedly recommend reading books set in temperatures opposite to those you are trying to escape from and enriching the experience with visual imagery by doing a Google search of the setting.
To help cope confidently with stressful situations like heatwaves, I have created a “Coping with Change Checklist and Cheatsheet” and a “10 Steps to Instant Self-Confidence” Guide that I share with the subscribers to my mailing list. Claim your copies here.
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