Pandemic versus Paris. What will win?

I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” — author L.M. Montgomery 

About now, deep into spring, I start yearning for fall. Let’s skip the blinding, sweltering ordeal called summer and dive right into October as if it’s a pile of fallen leaves. Though it’s currently hovering in the 50s — my ideal weather — racing to a future of reds, yellows and browns holds possible virtues.

First and most importantly: the coronavirus could be conceivably kaput. Almost assuredly not, yet, save for some myopic governors and delusional citizens, most of us are working on it. The pandemic will haunt us for many more months and I, no expert, project the soonest we will be even remotely clear is October.  

At least I’m banking on it. I have plans for October. Amid the pandemic panic, I’ve taken advantage of slashed airline fares and bought a ticket to Paris for mid-October. I’m paying about half as much as a normal fall ticket, and it comes with the airline’s new flexible change and cancellation policies, so I have some wriggle room. I’ll probably need it. (Call that First World whining.)

Paris is in full lockdown, and that’s worrisome. I booked an earlier flight a ways back and the airline cancelled it because of Covid-19. Same with a hotel I reserved, which is now temporarily shuttered. If a whisper of disruption, fear or illness circles my slated travel dates, I’m cancelling. For everyone’s sake.

960x0.jpgThe Paris trip is almost fake, a soft-focus vision, a teasing hallucination. Mostly it’s a marker, something pleasant to look forward to after the pall of the pandemic and the swamp butt of summer. It provides dream fuel and stuff to do, like plan good meals — Frenchie! — and chart new itineraries — Musée du Luxembourg, La Cinémathèque Française. It allows me to picture a time cleared of crisis, no matter how quixotic that is. 

October is achingly far off, and peeking over the horizon causes eye strain. Just about my favorite month (I want more Octobers), it’s not immune to global realities. Instead of strolling Pont Neuf, watching a movie at Le Champo cinema or feasting on the city’s best falafel at L’As du Fallafel, chances are I’ll be reading, writing and learning the delicate art of putting a ship in a bottle or some such during self-captivity, and venturing outdoors swaddled in the now-fashionable face mask. My optimism is slowly curdling.

Bleak or bright, it will still be October. As a silver lining, that’s not so bad. And as a suave, chain-smoking rake once muttered, “We’ll always have Paris.” I can definitely wait.

Summer’s sweet cessation

When last I checked, the world was in tatters. But that’s a trifle for another day. Thing is, I have a wicked splinter in my finger and a bodacious pimple on my forehead that’s a little too Cyclopsian for shrugging off. Then there’s the boy dog, whose sphincter-sniffing flirtation with the girl cat might soon require rings, roses and rice. We remain calm. 

Summer subsides and the late-August slash Labor Day doldrums set in like a hard crust over the celebratory season. Things are dying down. Things are dying. I for one had no idea that Denise Nickerson, who played ravenous gum-chomper Violet Beauregarde in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” died in July at age 62. She and Gene Wilder — gone. Let’s hope Charlie doesn’t kick the bucket. 

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Speaking of blueberries — recall Violet inflates into a gigantic blueberry and must be rolled away by Oompa Loompas — that finger-staining fruit is my single breakfast comestible each day. I gobble them by the handful, a disgusting image but we’re all adults. They’re a summer fruit and so make a timely cameo in this post, which is sort of about the end of summer, the now, but we’ll see where it takes us. Already I’m rather lost.

It was a short summer, merciful, not too warm, and it moved with benign velocity. So glad it’s shuttering, as I look forward to crisp breezes, light coats, brisk walks without drenching humidity, Oscar-caliber movies, my Tokyo sojourn, obscenely short days — it’s 8 p.m. now and almost pitch-dark — and my usual litany of fall and winter joys.

At the cineplex, I dodged the onslaught of summer sequels and superheroes — brain-beating blunderbusses — for “artier” fare like Tarantino’s sophomoric garble “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” a shambolic misfire, and the cathartic Australian horror-thriller “The Nightingale,” a savage, soulful gut-punch of vengeance and violence. For early-summer froth, the delirious comic excess of “Booksmart” can’t be forgotten. Fall brings promise: Joaquin Phoenix as “Joker,” “Little Women” and Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”

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“Destroy All Monsters”

Movie mad, I always watch films from the country I’m going to visit next. So, Japan. I re-watched the 1954 version of the original “Godzilla,” which is startlingly melancholic. (The monster dies a slow, sinking death. Oh: spoiler.) In 1968’s full-color “Destroy All Monsters,” a menagerie of kaiju creatures, from Godzilla and Mothra to Gorosaurus and Rodan, unleash murderous mayhem on the world’s largest cities. Aliens are somehow involved. Silly — and spectacular. (Lest it seems I’m just watching monster movies, I’ve also re-watched Ozu’s “Floating Weeds,” Oshima’s “In the Realm of the Senses,” Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress” and Suzuki’s “Branded to Kill” and “Tokyo Drifter.”) 

As I cut short my late-summer reading of Haruki Murakami’s timid, ultra-bland novel of youthful romance “Norwegian Wood” I picked up Toni Morrison’s “Sula,” which has more literary panache in its first 20 pages than Murakami’s snoozer has in 150.  

51pY6F589HL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAutumn looms and I have a pair of fall novels picked out: “Doxology” by Nell Zink and “The Topeka School” by virtuosic young writer Ben Lerner, whose “10:04” and “Leaving the Atocha Station” are rhapsodic in their essayistic intelligence and gliding beauty. “10:04” is one of my favorite novels of the past 10 years. I’ve read it twice. So far. 

I admit I struggled with Zink’s acclaimed 2014 fiction debut “The Wallcreeper.” We didn’t jibe. The new book has been called her best and most ambitious, “a ragged chunk of ecstatic cerebral-satirical intellection … bliss.” I am all over that.

But first, after Morrison’s promising “Sula,” it’s back to Japan and Banana Yoshimoto’s international cult hit “Kitchen,” a bittersweet novel whose “whimsy” and “simplicity” are frequently hailed as virtues, making me wary. Those words could be code for “precious.”

Now that I’ve mentioned Japan three hundred times, it might be a good place to state why I’m really exalting summer’s end — my October-November trip to Tokyo and Kyoto. Which, lucky you, you can read more about as plans unfold.

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Tokyo

Yet so much is great about fall, not just a fleeting vacation. Autumn is coming fast — the calendar says Sept. 23, but we all know it starts on Labor Day — sucking summer back into the gooey abyss from whence it came. Japan, new books, new movies, new weather — all good and well. But fact is, fall is its own prize. It’s all fine, shimmery sublimity.

Myriad miseries of the muggy months

As spring does its springy thing — budding flora, blaring sunshine, apocalyptic allergies, humping squirrels, the air lousy with tweetling birdies — I return to my annual choleric conclusion: spring sucks. 

It’s an old song I warble, a self-pitying plaint performed on banjo and harmonica. It’s almost T-shirt and shorts time, which makes me shudder the way I gladly do in the cherished chill of fall and winter. Spring, though well under way, is creeping ahead, producing mostly 60s yet dipping into the 50s when we’re extra lucky. 

Still, I’m steeling for the worst.

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Spring’s bonus gift: allergies. I’ve been blowing my nose in a single sustained honk since late March and my eyes won’t stop watering. I feel like I’m endlessly weeping. I am. I’m crying that summer is around the sweaty bend. (Oh, and: gesundheit.)

I prefer short cool days — dark at 6 p.m. — to long, hot days. Vampiric, nocturnal, certifiable — label me how you will. I just know it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.

Five more months of climatic distress, some of it dimly tolerable, some of it abominable. I welcome October like an old friend unseen in years, with backslaps and bear hugs, a pal who brings me a light jacket as a gift.

Yesterday I broke my second sweat of the season. Thrills were at a premium.

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This operatic whining is me blowing off steam about the coming steaminess and the attendant pool parties, barbecues, spring breakers, sun roofs, flip flops, humidity, bees and beaches. I’m fairly infantile about the whole thing, but really, I just don’t look good in shorts. Sneezing and sunburn — also not big on my to-do list.

My minority status is solidified. I’ve met maybe three people who spurn spring and summer in favor of the brisk breezes and long shadows of fall. People don’t often understand outliers, and I in turn can’t fathom those who relish the hot months. Besides vacation time (yet who actually wants to vacate in the 90-degree swelter?), I see few pluses.

Obviously there’s no way around the seasonal shift, unless I scurry northward. So I sally forth, declaring with a dash of grit (and gritted teeth): Spring, summer — let’s get this thing over with.

Summer’s almost gone.Yes!

“Throughout August, with almost sadistic joy, I watch summer slowly die.” — musician-poet Henry Rollins

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Today, in the first week of August, my niece was rattling off why fall is her favorite season and she slipped into this refrain:

“No bugs! No bugs! No bugs!”

I almost applauded. Fall is my favorite season, too (winter’s a close second, or maybe they’re tied). I can’t do summer. I don’t do summer. August is the cruelest month — it spews volcanic heat, it seems to last an eternity — but when it arrives I count the days of summer’s final steamy breaths. September is around the bend. It won’t be long till I can slip on a jacket. The anticipation’s killing me.

In summer the heat’s too murderous, the days are too long and the pants too short. We know this. But some of us actually like this. Everyone chirps about how nice it is outside at a torrid 88 degrees. They start eating outdoors, drinking beer in blazing sunlight. I’m vampiric. There are outdoorsy people, then there’s me. I’m indoorsy. “Sun and fun” don’t compute. (One word: barbecues.) Like a possum, I’m a nocturnal creature. I crave the dark. Now, where’s the AC?

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Not a good look.

No one likes humidity, but that’s one of the joyous gifts of summertime. I have pretty curly hair that swells and swirls in the humid soup, until it shares attributes with the protagonist in “Eraserhead.” Humidity is the devil’s flatulence.

I’d rather shiver than sweat. I lived for years in Texas, where summer lasts 10 months out of the year and sweating is a way of life. It’s one of those places where when you sit outside at a bar you get soaked by misters. Sweat and mist. Bring a towel, slicker and umbrella.

I travel a lot but never during the summer — the rigged prices, the crowds, the heat exacerbated by global warming. (Those scourging heat waves in, of all places, London and Paris are a scandal.) Tropical “paradises” are off the table, though I hold dear my spring and fall trips to Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong and India, epicenters of perspiration. I was positively soaked-through the whole time during all of them. From India I flew to Nepal just to cool off near the Himalayas and breathe relatively fresher mountain air. In Thailand, I got sun poisoning. That’s a long, humiliating story, featuring one beach, eight hours and zero sunscreen. (The upshot: I could barely move my swollen legs and I had to drink two gallons of water a day.)

UnknownI thrive on fall and winter’s cooler temperatures and shorter light cycle. Long sleeves and jeans happily return. Kids go back to school. Arts seasons commence and prestige pictures fill movie screens. (The monstrous snowfall, you say? I can’t hear you.)

What about blameless spring, with its temperate climes and floral efflorescence? Careful, spring can get you too. That’s why it’s my second least favorite season, with all of its pesky augurs of summer: rising temperatures, plants and pollen, picnics, longer days, and, of course, those bugs, bugs, bugs.

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Coming soon.

When summer goes skedaddle, these things go with it: outdoor music festivals, flip-flops, exposed hairy legs, beach outings, tank-tops, camping, sunburn, restaurant patios, body odor, baseball, “The Emoji Movie,” hidden tattoos, small-town parades, parasails, Toyota Summer Sales Events, rattling, weeping window ACs, people named Jasmine and Tyler.

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Halloween in Sevilla.

Summer’s dragon’s fire will soon be extinguished by the crisp gusts of autumn. Turning leaves, shorter days, harvest moons, soup, fall TV, Halloween. Halloween is a big one. It’s way up there on my niece’s list of fall glories. (Since I travel so much in autumn, I’ve done Halloween in London, Paris, Beirut, Ho Chi Minh City, Kathmandu and Sevilla. Each city bumbles the American holiday. For now, it’s strictly amateur hour.)

And yet there are six calendar weeks left of the warm stuff, so maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. But I don’t think so. August is the last hurrah, the season’s dying gasp, and it’s here and, with sunglasses tucked away, we are ticking off the days, closely, carefully, ecstatically.