La Canicule

by Christine Adams Beckett

In August of 2003, France experienced its worst heat wave since the middle ages. For two weeks, the mercury soared to post 40 degrees Celsius, about 104 degrees farenheit, a deadly condition for a country used to a more seasonable, temperate climate of about 26 C. France lost about 15,000 of it citizens during those two terrible weeks, lost about a quarter of their wheat crop, but the wine was delicious. The grapes reached maturity much faster in the swelter, so there was some loss in the scramble to harvest. There were less bottles yielded to thirsty oenophiles, but the quality was ironically superior and therefore pricier than it had been in years.

The poor French didn’t know what they had coming to them. Rehydration in a land of perfect late spring weather – for all of August – was customarily obtained by a glass of nice Chablis with lunch. Hausmanian Parisian buildings, built of stone, we’re perfectly designed for weather that rarely rose above 75F and dropped to the 50s on July evenings. Countryside houses were most often built of stone, concrete or brick, and also absorbed the cool evening air to keep its inhabitants comfortable for the next 18 hours. Triple farenheit digit days which endured for close to 2 weeks made these buildings death traps, as they absorbed the excessive heat, and the very young and very old were particularly at risk, as relief was slow in coming.

This past year in the States has been the hottest on record. Ever. Horrible fires have raged in Colorado, the news reporters have zoomed in daily on depressing footage of corn crops turned to Halloween dressing on their stalks. We New Jeresians are no stranger to 100 degree summer days, but we also have the phony atmospheric game changer, air conditioning, to lighten the blow we feel when leaving the confines of our climate controlled homes to board our climate controlled vehicles. We’re maxing out the grid to stay alive. We may be cool but were spewing forth more emissions by burning more fossil fuels to produce the massive amounts of electricity required to cool our stuffy homes 25 degrees. We’re likely contributing to future, more severe heat waves just by battling the present ones.

Swiftian response: we may starve to death just looking at the news reports of those withering corn crops in the midwest, fret over our heat exhausted children and parents or we can simply establish more vineyards. The grapes apparently love the high heat and the low moisture. As we suburban American citizens of the world sit around waiting for the four horsemen, one of the doomsday signs of the apocolpyse along with famine, we can at least tie a good buzz on.

While we establish the crop, a lovely 2003 Bouchard Père et Fils Chevalir- Montrachet, a white Burgundy from the Cote du Beaune will set us back about $600. Hell, people, why not? We can’t take it with us.

So cheers! I toast the cursed blessings in disguise as we roast here on earth.