Africa starts south of the Pyrenees, or so said Napoleon of Spain. Two months of hell for ten months of heaven say the locals. The sun at its summer zenith recreates that hot continent and mocks skin. The body is fraught with sensations: the air is thick and tangible and weighs heavy on arms and foreheads; the pressure is palpable and the prickles are cells cooking; the face, taking the full brunt of that cosmic heater, glows, and the eyes, resting helpless in their sockets, are dry and itchy by day but all but glued shut by morning. A natural adhesive caused by heat. That same morning, after that night where you barely slept, bereft of dreams for the rise in degrees, you feel as though you are melded to the mattress. You can never get away. You are part of it. Thoughts drift to the idea of removing one's skin to shed a layer of warmth. Alcohol will help in lieu of this. Alcohol, that gains extra potency in those African months. The mind flutters with the bees after only a couple of glasses. Amid this nuance you simply sweat. You sweat in places you never knew could sweat. Like knees.
That July and August that do their best mimicry of some Dantean circle also play havoc with everyday life. They change you. They make you reanalyse and rethink and re-plan. Any journey out of the house you hug shadows, you choose your colours wisely, you apply sun cream as a matter of routine, you slow your pace, you use any breeze possible: the passing car or the arriving train; diet changes to cold soups, the body yearns for juice and swimming pools.
General life is affected too: personal wardrobes change – the concept of trousers makes you physically sick; there is a dramatic rise in the number of opportunities to study the feet and varicose veins of other human beings; the amount of clothing worn by both men and women enjoys a distinction of being in short supply; the glad result is that the tired old eyes of men linger for longer on the exposed bodies of women. The world shines like a concussion; gleaming pastels and coloured walls instead of stars and budgies.
As you struggle to do even the most average of exercises you ponder at the disappearing act the heat haze has played on the mountains. At home you deliberate over the merits of setting the cheap fan you bought to stationary or left and right mode. You turn off electrical goods for fear their whirrings and bleepings contribute to the rise in temperature. In the streets you notice a heightening of smells, an intensity bought about by a collective of molecules trapped in an embrace of warmth. You see the dogs, too much hair for this climate, panting and with dripping tongues. Your only escape a bar, a cafe, a shopping centre, a shadow.
Madrid burns, it burns beautifully and cruelly, and you pray for Apollo to be kind.