Czech Culture & Adaptation

A week in the tropics

June 21, 2013
Sunny weather

Transitioning from downpours to a heat wave

What happens when a country recently beset by heavy rains and floods undergoes a week of unexpected tropic-like weather? When the sun shines brightly several days in a row, instead of making its usual one hour a day appearance? When beer gardens and open-air restaurants finally have reason to dust off their patio chairs and unfurl their shade umbrellas? When summer gardens began to bloom with their first post-rain fruits?

If someone had told me two weeks ago, that I’d be sweating too hard in our upstairs office/playroom to concentrate or type, I wouldn’t have believed them. Prague had been so gray this last winter – and then instead of spring, we were struck with a deluge of rain. I didn’t think we’d see a real hot day this early in the summer season. Yet, when I tried to sit down at the computer one night this last week, I realized that even with the roof windows open, I still didn’t have enough of a breeze to breathe, much less think. I moved outside, where at nine-thirty at night, the sky was only just beginning to turn a periwinkle blue. The fresh air felt refreshing, if still and thick with humidity.

These days, the evenings seem to last forever, and we’ve forgone housework and most cooking in favor of working in the garden, grilling and eating salads, cold sandwiches and strawberries from the garden. It’s too nice outside to go bed early. Even though summer for Czech school children, doesn’t officially start until the last Friday in June, a new “summertime” attitude has already taken hold, both in school and at home.

One evening this week, well after their usual bedtime, our kids lined up with several neighborhood children at the end of the street, preparing to race snails. Anna drew starting lanes in colored chalk, and they each wrote their initials on their chosen snail’s shell in ink and threw bits of grass and flower petals to entice the snails to move toward the finish line. Even little Samuel picked a snail to race, although he mistakenly set his down backwards so that with a few movements it moved away from the starting line and was out of the race all together. Enthusiasm for the project waned when the snails’ stamina gave out, and the children quickly transferred energy to racing back and forth themselves on scooters, bikes and a motorized tractor. It was past ten when we reluctantly corralled the children into the house, hating to leave the evening as much as they did.

When I went to pick Oliver up from preschool this week, I found the children out in the garden, some in bathing suits, but many stripped down to their underwear or totally naked as is the tradition for Czech children bathing. The kids ran back and forth across the grass while a teacher sprayed them periodically with a hose. A similar afternoon activity took place in Anna’s school, although the school children wore bathing suits or cooled off still-dressed. Anna attended her sewing class and After-School English in her bathing suit, saying it was much cooler than her sundress. Much to her delight, she could finally wear some of her sundresses to some other place beside our beach holiday. She took more delight in picking her clothes during the week of tropic heat, than she had all year to that point, even bringing out a fan she once bought at a castle reenactment as an accessory.

With the record breaking temperature of 36.5C measured Thursday afternoon in Prague, it is definitely sundress and fan weather. I’ve also seen more women wearing short shorts in town than I ever have before, which may mean that times are changing and wearing shorts in the city isn’t the taboo it once seemed to be. Or it may mean, that it’s simply too hot to care about fashion. My neighbors have taken to walking about in their garden in just their underwear, which is always an indicator to me that when it’s hot, comfort beats fashion, at least in the privacy of one’s own home or garden. I haven’t gotten that bold yet, although I’ve started showering at night just to cool down.

So far, no one that I’ve spoken with has really complained about the heat. We long-term residents wouldn’t dare, as we’ve been hoping for months to get more than a few hours of sunshine in a single day. Still, the heat wave is nearly all anyone can talk about. I joined a group of sweaty moms who were bemoaning the hot dance rehearsals held in costume on the top floor of one of the city’s poorly ventilated recreational centers. Despite the children’s protests about the sticky costumes and the heat, everyone stayed for the entire rehearsal. We then ran into several parents in the ice-cream aisle at nearest supermarket just afterward. We all had the same idea about ways to survive the heat.

Perhaps residents here know that summers in the Czech Republic are all too often wet and chilly, and no one wants to spoil the party. As temperatures have risen across the Czech Republic this week, I’ve noticed a distinct change in people’s behavior, including my own. One mother at dance confessed that they’d been sleeping on the terrace for the past several nights to beat the heat. Her children thought it was a great adventure. Another said they’d moved everyone to the ground level to sleep on couches or sleeping bags. Without air-conditioning in most homes, schools or public buildings, the heat has been an element of the day that nearly everyone has had to deal with.

In a country where the sun doesn’t always shine so brightly, I have to say that I’ve been enjoying our week in the tropics. We’ve relaxed the rules a bit, turned the kids loose in the sprinkler and have tried to stay inside during the worst parts of the heat. I know before long, the air will cool and rainy days will come again. For now, I’m enjoying the change of pace and hoping that our week of sun will help us get through the less-than-sunny days to come.

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