I come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun, where the hotsprings blow.
Well, not really, but my paternal grandparents did, so, close enough for rock n roll, right?
Salmi is a Finn name, but I am a Canadian. Well, I don’t really know if I am, anymore, but I was born and raised there, so, close enough f…
My father was born in Canada, in 1918. I was born 45 years later.
The old man was a stereotypical dour, stoic Finn.
He liked his vodka. He once told me drinking was the only satisfaction he got from life. No one ever had to tell him to shut the fuck up. Like me, he preferred to drink alone, often in silence, but sometimes listening to his favourite toy, a shortwave radio.
I vividly recall him sitting for hours, nursing his mickey, and listening to some sort of Mandarin jibber-jabber. He never understood a word of it. He was simply dumbstruck that he could listen to Chinamen talking on the other side of the world.
Once in a while, when he was deep into his cups after another long day of wage slavery, he would summon me to the kitchen. Reluctantly, I’d drag myself away from the idiot box, and plop myself down on the other side of the table. Usually, he would spout his grievances against the company that first ruined, and then ruled his life. But once, when I was in my early teens, the old man actually told me a story. A very short story, the veracity of which I cannot confirm, but believe to be true nonetheless.
His parents, he told me, had left Finland in the spring of 1912 to make their way to Canada. It was an arduous journey. So arduous that they arrived in Southampton the day after the Titanic set sail for North America.
“Lucky for you,” he laughed, “or you’d never have been born.”
“Nor would you,” I pointed out, matter-of-factly. This made him laugh hysterically. My dour old man rarely even chuckled, so the sight of him caught in a fit of uncontrollable laughter left me slack-jawed. I didn’t get the joke, but the more I become like him, the more I think I understand.
Never again did he repeat the story. He would neither confirm, nor deny its authenticity when the latent journalist in me pressed him on the matter.
None of which has anything at all to do with the tale I am about to dazzle you with, good and gentle readers. I am merely sharing what I think is an interesting anecdote, that you are free to forget forthwith. The only thing that you need to remember about the story, tall or genuine, is that I am descended from Nordic stock. I come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun, where the hotsprings blow.
Every girl who has shared my bed on more than several occasions quickly came to love the fact that I am a human furnace. No need for them to worry about being warm on those long,dark, cold Canadian winter nights when they were snuggled next to me.
Looking back, I can imagine them telling their close friends, “No, he’s not very good in bed, but hot damn is he ever warm! Somewhere in his family tree, someone fucked a polar bear, I swear. So, I just let him thrash away at me, like an epileptic walrus having a seizure, wait ’til it’s over, and settle in for eight wonderfully warm hours of blissful sleep. Then, when he leaves in the morning, I pull out the vibrator, and satisfy my other basic needs.”
I have large pores, so I tend to sweat easily, and sometimes embarrassingly profusely.
The table, now properly set, I can begin this report, if I have your full attention, please and thank you, very much.
Twenty thousand, four hundred and fifty six days after I was born, I found myself in Santiniketan, West Bengal, India. For the next twenty consecutive days the mercury exceeded 40 degrees in Tagore’s House of Peace.
Forty degrees, twenty days in a row? I come from the land of the ice and snow.
From the midnight sun, where the hotsprings blow! No comprendo forty degrees, twenty days in a row, mofo.
I can handle extremes. Fifteen years ago I survived a winter in the Yukon, where it was 50 below for seven day in a row. No problemo, amigo. In Canada, we learn, at an early age, that it is never cold inside the bar. I am, after all, genetically engineered to not only survive, but to thrive in the below.
I lived in Montenegro, where the mercury semi-regularly hovers in the high thirties, or low forties in the summer months, for eight years. I even survived a summer in the desert of Turkmenistan, where I saw the thermostat push above fifty degrees on a handful of occasions. But not for twenty fucking days in a row. And not with 80% humidity, gawd damn it!
There are lots of bars in Montenegro, and they all have air conditioning. Hell, even in the mysterious police state of Turkmenistan they have bars, and they all have air conditioners. But in Santiniketan? One bar. Four air conditioners. All of them broken. Four ceiling fans that do sweet fuck all to bring the temperature down.
When the heatwave began, I figured I could tough it out. If the bloody limeys could survive the sweltering Indian oven of West Bengal, for 200 years, long, long before Willis Carrier invented air conditioning, so could I. Then again, it’s not as if the imperialist bastards were doing the hard work.
Being a poor wordwhore, I really didn’t want to piss away 40,000 rupees on an air conditioner. That’s my beer budget for an entire year. And I’m a writer, so it’s not as if drinking is optional.
Suck it up, buttercup, I told myself, as the sweat poured out of me, day after Hellish day. But I was sweating in the shower, for fuck’s sake, even at night, when the water from the rooftop tank was coolish. I kept 25 litres of water in the fridge, and doused myself every 20 minutes. But I would start sweating again before my skin dried. Actually, my skin never dried, unless I was poaching someone’s a/c. And my mostly under control psoriasis had flared horribly, and was spreading.
I spent the evenings watching the same gawd awful films over and over at the local movie theatre, where they understand the necessity of air conditioning. I’d take my meals at the few air conditioned restaurants in town, but you can’t linger in an eatery for long without alcohol, and none of them are licensed. I would go for walks through town, just so I could shelter in the climate controlled luxury of bank ATM rooms, until the security guard hustled me along (white privilege, my ass).
I had to put clothes on before I left the house, and before I hit the main drag, a five minute walk away, my attire was soaked, so I lumbered around looking like some sort of sickly white, slime creature from The Planet with No Sun. And there’s nowhere to swim in Santiniketan. Eleven hundred clicks from the Bay of Bengal, no lake, no river (not until the monsoons come), no pool.
No human can suffer the way I was suffering without becoming miserable. I get a large share of my news of the world from BBC World Service, but had to hit the mute button when I found myself reacting to every story the same way: “Fuck off. Kill him, her, them all.” I’m not just talking about stories about the world’s ever expanding pool of Hitlers du jour. Hell no.
Man saves child from tiger attack
Movie star finds true love
Scientists close to finding cure for cancer
Kill them all!
And I’m not gonna tell you what else I was thinking about everyone I saw, because you’d call the cops.
Hey, I don’t always wanna think the thinks I think, but I thinks ’em anyway.
One day, while I was trying to finish a piece for a client (kill her!), a bunch of kids appeared in my yard, below my second floor window. They’d been playing cricket across the road, and wanted to get some water from an outdoor faucet. This is a common occurrence.
They always politely ask before turning the tap, “Uncle! Uncle!” they yell up at me. I poke my head out the window, and they say “Water! Water!” Even a monster like me is not going to deny the sweet little kids a drink of water.
On the day of which I write, the kids were quaffing water, and babbling at me in Bengali, a language I speak not a word of. They were laughing uproariously, probably at me. I usually don’t care if people laugh at me. I do it all the time. But not that day. I got pissy.
“I’m not your uncle, you little shits,” I yelled down. “Where are your mothers?” They had no idea what I was on about, until I checked online and found that the Bengali word for mother is pronounced ma.
“Ma? Ma? Ma?” I yelled, pointing in all directions. “Ah, you still don’t know what the fuck I’m saying, you little shits. Where are your mothers? Never mind. I’ll tell you where they are. They’re up in the trees, making it with the monkeys. And your alleged fathers? They’re in the jungle, making it with your aunties.”
The boys pointed at me, laughing and laughing, as I made monkey sex pantomime, sweat flying off me.
Shortly thereafter, my man Bibek dropped by to show me a sketch he had done for a self portrait I’d asked him to paint.
“How long is it gonna be this hot,” I asked him.
Bibek thought for a second, smirked knowingly, and said. “Only until October.”
“Oc-fucking-tober? Five months? Fuck me dead. There’s no way I can do it.”
Looks like I’m drinking jungle rice beer for the rest of the year.
So, I jumped in the back seat of Bibek’s toto, and off we went to buy an a/c. I shelled out an extra 1500 rupees to have the thing installed, “right fucking now!”
As soon as it was installed, I stripped off my sweat saturated clothes, and dropped down onto my bed. Seventeen degrees in less than ten minutes.
Sleep. Glorious sleep.
A dream of a blizzard, right here in Santiniketan. The cricket kids firing snowballs up at me, while yelling, “Uncle! Uncle!” I not only had the Dien Bien Phu advantage of high ground, I also has a Dr. Seussian machine that sucked snowflakes straight out of the air, formed them into perfect balls, and dropped them straight into my hand.
I’m not coming out of this room until at least Halloween. And I’m starting a crowdfunding campaign to buy nine more air conditioners, so I can build a hockey rink in here in time for Christmas.
Next time I will tell you how Rabindranath Tagore is becoming less and less relevant in Santiniketan, the town he hoped would be a Garden of Eden