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Silver Threads: Dog days

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

Have I ever told you that I once interviewed Dr. Zhivago? He and fellow reporters Melinda Gassaway and Rosemary James and I played bridge at the Roosevelt Hotel … I don’t play bridge; it was a set-up for a photo op at a tournament for which the actor was in town.

I got to thinking about that the other day as Omar Sharif and Julie Christie rode in a sleigh across gleaming snow, laughing faces pink in the cold wind, furs wrapped tightly around them. Then our doorbell rang. I paused the movie and opened the house to encroaching fingers from a monster-wall of heat; the UPS man was sweating on our sun-splashed front steps.

We’re in the dog days.

I used to hear my mother complain about them and supposed she meant that temps were so high that even canines didn’t venture out of the shade or far from cool, muddy puddles left by summer showers. Somewhere along the way, I learned that ancient Greeks and Romans once referred to the hot weather of what’s now July and August as “dog days” because of the seasonal rising of Sirius, the Dog Star, at just about the same time as the sun.

Dog days were believed to be an evil time, when the sea boiled; wine turned sour; dogs ran mad; and all creatures, including man, became languid.

Languid. Tell that to the folks who’ll be at the Satchmo Summerfest this week, with White Linen Night, Dirty Linen Night, and the Red Dress Run soon to follow. I don’t think Orleanians ever sweat at festivals; I don’t know about the visitors, never having invited anyone to stay at our house after the first weekend of Jazz Fest. Between that date and sometime in October it's simply too hot for me to show them around.

Meanwhile, I have some suggestions for staying cool -- or at least maintaining a cool outlook -- during the dog days:

  • Stream movies like Doctor Zhivago through your television set. And remember Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney in the snow? You can also get that flick if you're better than I am at calling up old titles.
  • Check out The Abominable, by Dan Simmons, one of the coldest books I’ve ever read. You spend days, weeks, shivering on the slopes of Everest, sherpas bringing up your gear, planting pitons into the rock, battling frostbite, watching frigid winds blow your tent into the abyss. Seriously, it’s a terrific read.
  • Bring some icy blasts into whatever gadget you listen to music on. Anyone remember “Sleighbells ring/are you listening?/In the lane/snow is glistening …” It’s “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” but memory fails (again) to give you any more of the words.

I remember when a visiting reporter once critiqued the gait of Orleanians in the CBD. “People here just amble,” he wrote. I think he was in town to cover a Super Bowl.

He should check out our pace during the dog days.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]