Lost In – city guides curated by locals, plus Sweltering Cities, an enlightening read on heatwaves

These look great. For ‘off the beaten track’ travellers.


Heatwaves are our future. From today’s The Guardian, click on link below. But first, a reader’s comment from the article:

A couple of weeks ago I was stuck in a metro in Paris for over an hour, when it broke down because of an electrical fault. The temperature outside was 38 degrees C, inside it was more like 50. Five people were taken to hospital. I was lucky, I had a seat and some water, but I felt shaky for hours afterwards. I simply can’t imagine what it must be like in some of the places described above. This problem needs to be taken seriously.

As I mentioned in a previous post, there is no A/C on the Paris metro (and in a lot of other public places.) The above incident was not mentioned in the press, the French media suppressed it. You would think that Paris – top tourist destination of the world – would get with the program and install air-conditioning. As official host for the 2024 Summer Olympics, they’ll have to.


Here’s a photo I took on the metro during the recent heatwave.


from Syria to Winnipeg, Manitoba

An 11-year old boy loses his mother and siblings (and nearly his leg.) He and his father start a new life in Winnipeg. A heart-wrenching story.

“Do you have brothers or sisters, and if so, how many?” the teacher asks the class in a Winnipeg school. What is the poor boy supposed to answer? “I did have brothers and sisters … but they’re all dead. My mother too.”



Every summer I go to London, but not this year. In June I traded London for Lisbon. Next week I’m going to Antwerp and Brussels. Here’s a compilation of a marvellous trip I made to that great city (London) a few years ago (link below.)

Feel free to click on different city destinations at the top of my home page to see more of London and other destinations.


paralyzed by a heatwave

First off, you should know that Europe is insufficiently air-conditioned. Here in France there are no air-conditioned buses, subways or homes. (Only 4% of French homes have air-conditioning compared to 90% in the States.) Some places are gloriously cool thanks to A/C, other places (like my local supermarket) are not. I thank my lucky stars that the office tower in which I spend 40 hours a week is deliciously air-conditioned.

At home I have two fans (one obtained by nearly getting into a fist-fight with a woman during a previous heatwave because it was the last one on the shelf.) Throughout the country there was, literally, a rupture de stock of electric fans. In southern Portugal, where I was two months ago, temperatures are currently running at 45°C (113°F). Here in Paris it’s a stifling 36°C (96.8°F). We all know the drill: before leaving your apartment in the morning, close the windows and lower the shutters in each room. Drink lots and lots of water, even if you’re not thirsty. Avoid alcohol, meat, fried foods and greasy stuff. Eat lots of cold salads, protein and fruit. Splash water on your face and body several times a day. Avoid exercising and physical effort. Wear light, ample cotton clothing. Think of elderly neighbors who might be living alone and check up on them.

These are instructions we receive daily from the government who issue regular TV and radio “heatwave alerts.” My personal practice during the summer is to put clean, crisp, white Percale sheets and pillowcases on my bed. I keep the shutters lowered all day long, and I fill a large glass jug with water, cut-up lemons, limes and fresh ginger root, and keep it in the fridge. I also make my own lemonade.

Other than that, and because I’ve had no internet connection for the last three days, I’ve been sitting in a heat-stupor in front of the two fans watching old DVDs of Homeland.

There’s a reason why the French government today issues heatwave bulletins: because of August 2003, the worst and deadliest heatwave on record, and I lived through it.

The European heat wave of 2003 resulted in 70,000 deaths (more than 15,000 in France alone). Nightly temperatures were higher than the average summer midday highs. The heat was particularly severe in France where the temperature remained around 99°F (37 °C) for more than a week in August in some areas. The intensity of the heat, as well as its duration, wrought havoc on the unprepared European population. The elderly were particularly susceptible to the heat, as were those who were chronically ill or isolated from sources of aid. The disaster was one of the deadliest in Europe in a century.

All the candles in my apartment melted. At night I would lie, naked, on the floor covered with a wet towel. I was working two jobs at the time: a day job in a non-air conditioned law firm (due to the heat, the elevator broke down and we had to climb six flights of stairs), and an evening job in another law firm (thankfully with A/C.) From the day job I had to run to the Champs-Elysées – gasping in the heat – to catch the number 73 bus that took me to my evening job. It wasn’t easy.

Because it was August, the entire government was on vacation. President Chirac, holidaying in Quebec, refused to give up his vacation and return home. It was a disaster all round, a national disgrace really, and those who lived through it won’t forget. Unfortunately 15,000 people, mostly abandoned senior citizens, died.


I met you in the rain …

A few years ago I stumbled across this text (essay? open letter?) on the internet. I don’t know who wrote it, or to whom it was written. All I know is that the writing is beautiful, and it moved me. There’s so much information surreptitiously slipped into the sentences … it’s like a full meal.

I met you in the rain on the last day of 1972, the same day I resolved to kill myself. One week prior, at the behest of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, I’d flown four B-52 sorties over Hanoi. I dropped forty-eight bombs. How many homes I destroyed, how many lives I ended, I’ll never know.  But in the eyes of my superiors, I had served my country honorably, and I was thusly discharged with such distinction.

And so on the morning of that New Year’s Eve, I found myself in a barren studio apartment on Beacon and Hereford with a fifth of Tennessee rye and the pang of shame permeating the recesses of my soul. When the bottle was empty, I made for the door and vowed, upon returning, that I would retrieve the Smith & Wesson Model 15 from the closet and give myself the discharge I deserved.

I walked for hours. I looped around the Fenway before snaking back past Symphony Hall and up to Trinity Church.  Then I roamed through the Common, scaled the hill with its golden dome, and meandered into that charming labyrinth divided by Hanover Street. By the time I reached the waterfront, a charcoal sky had opened and a drizzle became a shower. That shower soon gave way to a deluge. While the other pedestrians darted for awnings and lobbies, I trudged into the rain. I suppose I thought, or rather hoped, that it might wash away the patina of guilt that had coagulated around my heart. It didn’t, of course, so I started back to the apartment.

And then I saw you.

You’d taken shelter under the balcony of the Old State House. You were wearing a teal ball gown, which appeared to me both regal and ridiculous. Your brown hair was matted to the right side of your face, and a galaxy of freckles dusted your shoulders. I’d never seen anything so beautiful.

When I joined you under the balcony, you looked at me with your big green eyes, and I could tell that you’d been crying. I asked if you were okay. You said you’d been better. I asked if you’d like to have a cup of coffee. You said only if I would join you. Before I could smile, you snatched my hand and led me on a dash through Downtown Crossing and into Neisner’s.

We sat at the counter of that five and dime and talked like old friends. We laughed as easily as we lamented, and you confessed over pecan pie that you were engaged to a man you didn’t love, a banker from some line of Boston nobility. A Cabot, or maybe a Chaffee. Either way, his parents were hosting a soirée to ring in the New Year, hence the dress.

For my part, I shared more of myself than I could have imagined possible at that time. I didn’t mention Vietnam, but I got the sense that you could see there was a war waging inside me. Still, your eyes offered no pity, and I loved you for it.

After an hour or so, I excused myself to use the restroom. I remember consulting my reflection in the mirror. Wondering if I should kiss you, if I should tell you what I’d done from the cockpit of that bomber a week before, if I should return to the Smith & Wesson that waited for me. I decided, ultimately, that I was unworthy of the resuscitation this stranger in the teal ball gown had given me, and to turn my back on such sweet serendipity would be the real disgrace.

On the way back to the counter, my heart thumped in my chest like an angry judge’s gavel, and a future — our future —flickered in my mind. But when I reached the stools, you were gone. No phone number. No note. Nothing.

As strangely as our union had begun, so too had it ended. I was devastated. I went back to Neisner’s every day for a year, but I never saw you again. Ironically, the torture of your abandonment seemed to swallow my self-loathing, and the prospect of suicide was suddenly less appealing than the prospect of discovering what had happened in that restaurant. The truth is I never really stopped wondering.

I’m an old man now, and only recently did I recount this story to someone for the first time, a friend from the VFW. He suggested I look for you on Facebook. I told him I didn’t know anything about Facebook, and all I knew about you was your first name and that you had lived in Boston once. And even if by some miracle I happened upon your profile, I’m not sure I would recognize you. Time is cruel that way.

This same friend has a particularly sentimental daughter. She’s the one who led me here to Craigslist and these Missed Connections. But as I cast this virtual coin into the wishing well of the cosmos, it occurs to me, after a million what-ifs and a lifetime of lost sleep, that our connection wasn’t missed at all.

You see, in these intervening forty-two years I’ve lived a good life. I’ve loved a good woman. I’ve raised a good man. I’ve seen the world. And I’ve forgiven myself. And you were the source of all of it. You breathed your spirit into my lungs one rainy afternoon, and you can’t possibly imagine my gratitude.

I have hard days, too. My wife passed four years ago. My son, the year after. I cry a lot. Sometimes from the loneliness, sometimes I don’t know why. Sometimes I can still smell the smoke over Hanoi. And then, a few dozen times a year, I’ll receive a gift. The sky will glower, and the clouds will hide the sun, and the rain will begin to fall. And I’ll remember.

So wherever you’ve been, wherever you are, and wherever you’re going, know this: you’re with me still.