On Heat Wave, Headaches, and Bilingualism

A heat wave is crushing Central California with record-breaking temperatures. Yesterday afternoon as I drove down to the store to get ice cream, my car thermometer read 106 degrees Fahrenheit – slightly above 41 degrees Celsius – so my friend and I decided to meet at 7:00 a.m. for our weekly Sunday walk instead of our regular lazy 8:00 a.m.

The sun was already a solid disk burning in the east when we started the slow ascent of our favorite neighboring mount, and I lowered my baseball hat to shield my face.

Bunnies, birds, squirrels, and deer were busy searching for water, and I made a mental note to refresh my birdfeeders. I polished my mug of tea and kept my water bottle handy.

This weekly walk with my friend is a pause in our busy lives. We fill it with news about our families, common friends, school, and just plain neighborhood gossip. Today as we treaded our way up to the summit of our little mountain, we were quiet, focused on our breathing and the surrounding nature, outstandingly beautiful despite the heat.

Two hours later as I drove home thinking of the hike, words associated to my reflection rushed to my mind in a mixed of French and English. I had no explanation to this strange phenomenon, which I attributed to the combination of heat and effort. A light headache started to pound my head and I wondered about what was happening to me.

I remembered then of a book of poems another friend gave me a few years ago. She thought that Philip Levine’s work would appeal to me because his parents’ immigrant roots play a role in his writing and also because he taught for many years at the California State University in Fresno, the major town south of my home, where I regularly attend events and conferences. He is still the final judge for the yearly Philip Levine Prize in Poetry. I searched for the book, which I found on one of my crowded shelves. I haven’t read every poem, but for an obvious reason my mind had registered the following lines:

“The young man who brought them

together knows both Spanish and English,

but he has a headache from jumping

back and forth from one language

to another.”

On the Meeting of Garcia Lorca and Hart Crane from The Simple Truth: Poems by Philip Levine.

I do remember of the tiredness linked to my learning of English and of those annoying headaches in my early days in this country. They happened after a long day spent with English speakers – I never had headaches when I lived in France and only spoke French. When I became proficient, then fluent in English and stopped mixing the two languages, they vanished and never reappeared.

Look like my thoughts suffered from a minor heatstroke this morning.

Fortunately colder weather is forecasted.

Meanwhile this book of poems is a perfect companion for a day spent inside, under a fan, sipping iced tea.


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