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Different Parallels

Updated: Nov 5, 2022

By Renata

I was born and raised a few kilometers south of the Tropic of Cancer—technically, therefore, in the tropics. But the tropicality was mitigated by the fact that the city where I grew up, São Paulo, sits about 700m (that’s about 2,200 feet in the measuring system in use here in the US) up on the Central Plateau, as about half of the Brazilian territory is known. It does not get quite as hot as and somewhat colder than what one might imagine is the case in The Tropics. The characteristic weather used to be drizzle, although I’m told it’s not quite as common now, called “garoa,” celebrated in stories and in song. There is no snow, even though sometimes there is frost—not a very big deal in the city, but disastrous to the coffee plantations further inland in the state of São Paulo.

Our family would spend vacations in the mountains where it really (ok, not really by Michigan standards) did get cold in the winter, especially at night. There was, of course no central heating in our house, so we would sit around the fireplace in the evenings and around the fireplace we would line up a little wall of bricks. The bricks would get nice and hot, and at bedtime we would wrap them in flannel and put them in our beds to warm them—placing them first about chest high; after we got into bed, we would slide them down to our feet. It was really cozy.

In the summer, the city could get quite hot and muggy, but around mid-afternoon the heat seemed to hit its peak, clouds gathered, and a storm broke, dramatically, with thunder and lightning, and lots of rain, breaking the heat, and a pleasant relief set in. I heard that in the past—that is, given my age now, I should probably say “in the remote past”—one could almost set one’s watch by the moment the storm broke. According to my friends’ accounts, this kind of regularity and predictability is a thing of the past.

I also, of course, grew up under the wonderful tropical sun. A family doctor when I was very young worried a lot about my getting the rickets and instituted some preventive treatments. She was a German refugee, from a Northern German city, and had not quite made the mental and therapeutic transition from narrow, shadowed streets and cloudy weather to the location of her practice, full of sun. On the other hand, I am (ok, was) a redhead, with very light skin and scattered melanin that manifested itself in the form of freckles and did not give me full protection against excessive exposure to the health-giving tropical sun. After a number of very painful sunburns (and at that time sunscreens were not all that effective—I think of them now as oils that served to fry me), I learned to enjoy the beach wearing a light, but long-sleeved shirt and a wide-brimmed hat, which is not what one usually expects to see on one of those wonderful, sunny, Brazilian beaches. Ah, yes, wonderful tropical sun…

When I first came to the US it was the fall, and a very pleasant time as far as the weather went; it was getting cool, but perfectly enjoyable with its warm sunny days and cozy evenings. (Perhaps I ought to remind readers in the Northern Hemisphere that where I grew up “winter” means June and July; “summer” means December to February or so—roughly Christmas to Carnival, which happens sometime in late February or early March.) Then, back in the Northern Hemisphere, it got quite cold, and I had to buy a proper coat and proper shoes—boots, that is. I learned, in a painful way, to wear those boots when I went on a date in winter, never mind what was elegant or matched my outfit, when one evening my feet almost froze and I had to take refuge to thaw them out in a different dorm on the way to my own. And then it snowed! That was very exciting and I tried to make snowballs and watch my footprints following me as I walked, and taste a snowflake if I could catch it. A friend was very amused by my enthusiasm and remarked that my excitement reminded him of his dog’s at first snow.

Eventually, I came to live in the States, in Michigan, and got used to the local seasons—though I am still indignant when it is very hot and muggy, there is a proper storm, and then it is very hot and muggy all over again. And I got used to having Christmas in winter and Easter in spring, and summer in the middle of the year, and to the oddity that in both hemispheres, the school year would start at the end of the summer/beginning of fall, that is, at the beginning of the calendar year in Brazil but in the middle of the calendar year in the USA.

I also got used to having snow at the appropriate time of the year, and I even learned, sort of, how to ski, though it took me a while to figure out how to get down from the chair lift (I think at the resort where we went more than once, the attendants learned to slow the machine down when they saw me coming, which was nice of them). And generally, as I stood at the top of the slope, looking down, I asked myself what a tropical creature like me was doing there, and whether I could just stay there till spring and get down the rational way.

Snow, sun, rain, storms, heat, cold—they are unevenly distributed around the world, and people learn to live with that, and enjoy them for light, rest, beauty, warmth, relief, excitement. I am glad I have lived where the elements are not really extreme.

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