Weather Wise

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The Independent Online
WHAT do people talk about when they live somewhere where there isn't any weather? Why, the weather, of course, though conversations can be a little slow in places not blessed by the short-term variability of the British climate.

When I lived in northern Greece, which has, for the most part, a predictable regime of short, chilly and sunny winters, and long, hot and sunny summers, I never ceased to be amazed at how many conversations hung on the rise or fall of a degree or two, or the brief spattering of rain breaking a month-long drought. Faced with their mostly idyllic climate, the Greeks substitute dates in the calendar - both liturgical and temporal - for real meteorological change.

Thus, 30 April is deemed "the winter", even though it may be 35C. Everyone keeps their coats on and sweats, and the beaches are deserted save for north- European tourists. But 1 May, well now, that is "the summer". Coats come off, barbecue kits are dusted off and everyone dives into the sea. I remember watching Greek families braving the unseasonable gales and rain on the beach in an effort to persuade themselves that summer had arrived. Something similar, in reverse, happens on 15 August - the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary - when the summer is deemed to be over and the beaches are once again emptied, despite the fact that the best weather is often still to come.

In equatorial countries, which can have the most predictably boring weather, people still look to the skies to open a conversation. In French Guiana a couple of months ago, a bartender, gazing at the palm trees swaying on a sunny beach, commented on the "cold weather'' we were having. It was as hot as I ever want to be, and it turns out that the contrasting "warm'' weather typical in June is just one or two degrees higher.