Neri Livneh's Summertime Blues

According to research that I just made up, the heat makes you dumber. It definitely does nothing for your mood.

Whenever people from abroad ask what I learned during my military service − if I learned how to fire an Uzi or maybe do Krav Maga − I evade the question. Well, it’s a little embarrassing to say the main thing I learned was how to make Turkish coffee with half a Sweet’N Low for my commander, in keeping with the illustrious Israel Defense Forces combat tradition.

To my great consternation, he would sip no more than a quarter of the contents of each of the 30 or so cups I prepared for him on a quiet day, and the rest of the time just enjoyed clasping the cup in his roughened hands until the liquid inside cooled off and he would ask for a fresh cup.

My confusion about this peculiar habit cleared up when I read that, according to a certain study, “Holding a hot drink has been shown to boost a person’s mood.” This study was obviously conducted in a cold country, and not in Tel Aviv in July − unless it was conducted in an intensely air-conditioned office like my commander’s, or in one of the TV studios preferred by male presenters, which are kept at a bracing 16 degrees Celsius, if you’re lucky.

Like the other studies to be cited below, I came upon this one as a result of the comprehensive study to which I, like many residents of the coastal plain, have been devoting my body without having volunteered for it. By this I mean the study of the connection between the level of humidity and my desire to kill myself, or someone else, whenever I have to pass through some non-air-conditioned space. On my way to the grocery store, for instance, or when I have to take my dog, Shoshana, out to the nearby park because she just absolutely refuses to do her business in an air-conditioned space.

Up to now I’ve only heard about the connection between depression and winter, and about all kinds of studies proving that the suicide rate in Scandinavian countries is the highest in the world − even though there is no need there for any social protest, and people don’t go around setting themselves on fire because the Housing and Construction Ministry can’t provide them with residential solutions.

However, according to one study, it appears that most Scandinavians who commit suicide actually do the deed in summer, because the endless days drive them out of their mind. Another study, conducted in Britain, supposedly proved the connection between an increase in the outside temperature and the desire to commit suicide. According to the study conducted in that dreary climate, each degree above 18 Celsius (i.e., an ordinary fall day in Tel Aviv) raises the frequency of suicide by 4 percent. In other words, on a 38 degree day like we experienced this week almost everywhere in the country, 80 percent (!) more people would commit suicide than on an average winter’s day.

Of course, this study totally contradicts another one, which proves that high temperatures actually encourage intimacy. The latter finding, though, is contradicted by even more recent studies about summer depression related not only to the rise in temperatures but to body image −to the need to expose more of your body, to the inescapable perspiration, and similar issues that cause people like myself to lose all their self-respect and self-love and be really irritated by anyone who wants to touch them. And then to ask themselves why the hell they ever left Jerusalem, where sweat is as rare as a cool, refreshing breeze in Tel Aviv.

Even though men are the ones who tend to keep rooms freezing cold, it is women whose bodies heat up more, according to another study. This raises the odds of women getting depressed in the summer, especially if they’re unwilling to strut down the streets of Tel Aviv like all the aging French female tourists −in a brassiere and miniskirt −because the summer does nothing to diminish their capacity for self-criticism.

I have no doubt, even though no study has yet been done on the subject, that the heat makes you dumber. It’s a fact that most of the dumber studies are published in the summer. Fact number two: I greatly enjoyed “To Rome with Love,”the new and roundly panned Woody Allen movie, even if somewhere in my heat-addled brain an awareness dawned that this was a film with a totally implausible script, held together by wispy plot strands, recycled jokes and scenes that appeared to have been shot by the Italian tourist board.

It’s quite possible that, like the film critic for whom I have great respect, I, too, would be tearing Allen apart had I seen the movie in the winter or fall. But in the Tel Aviv summer? When inside the movie house it’s nice and cool, and the background music includes tunes like “Volare”and “Arrivederci, Roma”(okay, I’ll admit that Allen’s musical choices showed no imagination). And Alec Baldwin is doing a fantastic job playing a fantastically lousy part. And Penelope Cruz is as gorgeous as ever. And not a drop of sweat is ever seen on the foreheads of any of the actors. And you suddenly get a close-up view of the Trevi Fountain as if this was Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita”and you don’t have to gaze upon it amid a crush of hundreds of tourists, as is usually the case. What more could anyone ask for?

“Talk about it,”a psychiatrist advises in one Web article about summertime depression. Well, as a personal public service, I hereby make the opposite recommendation: Don’t talk about it. For one thing, we can already tell you’re hot when you walk into the cafe or the office or the house, or any other air-conditioned place, with your hair stuck to your forehead and that look on your face as if you’ve just witnessed some unfathomable horrors from outer space. And second, this kind of talk doesn’t get us anywhere and has absolutely no effect on the humidity level.

Enough talk, it’s time for action! Instead of depression −aggression! Let’s all go out to demonstrate. Even if it won’t bring down the humidity level, maybe it will at least help to do something about the cost of living and the electricity bill, which really make me want to kill myself.