Why people in Seville walk in zigzags

thermometre marks 38 degrees celcius
This photo was taken last Saturday at 9 pm. It didn’t cool down much more after that.

I’m walking alone. There’s hardly anyone about. The streets are calm and quiet, almost ghostly. It would seem no one wants to leave the house today, but then again, no one in their right mind would in this heat. Unless, of course, they had to.

I cross the road, then a few meters later I cross back to the other side. A little bit further along the street I head over to the other pavement again. Shortly after, I cross once more back to the side where I first started off. You might think me a bit crazy, but there’s reason to my madness.

I stop in the shade of a tree to wait for the light to go green. It’s not long before the little man changes and I begin to head across the striped lines to the other side.

As I walk, a motorbike pulls up to the traffic light. The rider takes advantage of the pause, hops off his bike and pulls his head from under his helmet. Placing his protective gear on the seat he then gets out a bottle of water and empties its contents over his head. Refreshed, he puts his helmet back on and jumps on his ride again as the lights change and the traffic starts moving.

I’d known today would be hot, ever since the thermostat had marked 26ºC at 8am. The same thermostat confirms it with its screaming display of 46ºC as I pass it again on my way home.

Now, feeling like I’m going to melt any minute, I hug the walls, pressing myself against them as I try to step in any available shade. There isn’t much, really. At this time of day, when the sun is right above our heads, shadows are as short as can be.

The odd car glides by now and then, engine working overtime to keep itself cool. I don’t have far to walk, but right now I wouldn’t mind an air-conditioned vehicle.

Criss-crossing back and forth I head up the road in the general direction of my house. My head is radiating heat, as are the walls, the buildings, the ground…everything! I wonder if I might not spontaneously combust any second.

I turn another corner, zig-zagging from left to right up the street, trying to stay out of the sun. A bit of shade here, a small shadow there.

I walk past a window and get blasted by the hot air from the back end of an air-conditioning unit; a few more meters away, I step sideways to avoid the rapidly forming puddle from another dripping aircon tube. Somehow, despite my best efforts, I still get splashed with a few lukewarm drops. I brush the water from my arm and continue on my way, wondering at the fact that the walk home seems to be stretching on for miles.

The air is hot and thick, engulfing me in its sticky embrace, making it hard even to breathe. My skin feels like it’s burning, a short gust of warm wind brushing against it reminds me of something my parents used to say: “It’s like being in an oven with the hair-dryer on”. I want to be home now or, quite simply, to just get out of the sun.

I step into the supermarket briefly, the aircon providing instant relief. I grab a basket and head to the far aisle in search of merienda (afternoon snack) of some sort.

I stop in my tracks by the biscuits, not because I’m about to pick a pack but because there is a stream of cold air jetting out from just above them. I stand there a moment, pretending to be very interested in a pack of yogurts in the refrigerator to my right while enjoying the change in temperature.

Standing there, I can almost feel my body drop a few degrees and my skin seems to stop glowing for a second. A few minutes later I grab a couple of things and head to the checkout. Unfortunately, I don’t think they would let me sleep a siesta in the biscuit aisle…

The automatic door opens and the heat hits me like a slap in the face. I hurry home before the ice-cream I just bought melts. Though my house is right around the corner, I wonder if it will make it to my freezer or if I’ll be left with a gooey liquid mess.

I’m almost there, now. Yet, I can’t help but sigh. My aircon has been colonised by a nest of swifts (which happen to be a protected species) and I’m not allowed to turn it on for a few more days, without risking a major fine. I was told they should leave when the heat arrives; the heat is here, but so are the birds for the time being.

So, for now,  I make do with lowered blinds, cold showers and a fan, plus as much cold water and ice as my fridge can take. It’s much cooler inside the house. Once the ice-cream is put away, I’ll head to the shower and then collapse in front of the fan for the rest of the afternoon.

The sun in Seville is fierce and the locals know it’s best to hide from it during the day. If that means crossing the road twenty times on the way home, it will be worth every extra step.

People in Seville walk in zigzags to make the most of what little shade is available in the afternoon heat. If you’re smart, you do the same. If you’re smarter, you stay inside.

Have you ever experienced Seville heat? Tell me about it in the comments.

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