The luxury of summer afternoons
Summer afternoon, the two most beautiful words in the English language, said Henry James—and I agree, but maybe because if I were a morning person, I would spend the early hours getting productive, knowing I would spend the evening getting creative, and the afternoon…
…ah, I’d sit on the windowsill and watch the long hours go by, relishing every whisper of wind, allowing sunshine to give clarity to my thoughts or fire up my daydreams. Either that or I’d give way to the heaviness on my eyelids, surrender to gravity, and fall asleep cradled in a hammock or sprawled on a beach towel or prostrate on the grass.
I don’t know who he is, but Harmon Okinyo is right when he says that in today’s life, “luxury is time and space,” and there is no better way to indulge in this luxury than to spend it in a summer afternoon, preferably outdoors, on the poolside with a book on my lap, on the branch of an old mango tree, in the water waiting for sunset, wading in the shallows, your toes buried in the sandy sea bed or, if the outdoors is out of reach, stretched out on the windowsill, lost in reverie.
Luxury is a state of great comfort and extravagant living, but when life gets faster and more complicated by the minute, a simple life is the lap of luxury, a bed of roses, the land of milk and honey. To me, in my memories, it would be summer afternoons in an open field, steering away from the sharp blades of talahib, crouching down to play with the makahiya that would shrink away from my touch, chasing butterflies and dragonflies, watching lady bugs perch on my thumb, and tying beetles to a string. I had no idea I was driving them away, that within my lifetime, they would be such luxuries I would never have again, at least not in my city.
Now, my summer afternoons are no longer free, no longer the two-month stretch of interminable time I used to enjoy on my salad days as a student-on-vacation dreaming up a busy, happening future.
And summer comes to me in the hours I steal from my life when I relive it in the way sun effects like sun flares mimic summer days in movies like Call Me By Your Name, Luca Guadagnino’s boy-meets-boy tale of an elegant summer in a northern Italy orchard. Many a coming-of-age films are set in the summer, so are many films that deal with the fall from innocence, such as that of Cherie Gil’s character hiding with her family in the woods from the Japanese during World War II in my favorite Filipino movie of all time, Oro, Plata, Mata. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if it was set in the summer, but killing time over a game of mahjong did feel like summer, as did the characters of Liza Lorena, Fidel Asencio-Cuyugan, Lorli Villanueva, and the then Maya Valdez (changed to Mitch Valdez later) playing it in the sweltering afternoons of what looked like a rainforest. Other than through mahjong, the characters in this movie also whiled away long hours in a mountain stream or in the shade of the thick forest canopy.
Don’t remember summer even saying goodbye.—David Mitchell
Ah, summer! Think long conversations between the lovers Hilda Koronel and Christopher de leon played in the movie Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising, in which scene after scene they walked forever and talked forever on the hilly terrain of Baguio City back when the summer capital of the Philippines smelled perennially of pine and the landscape was undulating greenery. This movie was from 1977, yet it seems no different in terms of style—the art of conversation, long city walks—from the 1995 Hollywood hit Before Sunrise I sometimes catch myself thinking that the Tagalog romantic drama may have predated the Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy-starrer, except that the former was set among the pines while the latter romance unfolded on the train from Budapest to Vienna, where they roamed the streets before she caught her train to Paris while he flew back to the US, vowing never to get in touch with each other until they saw each other again, as promised, six months later.
Ah.. summer used to be the time for old movies, like The Swimmer (1968), filmmaker Frank Perry’s sunkissed adaptation of John Cheever’s short story of the same title, set in the backyard pools of suburban Connecticut, and Ingmar Bergman’s Summer with Monika (1953), a controversial take on the nudity and sensuality involved in the love affair between two working-class kids who found each other in the idylls of a Stockholm summer. There was also Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá Tambien, a road trip through rural Mexico to self-discovery for two teenaged boys and an older, more worldly woman.
Yet even here, where I am surrounded by Manila Bay, in which I cannot swim, a summer day is rife with triggers. No need for reruns of David Lean’s Summertime (1955) or Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) or Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) to be reminded of summer’s long-lost languor. Here, I smell it in the air, in the salty scent of my beachtime memories, in which, I find myself swathed. These memories cling to me like hot air on my skin, released from me like beads of sweat on a sweltering day.
Ah, the luxury of a summer afternoon.