Sweet, sweaty summers in the city

I've always liked cities in mid-summer. They have a sweet, slow gritty melancholy. The vegetation, turning grayish green, wilts in the heat, but it's a good and pleasant time for rumination. I have considerable nostalgia for  walking slowly around Boston at lunch breaks in summer jobs and then as a reporter for the Boston Herald Traveler (RIP). My boss, the city editor, was more relaxed about deadline assignments in July and August and I could wander around and look for feature stories every few days.

The sulphur smell of the  then highly toxic Fort Point Channel in those pre-EPA days remains to this day a powerful memory, as  the smell of diesel reminds me of Paris.

Even stronger are my memories of strolling down to Battery Park at the tip of Lower Manhattan on Sundays in August as an editor for The Wall Street Journal (we worked Sundays-Thursdays; there was no weekend edition then) to get a hot dog and feel the humid, polluted southwest breeze coming up over New York Harbor. Or walking down Riverside Park between 88th Street, where I lived for a while, and Columbia.

Then there were the slow, sweaty strolls around mid-summer Washington, interrupted by a little work  in the National Press Building and trips to the restaurant-cafe on top of the  Hotel Washingtonian, where the capacious beverages served made one forget the Congo-like heat.

Later there was the openness of Paris in August, when so many residents went off  on vacation,  emptying the parks away from the main tourist strips.  We lived in an middle-class neighborhood (in the 15th Arrondissement). A lot of local stores closed for much of August as residents were in Normandy, Brittany or on the Riviera, but most of the street markets were open and everyone  was quite laid back.

And the densely treed East Side of Providence has its mid-summer charms too -- quiet and parklike. But the college kids come back to  school much earlier than when I was in college. So the summer now effectively ends about Aug. 20 in our neighborhood -- not the week of Labor Day.

--- Robert Whitcomb