The key is the heat of the South during July, the drowsy, heavenly oppressiveness of it, and how well it lends itself to description. In The Feast of All Saints, I found it immeasurably pleasurable to describe characters napping in the dripping month, when it seemed, before air-conditioning, that it was almost impossible to do anything durng these languid days except for doze and plan for a stifling evening of slow talk and blunted ideas.
What changed so dramatically with the coming of "refrigerated air" was privacy. In the Julys of the '40s and '50s, doors and windows had only screens at night; neighbors sat on the porches of narrow houses, as many as twenty to a block. Poverty meant the sound of radios and televisions pouring into a cacophony on treeless New Orleans riverfront streets. The men drank beer outside on the corner.
The giant roach and humble ant ruled the world.
Al that changed with technology, blinds and doors shutting, curtains crisp and cean over white shades, each tiny house of the poorer neighborhoods a castle of privacy and quiet, even the traffic noise drowned out by the comforting drone of the "window unit" that drips incessantly into a patch of flowers below.
It was undoubtedly a revolution; yet so few people really talk about it. Maybe they don't remember what it was like when the heat gathered and lay down on you, when people fanned themselves with palmetto fans all during Mass, and the mosquitoes came in swarms sometimes from the swamp so that you had to run to escape them, banging shut the screen door behind you, and then hunting down the few intrepid invaders.
But it had its charms, that dusty, unsanitized world, more for the writer, perhaps, than for many. After all, how can one ever forget the smell of July rain hitting the dusty streets? Who would want to forget it? We're sealed too tight inside now. Sometimes even the thunder can't penetrate the walls. Blasphemy. But July is now as productive as any other month, except perhaps for the shirtless men digging up the streets or painting the clapboard houses in the early morning. No wonder they are gone by midday.
In my mind, the memory of the heat lingers forever, especially in recalling long leisurely walks up the avenue, and finally the "escape" into the brightly lighted "air-conditioned" drugstore where, dripping from the long walk, you could sit at the fountain on a stool and order a five-cent glass of soda, and wile away the time until the inevitable chill made the warm night outside welcome you again like two open and embracing arms.