Tuesday, June 28, 2005


When I started out as an under-paid reporter at the New Brunswick Home News (now the Home News Tribune, owned by the Gannett chain), there was one story assignment the entire newsroom despised: the weather story. We reporters never understood the logic of writing an article about today's weather for people to read tomorrow. Surely, our readers could care less about how much snow accumulated, whether the temperature broke 90 degrees, or whether this is the most rain to fall in April. And yet, the editors would insist this was not only newsworthy, it was front-page worthy. And they were right. It turns out, people want two things from their local newspaper: local property values and weather stories. (Actually, three things, if you count cute stories about animals. Better yet, the traffic stopping for baby ducks photo. Baby ducks sells newspapers!, I remember my first editor announcing to nobody in particular.)

But sometimes the weather is undisputedly the top story of the day. Like today, for instance. Italy has been baking hot the past two weeks. Every day in Rome is a new high. Today, it is expected to hit the high 30s, which is the low triple digits in F. Rome, thankfully, has a dry climate and the hills afford a little breeze. So if you can find shade, you're OK. Good luck with the shade though. I haven't seen a cloud all month around here. And so, the sun just cooks the earth with an unrelenting force.

But, this is to be expected. Right? Summer comes around every year. No surprise there. Still, the Italian Health Ministry is warning that 1 million Italians are at risk of heat stroke and death. (These would be the elderly, and particularly those living in the Northern Po Valley region, which is a cursedly humid place this time of year.) There is reason for alarm. Apparently 7 people have already died during the heat wave. And, since we're on the case of heat-related fatalities, the govt has issued on Monday a revised tally (it's now 20,000) for those who died in the summer of 2003, supposedly the hottest summer Europe has experienced in 500 years. Apparently, the summer of 1503 was a hot one, so we can take comfort in the realisation that this is not the hottest summer ever. Still, the Ministry is taking no chances. They are reminding us, and particularly the oldtimers, to drink plenty of fluids, keep physical exertion to a minimum and stay indoors.

Forgive me though if I'm a bit suspicious. You see, Europe has an economic liability on its hands.I hate to say it, but this liability is the pensioner. Pensioners collect money, but put very little back into the local economy. Thus, a heat wave that ticks off tens of thousands of pensioners would be a small economic boost for recession-torn Italy, not to mention France and Germany and... So, I'm a bit mistrustful of this government health warning. How do we know they are providing us with the most sound advice? How do we know they are not trying to deliberately knock off our elderly neighbours? Nah, forget it. Must be the heat getting to me.

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