At some point in the early years of the 21st century I learned a new French word (new to me, that is), canicule meaning heat wave.
Despite the persistent efforts of my high school Latin teacher, Mr. Bridge, to sour me permanently on the Latin language, I still vaguely remembered the Latin word canis, meaning dog, so I assumed the word canicule referred to the way dogs tend to lie around and pant during extremely hot weather.
But from a weather forecaster on French television I later learned a somewhat different version. He said the word canicule refers to a star, Sirius, which in Italian is also called Canicula, meaning petite chienne in French or “little bitch” (= a small female dog) in English.
This star Sirius or Canicula is the brightest star in the sky. It is part of the constellation Canis Major, or large dog. Because Sirius rises and sets with the Sun during the northern summer, roughly between July 22 and August 22, the term canicula came to be associated with these often-hot days.
The English expression ‘the dog days of summer’ has a similar origin, coming directly from the Latin diēs caniculārēs.
As in many other cities, the mayor’s office in Paris has started putting up electronic signboards to announce coming events and give good advice to the citizenry. This message from the summer of 2006 says:
“Heat over Paris. Aged or frail persons should prefer the shade and drink very often.”
Did I already qualify as being an aged person? (Of course I did, I just didn’t want to admit it.) Perhaps they had noticed me cycling around in the sun all day?
Well, I did drink a lot of water, in any case. And kept reapplying sun-blocker to avoid getting sunburnt.
On some of these hot days I made the mistake of wearing black trousers which quickly got bleached out in places by the bright sunlight.
I’m a sucker for a clever advertisement, and the one I liked best during the Paris heat wave of 2006 was this one for Perrier mineral water about how to mix a drink called L’Extincteur (The Extinguisher) with 1/3 Perrier and 2/3 Perrier. I even went so far as to order Perrier with my meals sometimes, which is unusual for me because I have great confidence in the quality of Parisian tap water and not so much confidence in the quality of water that has been stagnating in a bottle for months on end.
My photos in this post are from 2006. I revised the text in 2021.
My lead photo shows Rue Daguerre in the 14th arrondissement of Paris.