The first really, really hot Monday morning in June, 2001, I awoke in my apartment from one of those slumbers that seems like it's set to smother you. That summer I was subletting an apartment mostly furnished from a friend of a friend--living with a handful of my belongings in the middle of another person's life-- and while most of the time I was very comfortable there, some days I'd feel sharply aware of how out of place I was. Spat up from sleep, tangled in sweaty sheets and blankets on my thin, hard mattress on the warm hardwood floor of the apartment, I found myself facing one such morning. I kicked off the covers and felt no cooler than I'd been wrapped in fabric. Everything was hot.
I made a pot of stovetop espresso, drank it sitting on the shade-warm fire escape, then rode my bicycle down St Urbain to downtown, where I was working in a video store on Ste Catherine West. By the time I'd ridden ten minutes there, I was slathered in sweat that was soaking its way down from the collar of my shirt. It was overcast, but the sun raged behind the clouds like a blind pimple. I opened the door to the store, took my first sips of air-conditioned air and breathed deeply, feeling the air cool my mouth and nose and lungs.
Anthony was behind the counter, checking in returns and looking haggard. I asked how he was and he groaned that he was hungover. He'd chosen a poor day for that. We processed the returns, shelved them, and put the tags away, before I went across the street to fetch us coffee and croissants. Then we sat at down by the cash. It was 10:30 at the store was quiet; Anthony folded his arms on the counter and rested his head on them. I watched the steam wandering up out of my styrofoam coffee cup, the hot scene of Ste Catherine Street in the window behind me, and reflected that the steam was probably as hot as it was outside. People were moving past in various states of dress and comfortable undress, sweating and self-conscious with the heat. Inside the air was cool and still. I put my head down on the counter too. Nobody came in for a long time and Anthony and I just stayed the way we were, celebrating stillness, both so glad to have a reason to spend eight hours in air-conditioned comfort before having to slink home to stifling apartments.
Somewhere during that chronology, Anthony had put on this Ali Farka Touré album. The quieter we got, the less we moved, the more it insinuated its stillness upon us, gently nodding at us as we relaxed more, soothing us by putting into music the ease and calm we felt in that moment.
Ever since then, this album makes me still, calm, and cool. Tonight, sitting with the cat between the window breeze and the gently ticking ceiling fan, I can't think of a better sound for the end of a sunny Saturday in June.