Saturdays were spent at the public swimming pool, whiling away the sweltering, muggy, lazy Florida summers. A gaggle of ten-year-old girls, we would ride our bikes to the trio of pools behind the high school (used during the school year for the swim team, on weekends and all summer long for those who desperately needed respite from the torrid heat), lean the bikes against the chain link fences that circled the pools like a Wild West corral, mosey in and spread our towels out as elegantly as ten-year-old girls could on the hard, scorching cement.
I carried with me a little black leather coin purse embossed with Mexican designs, a gift my mother had brought for me from one of her many vacation cruises, in which I carried a tiny photo of my latest crush, a photo carefully snipped from the sheet of class portraits (the same frozen stare in kodachrome that I received from his living glance), along with several coins with which to buy something icy cold from the concession stand. When the heat became too much, the sun at its peak in the cloudy blue sky, when the sweat trickled down our necks, backs and legs in rivulets even as we swept out of the cool water, sweat mingling with pool water, we would hop over (foot to foot, hopping to keep feet from burning the cement) to choose our ice cream.
But I never chose ice cream. Ice cream was for winter. In the heat of the summer, one needed ice. Sorbets, slushies, slurpees, sno cones, popsicles, Italian ices, frozen treats to put out the flames with ice. I would invariably ask for a Snowball. Sweet cold cherry ice in a cone-shaped plastic container, the frozen perfection would be pushed up and out for the eating with a squeeze of the plastic cone. Front teeth scraping across the frozen surface, scritch scritch scritch, I would be shivering well before I reached the last of the cherry-flavored ice now a puddle of sugary, sticky syrup to be slurped from the bottom of the cup, head tipped back, eyes closed against the sharp sunlight. And nestled in the bottom of that plastic cone was the added prize: a candy-coated gumball.
It is quite possible that the single and only reason I ever went to the public pool – seeing as I do not particularly care for swimming – was to eat a Screwball.
The ground was as frozen as I was as I tiptoed ever so carefully down the steps and across the campus, treading ever so slowly from paving stone to paving stone in my wedge-heeled summer sandals. I had transferred schools midterm, defying the wishes of my parents and all common sense, heading north for the first time in my twenty-some years after a lifetime in Florida. I arrived in snowbound Philadelphia early January, stepped from the airport terminal into a chill I had never known, a frigid northern winter.
I began classes in the bleak midwinter, a Siberian landscape stretched away from me as I wended my way to each building. I had very little with which to insulate myself from the arctic temperatures, the numbing wind, the raw winter weather. Splotches of snow covered the streets, sidewalks and green here and there, my open-toed sandals, so perfect for a Florida school year, were no protection, even as I layered on socks and leg warmers. I piled on thick woolen sweaters, Salvation Army purchases, hand-me-downs from my brother, over my light cotton dresses. I felt for all the world like a duck out of water, an eccentric misfit in the middle of this strange new land, this frozen tundra of a big city.
I spent my first school holiday with my brother in Boston. The dead of winter. Philly is nothing to Boston, the glacial temperatures, the mountains of frozen white, the wind that would whip around you, push and pull you back and forth, irreverent, frozen wind. Yet, even indoors, where one expects some kind of respite from the wintry chill outside, where one expects a cozy, comforting, hibernal warmth, my brother kept his heating off. We would huddle around the oven, spending our days in the kitchen, cooking and eating and laughing and chatting. But come night, we would shuffle off to our bedrooms and crawl under the mountain of blankets and quilts. And freeze. My hat, that wooly bonnet my mother knit for me, pulled down on my head, over my ears, gloves on my hands, fully clothed, yes, but wearing my winter coat as well, I would slide under the covers and, shivering in the frozen night, try to sleep.
The Snow Queen. I was enchanted. I spent hours staring into the shimmering hologram of a cover, the magic of the three-dimensional image of the brother and sister in their darling little livingroom, a chalet of warm wood and light white linens. My fingers caressed the photo, and I could stare into its depth for hours, fascinated.
A wonderland of a book, it’s heavy cardboard pages opened to reveal images played out in cloth dolls, recounting Hans Christian Anderson’s tale of the Snow Queen and her frozen heart.
I was fascinated by the icy whiteness, the Queen’s sleek sleigh of white and the Queen’s prancing snow white horse dashing through a landscape of pristine white. Images frozen in time, frozen in space, yet so alive for the young girl that I was, driven by my wild imagination, longing for the strange and mysterious. I would have gone with the Snow Queen, hand in hand, accompanied her in her sleigh through the snowy fields like the little blond boy in the pages of the storybook. Her frozen heart was nothing to the romanticism of the frozen scenery, her frozen beauty.
Turn the page and the little boy is kneeling on the frozen lake, a chunk of shiny ice clutched in his hands, his sister begging him to drop it, leave it be before a frozen shard can stab his warm heart, turning it to ice.
A sweep of glowing Northern Lights like embers of a dying fire could not melt her frozen heart, warm the chill that numbed her heart. Nothing could save her.
The valet stepped briskly over to the window, footsteps muffled by the thick carpeting, and drew back the heavy, elegant drapery with one graceful movement of his uniformed arm. "I apologize for the view," he carefully explains, "If you were to visit us again in the springtime the gardens would be green and the flowers abloom in a gorgeous riot of color. It is rather sad and gray at this time of year!" We step over to the French windows and peep over his shoulder and I gasp. I am gazing at a frozen alabaster landscape painted in shades of pearl and pewter and white, achromatic and silent yet somehow alive, stunning, breathing with the slight, subtle movements of light and shade. Standing here in this grandiose Parisian Palace Hotel in the dead of winter, the day after one of the coldest Christmases I can remember, I look down and behold a fairytale vision, a winter wonderland: the frozen Tuilleries Gardens are white, icy white, a heavy veil of mist covers everything as far as the eye can see and it is magnificently, mysteriously romantic. Bare trees and stone sculptures reach up like phantoms shrouded in mist and all is motionless, it is as if the world has come to a standstill leaving only the two of us to listen to the silence, and all the rest is still and forgotten.
Later, bundled up against the frigid, intensely raw wind, arm in arm we leave the warmth and glow of the hotel and scurry down the barren streets of the city to find our favorite little hidey-hole of a restaurant. We step over the threshold into a blast of tropical heat where a noisy, joyous conviviality reigns as clients pack elbow to elbow at the little wooden tables, chattering loudly and slurping up great bowls of soup. We shrug off our coats and slide into chairs, leaving winter alone outside to blow her frozen breath on the windowpanes in puffs of foggy kisses.
Slice and cut fresh watermelon into cubes, put them into a plastic bag and freeze it, if you freeze some extra watermelon, you can drink it all year round - it can't get fresher than this!
ILVA'S FROZEN WATERMELON DAIQUIRIES
2 big or 4 small
350 g/ 12,5 oz frozen water melon in cubes
100 ml/ 0,4 cup rum (or more, it depends on how strong you want it to be)
1-2 tbs icing sugar or more. Optional
juice from 1 lime
mint leaves to garnish with
Put all ingredients except the mint (or why not include it?) in a mixer and run until it is nice and slushy. Pour into glasses, top with a mint leaf or two before serving.