While the cool temperatures in New York these days would have us believe that summer is still far off in the distance, the arrival of May Day means it has begun.
And as exciting as the incoming heat, blue skies and weekends away to the seaside may be, the most exciting part for me is a trip home to Ireland.
Back home, we grew up in a near constant state of sunlight deprivation. We exist like vampires, suffering a lack of vitamin D that gives us our famous pasty pallor.
But in the summertime, we would get these glorious patches of weather that would compensate fully for the entire year of grey, cloud and gloom.
People still talk about the different summers that were particularly fantastic. I know that the year I made my Communion -- ‘97 -- was a famously great one.
May aunts and uncles still talk about it with this wistful look in their eyes that make me wish I had been old enough to remember more of it. I was lucky to grow up with my cousins, and every weekend each family would pack up the car with buckets, spades, fishing nets, wetsuits, flippers and fins and we would spend hours on rocky Waterford beaches.
There are dozens of photos of our skinny pink arms and legs marching lengths of the beach with giant straw hats, oversized sunglasses and bright green sunscreen smeared under our eyes. I can still remember, with frightening clarity, the exact taste of an egg and chive sandwich that has a delicate layer of sand on the outside being washed down with a cup of blackcurrant juice that had been gently warmed by the sun.
We would exhaust ourselves with swimming, running, rock-climbing and generally just being children in the great outdoors. Our parents would bundle us up, dads carrying the sleepiest kids, and we would be completely passed out by the time we got home.
Even now, over dinner parties and annual family gatherings, those are the days that everyone remembers as the best. Those are the days that keep us going every summer, hoping every summer for even one good week of Irish sun, because the fact that the majority of our year gives us rain means that we know how to appreciate the sun better than anyone else on earth.
Temperatures that have New Yorkers still in jeans and sweaters would easily tempt the Irish into bikinis. We are thirsty for the sun, and as soon as we see it coming we embrace it with open arms.
That’s why we have the best music festivals. Because it makes no sense for a country with such an unpredictable climate to do it outdoors, but we do, every year, and every year people turn up in their thousands with a poncho in their backpack because they know it’s definitely going to rain at some point, but nothing can stop them from enjoying the fact that it is still summer.
Everyone has their favorite thing to do in Ireland for the summer. I know that for a lot of us “younger” crowd it revolves around music festivals, camping adventures and taking full advantage of someone’s free house. We all have memories of that one friend whose parents go away for the summer and leave their house unattended.
We are probably all guilty of doing it at one point in time or another. I know I am. (Sorry mother).
And actually, even mother dearest is guilty of doing it. These are the things your parents only allow to be revealed to you when you’re all adults and there’s less risk of you potentially repeating their adventures.
During their summers back in the 1980s, my mom and her siblings would invite their friends onto the flat roof of their small town house in Waterford City. They would lie out on the roof covered in olive oil because back then, they didn’t know that literally basting yourself like a turkey and using the sun as an oven could threaten your life. They would spend the day “tanning” themselves right in the middle of the city.
Then, as their house was built right next to a graveyard, once the sun went down they would blare “Thriller” and perform the dance with their sunburned skin and scary ‘80s swimwear glowing like lights.
I know if my mother came home and caught me doing that at our house -- on the roof -- I would have been flayed. Mostly for the olive oil. But we do find new ways to exploit summer freedom.
The best way to do that is to take it out of the house and camp. Forests, beaches, woodlands, anywhere. It’s the best way to immerse yourself in the mysticism of Irish landscape and immerse yourself in a Celtic fantasy where the whimsical nature of nature itself is your liberation.
So when I saw photos of dreamy Coachella, the California music festival in the desert which just concluded, I don’t wince because I wish I had been there. I just think they are cheaters. They’re not even working to enjoy it.
There’s no suffering there. There’s no sleeping in a freezing, damp tent, waking up in the morning and wringing out your coat and getting on with the rest of your day. The Irish earn their sunshine.
This is why I am so excited to go home for two weeks in June. I have booked an outdoor camping festival. I have planned trips to the sea, the countryside, the outdoors across the board.
And I know as sure as sheets that it will rain, but for those little heavenly moments when it doesn’t, it will be so worth it.
Plus, now that I’m back in New York and guaranteed a solid four months of sweltering heat, sticky subway journeys and faulty air conditioners that will test my very soul, maybe a little risk of rain will be just what I need.