Taking the heat

106 degrees That’s how hot my car thought it was today. I understand it hit 103° at Logan. Right now it’s 10pm and still 95° on our back porch. It’s hotter indoors. Up in the attic, where I work, two window AC units bring the space down to about 82°. They can’t do much better. We have another unit in our master bedroom, and that one can make the space actually comfortable. Little window fans take care of the other spaces as best they can.

So we’re among the lucky ones, if not the greenest. (To be that, we’d turn the ACs off.)

I got back from a month in Italy yesterday, flanked at the ends by a day each in Paris. It was a great trip. Details later when I put some pix up. Meanwhile, some observations on differences, in respect to heat.

First, it was hot much of the time in Italy, but nothing like this current heat wave in Boston. I think the hottest it got was in Rome, when it hit about 35° Celsius, which is about 95° Fahrenheit. Our little apartment there had AC that was pretty good, though not great. But other places didn’t. As in France, a lot of places have some AC, but not much. Or just none. Two of the places we stayed had no AC, and the AC at none of them was as aggressive as any $100 U.S. window unit.

In Florence the Uffizi (English version) had no AC that I could tell. All those old paintings just cooked away, along with throngs of visitors. [Update in 2013: the Uffizi folks found this post from the distant past and told me that the museum is now air conditioned. Cool!] The Accademia was a little better, but not much. None of the churches had any, understandably. The Duomo’s museum had pretty good AC. The San Marco monastery and convent, decorated by abundant paintings and frescoes by Fra Angelico, is kept at a constant cool room temperature and low humidity, and is quite comfortable, at least indoors. Same with the Vatican Museums.

So why do some of these places go to great effort to control temperature and humidity while others do not? I’m only guessing that it’s too much trouble in some. I mean, look here:

When your building dates from the 13th century and has walls made of thick stone blocks (and that’s probably what’s under the stucco here), you do the best you can on a room-by-room basis. The shot above is of the only three window AC units in a building that had many more windows than you see here. At some point the thinking becomes, “Hey, if you want to cool off, ride a scooter or buy some gelato.”

But one gathers also that sometimes things just don’t work. The apartment we rented in a former Palazzo (still called that) in Florence had two AC units, and the main one just moved air without conditioning it a bit. Several attempts were made to fix it, but we finally gave up and lived with AC just in one bedroom. The elevator also bounced on the end of its cable and one time broke off pieces of something in the shaft on the way down. We could hear stuff clatter and fall down the shaft below. At other times the elevator made creepy noises we attibuted to the “‘vator demon.”

I wondered if ice had anything to do with it. Here in the U.S. we not only love AC, but piles of ice in everything that needs to be cold. A drink on the rocks better have more than two little cubes, which is about what you get when you ask for ice in most places I’ve been in Europe (each cube is transfered carefully to your glass by a small tong). When we got back yesterday, one of the first things I wanted was a tall glass of iced tea — the kind that’s a glass full of ice with tea poured over it. On the whole, they don’t have that in Europe. When I got one, it was heaven.

Why do we like ice so much? One reason might be that we invented the big-time ice shipping business here in the U.S. (especially here in Boston, where Frederic Tudor made a fortune at it, starting on Fresh Pond and Spy Pond, near where we live), and, as a result, we love lots of the stuff. I’m guessing it was cheaper here too, so we splurged. But, I dunno. Corrections welcome.

In any case, it’s good to be back. Lots of work to do, heat or no. (And I do miss the gelato already.)


  1. Russell Nelson’s avatar

    In the U.K., if you ask for a lot of ice, you get three cubes.

  2. Hazel Edmunds’s avatar

    You can make gelato in the US (http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/gelato/detail.aspx is one of the best) but you can’t make AC units in Europe – nor get us Brits to accept that when you say ICE you mean “I want lots of it”.
    Ice? In a drink? You have GOT to be joking!!

  3. Frank Köhntopp’s avatar

    Here in germany, the idea of AC in private homes is outrageous – I don’t know a single home that has one. It’s considered ‘not healty’ and a waste of energy (which is quite expensive over here).

    OTOH, it may be the difference how you build houses. We recently had talks with builders, and the effort that goes into insulation would baffle your mind. There even is an official certificate you need to get with a test of insulation, without which it’s nearly impossible to sell a house. Example: http://www.kraweuschuasta.at/hausseiten/wandaufbau.htm

    This of course creates rooms that don’t need AC. About the ice – we use to complain at McDonalds when they put a lot of ice in (for being frauded on the amount of Coke), and a whisky with ice should be a criminal offense anyway 😉

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Frank, thanks for reminding me of the cost factor. Fuel and electricity are much more expensive in Europe generally than in the U.S. I should also add that the house we built in Santa Barbara has no AC (and almost never uses its heating, either). I grew up in houses, and went to schools, that had no AC.

    But hey, now I’m spoiled.

  5. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I amused a German flight attendant on a Frankfurt-to-Boston 747 on Thursday by asking for nothing but ice in my cup, three times in the course of the flight. The third time she brought it without asking. The reason I asked had nothing to do with an American fixation with freezing things, but rather the desire to fill my bladder minimally over the course of the flight, being the window-sitter that I am. I always feel rude asking two sleeping passengers to get up more than once in the course of a long flight.

  6. Jon Cooper’s avatar

    I’m from Florida, and it hasn’t been that hot! But having no AC is killer, hands down.

  7. lurkerfan’s avatar

    My only trip to Europe was in the summer of 1976, during one of their rare heat waves. Our rental car had no ac and neither did any of our accommodations. We were thrilled to find a cafe advertising iced tea — as you said, about a 6-ounce glass with two tiny, tiny cubes each. We’re from Florida, so of course were very disappointed. We were frustrated that cafes did not serve water, and often resorted to drinking from our hands in restrooms– without any ill effects, thankfully.

    Like you, I grew up without ac and had our three children in the 1960s in Alabama without ac. Since moving to Florida in 1969, it has seemed a necessity. Still, I really, really enjoy visiting my son in Thousand Oaks, which has a climate similar to Santa Barbara, where windows and doors can be open to the actual weather. I love being outdoors.

  8. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Lurkerfan, I think you’ll find Europe much more accommodating now than it was in ’76. Everybody serves water now, always from bottles you buy. The choice is with or without the sparkles. Ice in water or tea is still rare, and considered unhealthy, for some reason. (Gelato, however, is not.)

    Thousand Oaks does get hotter than Santa Barbara, but it’s still in a Mediterranean climate. Oddly, the second-highest all-time temperature recorded in the U.S., 133°F, was on June 17, 1859, in Santa Barbara. It was a world record until it was beat by a single degree in Death Valley. The current record of 136° was set in Libya.

Comments are now closed.