Yes, there is a heatwave going on in Northern Europe this week – or at least, to them it’s a heatwave. To those of us who live in Texas, it’s just a normal summer, with temperatures in the 90s and reaching three digits. Supercilious Europeans, Brits and Canadians, and lunkheaded Americans like perennial tween know-it-all Taylor Lorenz are forever chiding us about our excessive air conditioning in homes, government buildings and offices, little recking that basically, most of the United States is on the same latitude as the Mediterranean and North Africa – and without efficient air conditioning, large swathes of the southern states would just plain old be unlivable – and no, in the South it’s not a dry heat, but a soggy and humid exercise in physical torment. So I do feel for those suffering Europeans and Brits, I really do. My brother and sister and I spent the summer of 1976 in Britain, which turned out to have been one of the hottest on record, rather like the heatwave this year. We – accustomed to So-Cal summers didn’t at first really grok how unaccustomed the British public was to this kind of summer heat, what with the grass in the parks dying for want of water.
Us: Don’t they, ummm, water the grass regularly? We came from a place where lawn-watering was essential – no, it usually wasn’t necessary in Britain, where the rain fell regularly like clockwork, as it would later on in that summer, when the weather got back to something like normal for that part of the world. It was so hot that we were actually served ice in the soft drinks. Smart-ass younger brother to waitress in a Brighton fast-food place called The Great American Hamburger, regarding a lonely ice cube swimming in a glass of Coke: Gee, aren’t you afraid you’ll be struck by lightning, putting ice in the drinks? Teenage waitress, deadpan: Yes, I live in terror of it. Exchange in another pub, between two elderly habitues over pints. #1: Guess I had better drink this before it evaporates. #2: Arrrrr … then t’would rain beer… It remained a mild puzzlement to us, why everyone was going round with their parched tongues hanging out and turning all shades of pink sunburn, while clad in wrinkled and slightly out of fashion summer clothes. It seemed like quite a normal summer, for us.
For myself, I have only lived in two places which were endurable in the summer, but for existence of window units and/or central air. One of them is Texas, the other was Seoul, ROK, which compounded the misery by being bitter cold in the winter, with storms that blew in, straight off Siberia. Seriously, Willis Carrier ought to be sanctified, for his work in making life bearable in large chunks of this dirtball.
Granted – there are also large parts of the dirtball which are normally perfectly comfortable for humans in the summer – most times. California, where I grew up, was one of them; temperate, cooled off at night, lived in houses with large shady trees all the way around, and windows situated to catch whatever cooler breeze was going. Athens, Greece was the same way; although it did get hot in the blazing sunshine, my apartment there had tall windows, high ceilings, and take advantage of a refreshing ocean breeze. Sit in the shade, caressed by a wandering breeze – all hunky-dory. In a place where the local architecture makes allowances, with tall windows, shady verandas, and easy airflow, a warm summer is endurable. For a year in Sacramento, I could get by with fans, blowing in the cooler night air, and closing up the windows and drawing the curtains. Ogden, Utah was a slightly different kettle of fish – it was hot in the summer, but dry enough that a swamp cooler did the trick. Northern Japan was almost exactly the opposite: relatively mild. High seventies in summer, which would have been endurable, but for 100% saturation. A glass of ice water would sweat a puddle of water around it, almost equal to the contents of the glass, imperfectly-dried clothing developed mold spots, and two minutes out of a cold shower, one was dripping with sweat. Only one summer in Spain, where I spent six of them, was truly awful, for heat.
I do truly hope that the experience of this summer will make Euros and Brits a bit more understanding of American need for air conditioning, although likely they will forget, as soon as the heatwave passes. As for Taylor Lorenz – I dare her to go without AC, first. Double-dog dare, as an example to us all.
Discuss as you wish, and can be amusing.