Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Hammam

Sometimes, after you have been in an air-conditioned building for three hours, stepping outside in the summer sunshine can feel great. Lately it hasn't been like that here. Instead it feels like you step into a very well-lit sauna, fully clothed. Condensation immediately forms on your body, and there is no way to keep your hair from curling. It reminds me of the summers I spent in Washington, D.C., where it would storm at least once a week, which only made it more humid the next day.

It also reminds me of the first summer I spent in France, the notorious heatwave summer of 2003, when thousands of people died in Paris. I don't remember feeling this hot then, maybe because it was less humid. In the South of France, it is certainly hot, but there is really no humidity to speak of (at least not in Montpellier or Nice). Last summer I spent several afternoons sitting in the shade in a courtyard. I didn't sweat unless I moved into the sun or went inside. Here in Norfolk, even sitting in the shade can't protect you from the humidity.

I had to laugh when I saw a public service announcement on the local (Hampton Roads) news the other day: because it is so hot, they are asking people to donate wall air conditioning units for families in need. I remember a French public service announcement I saw last summer, which recommended lots of cold showers and visiting businesses that had air conditioning. The solution I found in 2003 involved getting very comfortable with my own body. Before that summer, I would never walk around my house naked. Like a revelation, I realized how much less hot I felt when I didn't have any clothes on! It was just too hot to wear clothes indoors!

I have to say that this custom has continued for me back in the US. Although we do have central air in our apartment, we don't have a lot of money to run it, and I end up feeling guilty about the environment. Lately, though, my solution has been to turn on the air conditioning for a few hours a day. It's a little easier for any guests we might have...

5 comments:

Caroline in Rome said...

Not sure where you are but I find New York City to be absolutely unbearable without air conditioning even at temperatures as low as 20 degrees celcius (sorry, don't know fahrenheit), whereas in Paris, I can generally live without AC. It's the humidity in New York that is the problem as far as I can tell. French people who talk about Americans loving their AC too much have never spent a summer in NYC.

Jube said...

Yeah, that's exactly what they say...well, anywhere in the USA. You just can't live without it, it's too hot. Anything will work as a justification for air conditionning. In New York it will be the lack of wind due to the skyscrapers, in Norfolk it will be the humidity rate, I'm sure in North Dakota there must be a good reason too, like they're closer to the sun up there or something.

AC companies have managed to make AC a hegemony within cultural habits. AC has become so prevalent that it is now viewed as indispensable, and the absence of AC inconceivable. That's marketing prowess there.

Karina said...

I wouldn't say the WHOLE usa... I'm from the Pacific Northwest and only in big companies do you get AC... Its just doesn't get warm enough (tops 80F during the summer) and no humidity. I hate AC and even growing up in California our house didn't have it because although we had heat spells it was always very dry heat.
really depends on where you are..

jube said...

I wouldn't say the whole USA either. Just most of it, haha. I said, and repeat, that anywhere you go in the USA, you'll find people justifying the use of AC. And yes, extensive use of AC is made in the USA.
Here is an interesting article:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4697519.stm

helene said...

I have just spent a week in Los Angeles--my neice's house does not have an air conditioner, and I didn't notice air conditioners in use in the restaurants we have been visiting. The weather has been incredible the whole time, so guess there isn't the need.--Now in The Plains, VA we've been turning the AC on at night to sleep comfortably.