My Dad asked me yesterday if it was hot and I told him it was.
“Is it sunny?”
I said, “Dad, by this point in the summer in Madrid, it doesn’t get cloudy again until about, say, October.”
“Really!” He sounded astounded. “I didn’t know that.”
“You shouldn’t have to. No one should have to know these things about this city. But it’s pretty much a fact.” And it is. Except for the odd t-storm, and they are pretty unsual by this point, you rarely have to watch weather forecast because the first word “sunny”, you already know, and the second two words, “and hot”, are daily regulars, though the latter is often accompanied by some kind of modifier which I supposed makes it worth keeping the TV on. They’ll say things like “quite hot” or “very hot” or even “stifling hot”, and that way you know just how you are going to suffer the next day. And that is the way it stands for about ninety days.
Since this year we have finally had a real spring, so rare is this season, that I don’t think the Madrileños even noticed. It’s been great. The heat has just kicked in, and even though this is just about the right time for that to happen, it’s the talk of the town. And it brings out wonderful small talk in even the most taciturn of humans until finally someone points out that it is hot because that is what summer is like in Madrid, the way it has been for time eternal, and then everyone remarks, “yes, yes, that’s true.” And then you start it back up with the next person you run into.
People in Madrid combat the heat in a lot of different ways. One is by drinking lots of beer. And if that’s not youe thing or you aren’t old enough yet, then you slurp on a tart granizado de limón which is crushed ice drenched in natural lemonade.
But if you are not seeking a drink, and are indoors, you resort to other tactics. Tactics that have changed over the years. The Spanish traditionally loathed air conditioning, claiming it was unhealthy because it could do all sorts of dreadful things to your body. They would often tell me this while smoking a cigarette and downing a whiskey. It had a lot to do with, and this part they would often leave out, the exorbitantly high electric bills here. So, the soundly rejected the use of modern technology combat the high temperatures.
That was, of course, before they tried having AC in their houses.
Back then, the old tricks were to lower the Venetian blinds to the bottom during the day and then open the windows at night and let things cool off. In my old apartment, I used to do the same, but more as a gesture symbolizing man’s drive to change his environment rather than a true measure to alleviate the heat issue at hand. The flat was just too ill-suited for good circulation and the total lack of wind made up for the rest.
And, to be honest with you, the kind of opposite has happened to me. When I arrived over twenty years ago, I was an AC junkie just like any good American kid. I couldn’t live without getting to bed in July and needing three down blankets to make a snug cocoon with. But I am here to say that you can get unhooked. You can get off the stuff. A person doesn’t need as much AC as our bodies would have us believe.
“Bull!” say some of you. But it’s true. You can live without air conditioning, you really can. I have gotten used to it, and I don’t even like it that much the way I did in the U.S. Only on the worst nights would we resort to an electric fan.
Most times you can open your windows here without fear of being bled to death my a nest of thirsty mosquitoes. Here it’s so dry, vampirish flying insects hardly exist. Bugs in general do, with the exception of a cockroach or two. I can’t stand them and they know better than to enter my home lest they wish to be euthanized, because I tell baby, when it comes to roaches I shoot first and then ask the questions.
Ironically, this apartment actually has its own air conditioner mounted on the wall. It was one of the eye-catchers when I took the place. And here it is, June 22, and I’ve only used it twice. Part of the reason is that it doesn’t work very well. At least it doesn’t seem to. It gets the air out and cools the temperatures, not to point where you require calling for a rescue helicopter to pull you out of the frozen living room alive. In fact, most Americans would laughed at it. “That’s not air conditioning! I know moths at home which do a better job keeping a room cool.”
I also like to swab the wooden floor with a bit of water. That also helps chill it down. It has that Old World environmentally friendly feel to it. Something green and economic at the same time. “People here have been doing this since the days of the Phoenicians, Dad.” Of course, I have no idea is if this is true, but it sounds good and is a good excuse.
To which my father always makes one of those appeals for me to finally return home to have a reunion with my culture. “I think it would do you some good.”
But I think I’m all right for the moment. It’s morning time. I think I’m going to open the window and let some fresh air in.