Madrid Summer Heat: Only the Beginning

I hate the heat. And anyone who knows me knows this to be true. “So why in the heck did you move to Madrid?” people always ask me. The short answer is that I love it here. I love Spain. And I can put up with 3 months of hellish conditions for 9 months of otherwise wonderful weather.

Today, they say, it got up to 97ºF/36ºC. That’s pretty darn hot. But it truly is a dry heat – and I say that without smirking. The worst hours of the day, at least in Madrid, are from about 4pm to 8pm. Before and after that it’s pretty much bearable indoors. Sure, you sweat hauling heavy bags of groceries 5 blocks – and then up 5 flights of stairs, but those tasks are best done early in the day. It’s funny seeing hoards of people on the shady side of the street while the sunny-side is totally abandoned.  These people ain’t dumb!

Someone told me recently that the gym they patronize seemingly doesn’t believe in air conditioning as it’s bad for your health, exercising in cool air. Another person told me that a Spaniard told them that one shouldn’t use a fan while sleeping because your bones will freeze and you’ll die. Others have told me me they never turn on their air conditioning (if they have it), even on the hottest days, because they don’t want to catch a cold. And another, and this is a goody, they say you should always put a blanket over your mid-section while taking an after-lunch siesta in order to aid digestion. If you forget this mid-section cover-up, you might have stomach  or intestinal problems later. These are just a few of the “old wives tales” I hear constantly. But even “old wives tales” have a grain of truth, don’t they?

How many times have I gone to the cinema here in Madrid only to have to complain to the manager/clerk about it being too hot? Okay, that only happened twice, but it happened. TWICE! You won’t likely find a U.S. cinema with warmer than sub-arctic temperatures. Why is that?

I think all this goes back to those “old wives tales” which are still generally accepted in Spanish culture. The uncomfortable truth is air conditioners are terrible on the environment, which is why I don’t like to use them at home unless absolutely necessary. Otherwise, I use fans.

And unlike in other countries, a very few Spanish homes have central air conditioning, except for the most modern. Where I live there are TWO air conditioning units, one in the living room and one in the computer room – none in the bedroom. These units are really intended to cool just these rooms and not the entire house. Why in the world would you want to air condition the bathroom, kitchen, or hall? Okay, I’m with you, I would truly rather have the entire house at a comfortable 72ºF all year around, but that doesn’t work here.

Here, it’s all about fresh air. Are you surprised to hear that nearly all hotel, hospital, and office building windows, even in high-rises, can be opened? Okay, MAYBE it’s not so much about “fresh air” as it is/WAS about allowing cigarette smoke to escape the premises. But now that you can’t smoke in any public spaces maybe those construction guidelines will change with time. Who knows.

More and more stores, restaurants, and even gyms are turning down the heat and turning UP the cool, particularly when the entity is in the business of making money – and a lot of it. The chain stores always have the air conditioning turn on, even with their street-side doors wide open, blowing cold air onto the overheated bare legs of passers-by. The smaller, individually-owned stores like newspaper shops, convenient stores, and even some of the neighborhood markets don’t use A/C – or if they do, you can barely notice.

Many Spaniards return from a summer holiday in the USA, say to New York City, and complain how everything, every place there is TOO cold. That’s probably true, but there’s nothing better than walking in from a sun-baked, asphalt parking lots into a cold mall or restaurant “They say” those sudden, extreme changes in temperature are what causes summertime colds and flu. Oh, I don’t know. An old wives tale, maybe?? But we, in the USA, do over-do it when it comes to the air conditioning.

My first visit to Europe was in September 1993, traveling through Italy, Switzerland, and Belgium. I don’t recall if they had/used air conditioning there much then (and it was HOT in Italy), but I do recall making jokes about how the soft drinks and beer were served at, what we joking called, “Euro Cool” temperatures. Luckily, Spanish beer are always served ice-cold and the soft drinks are almost always served with ice-cubes.

So…. summer JUST started. Wonderful. (ugh) That means I’ve got another 3 months of sweat-moist desk chairs, morning and nighttime showers, lots of laundry, and constant patting of the forehead with one of my many cloth handkerchiefs (which I only use for “patting” and never for “blowing”).

It’s nearly 7pm. Another hour and I’ll turn off the A/C and stick the box-fan in the window for the night. Hope my bones don’t freeze.

For your further reading enjoyment – or distraction, take a look at the blog entries, “MadridMan is a Hot Body!“,  written in October, 2007, and “95º and Vinyl Seat Covers“, written in August 2009.

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