Friday, January 22, 2016

Parisian winter, hot and cold

Let's take a moment to appreciate Parisian winter. It is mid-January, and currently raining. Paris is warm and tropical --- compare with the northeast habitable parts of North America, where winter certainly goes below freezing, and includes snow, blizzards, scraping ice off the car, shoveling the driveway, bundling up outside. This comparative heat has the side effect that Parisian residences are not properly insulated for cold weather. Those beautiful, wide-swinging windows have no storms, and are often just a single pane of glass.

The consequence? Paris winter feels cold.

Especially in my poverty garret, with no apartment to insulate me above, the heat escapes with a ferocity that can be felt on the skin: stand still, and the window side of your body will be noticeably colder. The thermometer registers 50-55F (10-12C) as the resting temperature, which is a little too cold to be really comfortable. The available heating option is electric, which is (1) not very efficient, and (2) expensive. Combine these with (3) it takes about 3 hours to heat up, and only 1 hour to lose the heat, and the result is what a positive attitude might term "a quaint return to historical realities". I read about radiant heating. I sometimes wear a hat indoors.

I have used insulating tape to firmly close the gaps around the window frames, and block the most egregious and palpable wind-whistling suspects. But there's only so much this stopgap measure can gain me. The walls are cold, about which I can't really do anything. I can see how thin they are, there's no air buffer in there, or any real insulation. They keep birds out.

This past week the temperature has dropped below freezing, unusual for Paris. I am thankful for whatever heat is being radiated through the walls and floor from my neighbors, and kept me this handful of degrees above the outdoor temperature. Cooking helps heat up the tiny space, too, as does simply inhabiting it. By far the cheapest way to heat the space is to purchase chemical energy stored in digestion-accessible calories, eat it, and generate the heat using my body.

But inhabiting the space has other side-effects. It adds both heat and humidity to the air, and when the temperature drops outside, this forms condensation.
Morning condensation.
I awake, I steel myself to emerge from my sleeping cocoon, and I squeegee my sleeping breath off the windows. This is Paris in January. Subjectively I am experiencing more cold than I ever did in North America. I remember fondly the days when I lived in a city which had a legal mandate for the minimum winter temperature landlords must provide. One day I'll look back on the bread and cheese paradise of my current life, and be nostalgic for window-squeegeeing.

This post's theme word is nesh, "afraid of the cold." Uninsulated attics are not for the nesh.

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