It’s Paris, You Don’t Come Here for the Weather
Yep, it’s hot as you know what in Paris. It’s predicted to hit close to 100°F (37°C) today and for Paris, this is Sweltering with a Capital S. The word for “heatwave” in French is “canicule,” so if you’re watching or reading French media, that word might come up often. We might as well get used to using it, since this is just the beginning, thanks to global warming.
Perhaps you remember the canicule in 2003 when it was the hottest summer on record in Europe since 1540? France was the hardest hit of all the European countries and I can tell you that Paris was an inferno with a record high of 39.5°C (103.1°F)! The death toll in Europe was about 70,00 that year, and of that, almost 15,000 people died in France. Most were elderly…those who didn’t know how to deal with the heat, or who weren’t hydrating enough. On top of the natural dangers, it was mid August when physicians and government officials are on holiday. In many cases, bodies weren’t found for weeks after and the undertakers were so overloaded that they resorted to refrigerated warehouses to lodge the bodies. It’s a hot black mark on our weather history.
I remember it oh too well. Paris Plage was new on the Paris scene (or should I say “Paris Seine?”) and one very smart thing they did was add a “brumisateur” (mister or fogger) to one end of the Plage, making it the coolest spot in the city. I spent time there with friends getting wet with tiny beads of dew covering us from head to toe and loving every minute of it. That year, people were wandering around the frozen food sections of the grocery stores to get cool, because even the air conditioned establishments were in overload and not cool enough — their AC systems couldn’t handle the heat any better than we could.
I had friends who slept on the floor in front of their refrigerators with the door open, the freshest corners of their apartments! (What a good idea!) Patty Sadausksas (see her new site at genuinefrance.com/) has a good trick. She fills a water bottle with water, freezes it and then goes to bed with the frozen bottle — the opposite of using a hot water bottle in the middle of winter. I’ve got one in my freezer as I write this, planning on using it tonight.
This heatwave could beat the record of 44.1°C (111.4°F) that was recorded on August 12, 2003. Forecasters are predicting peaks of 45°C (113°F) in Nîmes and Carpentras by Friday. Patty happens to be in Nîmes right this minute and I’ll bet her bottle is frozen and ready for action. She reported this morning that fortunately the walls of her apartment — in an old converted convent — are two feet thick stone and her windows face north, so she is surviving. She also reported that she and her sister took a drive in the nicely air-conditioned car to see the lavender fields just 30 minutes from Uzès.
Like a dumb schmuck, in the midst of this heatwave crisis, I stupidly managed to knock over one of my precious fans (every room needs at least two to stay even mildly cool) and…yep, broke it! The motor just died before my very eyes. Fans are not so easy to obtain at the moment, with everyone running out to replenish their supplies. I’ve seen lots of people carting boxes of fans with them and clutching them like they are gold. The boxes can be found discarded on the streets, signs that they are spinning the air as I write this. In a knee-jerk response to the breaking of the fan, I ordered a new one online from Darty that I picked up at the store today and did my own carting of it home, adding yet another fan box to the landscape.
Right about now you might be wondering why we simply don’t have air-conditioning? First of all, we didn’t really need it until the last 10 or 15 years. This is a a new problem, but we know it’s not going away. Secondly, old buildings weren’t equipped with it when they were built in the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries. (You get that, right?) But, this is becoming a bigger and bigger problem as global warming trends tell us this isn’t the last of the heatwaves we’re going to see in the future.
I have A-C in my Nice apartment, where I was able to put a compressor on the balcony, without asking permission of the city, but Paris is different. The laws prevent placing unsightly or noisy compressors on the exterior of the buildings. To install one, even if on a “courette” (inner air shaft or small courtyard), an owner must have permissions from the building homeowner association.
One solution for those who are lucky enough to have a “garde manger” outside a kitchen window, is that it effectively can hide a compressor from view, making it possible to air-condition the apartment. These structures were designed to be used as pantries where food can be kept cool, accessible from the inside, but jutting out into the exterior. I just happen to have one and you can bet that the next time I renovate my apartment (soon, because the cracks just keep coming back in a wood-frame 17th-century building), I’ll be investigating the possibilities of installing it. (This fan business is for the birds, one reason I’m heading down to Nice after Bastille Day for the rest of the summer!)
Others have found ways of using portable air-conditioning units that pipe the evacuation via a window…but, I’m not willing to cut a hole into my centuries-old glass panes with all their beautiful imperfections…at least not yet. (Ask me next year when the heat has gotten even worse!)
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. For a fun thing to do this coming summer, don’t miss La Nuit aux Invalides, 3000 years of history in a light and sound show at Les Invalides! July 12th through August 30th, Wednesday to Saturday, with one extra showtime on Tuesday, August 27th, at 10:30 p.m. See lanuitauxinvalides.fr/ for more information and to buy your tickets.