Losing My Cool


I live in Houston, Texas, so I usually take air conditioning for granted. Everywhere I go – from the car to the grocery store, back to my little townhouse – is excessively air-conditioned to the point of necessitating socks and a sweater in summertime. It’s always hot here, even in the “winter,” when we might only see three days when one can non-ironically wear a jacket.

As the temperatures around the rest of the U.S. fall and the weather reports come in from my family in Michigan, I find myself, not for the first time, longing for a blustery, chilly day. This reminds me of another time I ventured north, yearning for relief from the brutal summer temperatures in Houston.

Last July, I traveled to Amsterdam, one of my favorite places in the world for multiple reasons: marvelous walkability, bike-ability, apple pie, museums, and French fries with mayonnaise. A dreamscape, obviously. But one of the aspects of this Northern European city that I most looked forward to was cooler weather. In Houston, the temperatures were an unvarying 95-100 degrees every single day that month, and I was ready for a cool-down.

I landed in Amsterdam, took the train into the city and then began the tired, suitcase-dragging trudge to the canal house where I would be staying. And just a few meters into my walk, I realized something was amiss.

It was hot. Unbelievably so, and muggy. My face was damp in that Central Florida, bayous-of-Louisiana kind of way. I was sweating, the sun was beating relentlessly on my back and all I could think was that I had perhaps landed in another dimension, or the tropical version of Amsterdam.

The canal house stood tall and dignified, its only quirk being a bell-shaped roof. Gasping and wheezing, I climbed the steps – wanting nothing more than the cooling breeze from a humming air-conditioner. Alas, it was not meant to be.

In Amsterdam, my hostess explained, almost no one has an air-conditioner. And not everyone has a fan. They are just not necessary, she went on, because “it’s never warm enough to warrant a cooling system.” Well, until now, it seemed.

Yes, the week of all weeks that I journeyed across the ocean to Amsterdam, they had a heatwave – an unprecedented, unheard of, unbelievable heatwave. The week before I arrived, it had been a breezy 70 degrees, and now it was 90 degrees. Not only had I not packed accordingly, having brought lots of cardigans and jeans, but I was also to discover that my hostess had not been exaggerating and was in no way mistaken. The city, it seemed, really did not have air-conditioning.

Restaurants, hotels, shops … all scorchingly stuffy. The exceptions were few and far between and routinely filled with tourists fanning themselves with brochures they collected at local attractions. The museums were jammed, and when I went to an electronics store, they had sold out of fans.

I spent my week in Amsterdam slick with sweat, bobbing in and out of the very expensive museums and sleeping without covers so that I didn’t die of heatstroke in my sleep. Cold showers, lots of cold beer and a few long, sticky tram-rides to Blijburg van Zee Beach kept me alive.

When my plane landed back home in Houston, I was greeted by an even thicker wave of moist heat. But, while unpacking and sorting my laundry, I was in heaven … caressed and cooled by my Texan-sized air-conditioning system.


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