Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Heat Wave

The neighborhood knew it was going to be hot hot hot because even the Americans were finally closing their shutters. Shutters that had not been pulled shut since we moved in nine years ago. I was a little bit afraid of what I might find when I pulled them closed. Did the backsides need painting? Would bats and cobwebs fall all over me? The situation had come to a point that it didn’t matter, I had to be sure that I had done everything I could to keep out the heatwave that was lurking in the hours ahead.
For the rest of the neighborhood (all of France for that matter) the opening and closing of shutters is an important part of the daily schedule. 

Shutters are closed every night at bed time and opened as soon as one gets up. I know the hours of my neighbors by the squeaking of their shutter’s hinges. Across the street the hours are 7:30AM to 10:00PM. Up the hill its 8:00AM - 8:30PM. This routine is followed all year long. In winter they open their windows quickly to keep out the cold air and in summer the windows might be left open behind the shutters, but I’m not sure. I do know on these crazy hot days all windows are closed tight.
If you’re leaving the house for more than a few hours the shutters “legally” have to be closed. Well it’s just actually the insurance companies who won’t pay after a break in if you have not shuttered up every opening to your house - windows and doors.
Visitors often ask me where everyone is. Why is the village abandoned? In the winter folks keep the shutters closed all day to keep in the heat. In the summer shutters are closed all day to keep out the heat. French villages look like ghost towns. However, life does go on. The few times I have closed the shutters against the elements I feel like I am living in a cave. We have come to the conclusion that our windows are good enough that closing the shutters just doesn’t make that big of a difference in the temperature of the house. It helps that our home faces south with a low sun in the winter to warm us up and a high summer sun that beats on our roof, but not into the windows in the summer. Thick stone walls and tile floors also help.

But, when the weather forecast was heading into the high 90’s even 100 degrees it was time to become French and live closed up behind the shutters. 
Living with the the shutters open on the backside of the house I now understand how northern light is quite bright enough, diffused and cool. I love the sense of defense, hunkered behind the heavy shutters. The heat becomes a physical presence lurking, menacing out there. The need for a sweater in my cool home makes me feel smug, like I am winning in some kind of bizarre battle.
The lucky thing is that it almost always cools way down at night. Into the 60’s! So about three or so in the morning I wander through the house opening wide all the doors, windows and shutters to let in the night air. Hopefully I’m not waking up my neighbors with my strange hours and squeaking hinges. It is ever so un-French to have the house gaping open like this, but I want all the air in here that I can get. I’ll be up at 7 o’clock to close things up tight. (Ed.’s Note: should read 8:00)

I try to explain to my French neighbors that the shutters on our homes in the States are just for decoration. Maybe a few southern communities with a French heritage use their shutters to keep out the sun. With all the air-conditioning no one really needs to think about defending themselves from the elements.

For now the temperatures are back to normal. Mid 80’s during the day and 60’s at night. The shutters are locked back in the open position. It is still a good idea to open the windows at night and close them during the day - the tricks I learned growing up in an un-air-conditioned home in hot, humid Virginia. 

I appreciate the cool comfort of living in a cave, but I find myself humming a part of an old tune from the musical Hair— “Let the sunshine, let the sun shine in…”