Tuesday, December 10, 2013

On Romanticization and Subzero Weather

Every state I've ever lived in has touched at least one of the Great Lakes (the cool ones, not Erie and Ontario), so I have a long and intimate acquaintance with the cold. That may explain why many of my favorite fantasy worlds feature winter and the cold prominently; I rewatch Game of Thrones on a regular basis, I've sunk hundreds of hours into Skyrim, and my favorite book series as a kid was set in Alaska, above the Arctic Circle. I - like many other Great Lakes natives - derive a pride of sorts from the cold winters, and lament their gradual loss to climate change. The cold makes us hardy. It makes us tough. We're not like those namby-pamby Californians who think they're so special with their palm trees and whatnot.

And then I moved to my current apartment, which doesn't have central heat.

This isn't to say that my apartment is unheated - however, instead of a furnace with vents piping warmth throughout my place, I get a gas fireplace set into the wall. It's barely a step up from a cast iron stove - and even that's debatable because (speaking from firsthand experience with a cast iron stove) a stove's metal body can radiate heat in all directions in a way this gas fireplace can't. It's one of the many quirks of living in a 150-year-old house that was never properly modernized because the previous owners lacked either the cash or the ability to care, or both.

Still, the lack of central heat wasn't much of an issue when I first moved in. I'd lived in apartments without central A/C - and in apartments with zero A/C, which wasn't always fun but was doable. So this wouldn't be that bad either.

That was in early November, when temperatures sauntered between 40 and 55 degrees. Right now, it's 17 degrees outside, but wind chill is bringing it down to 5. Tomorrow the high is going to be about 19 degrees, and it's not expected to crawl above freezing for the rest of the week.

I'm learning things about the cold that I didn't know I didn't know.

Even though the Starks are always shown in their furs, bracing against the cold, I didn't really understand how keeping the cold at bay is a constant battle. When a bunch of warriors are drinking and laughing by a roaring fire, I didn't really think about how the cold would descend upon them as soon as they stepped away - how it crept at their backs even as they sat by the flames. I unconsciously assumed that all their castles and keeps had central heat, that warm air took them up in a comforting hug as soon as they stepped through the doors, like it had whenever I came home from building a snowman, or skiing, or shoveling the driveway.

Now I truly understand why lap dogs were bred - they're living hot water bottles. (I'm fortunate to have a lap cat, which is even better in my estimation.) I'm rediscovering the usefulness and the genius of shawls - which, as a bonus, are very fun to knit. I have no fewer than three blankets on my bed, and I lament throwing out my ratty, torn old comforter during the move because at least it was warm.

And even then, at least I have some sort of heat source, and a relatively well-insulated apartment; too many people in this city don't even have that.

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