Air Conditioning

According to Wikipedia, the concepts underlying “air conditioning” were known to the ancient Romans, to Chinese dynasties in the centuries before A.D. 1000, and to the medieval Persians and Egyptians. The first modern, electrical air conditioning device was invented in 1902. Air conditioning was common in American hotels and restaurants in the 1960s — I recall, during summer visits to Ocean City, New Jersey during that decade, going to a restaurant that marketed itself with “air conditioned” painted on the front of the building in blue letters, with icicles hanging down — and, currently, virtually every American hotel, shopping mall, fast food outlet, grocery store, and other commercial establishment features powerful air conditioning units capable of cranking the temperature down to meat locker levels. During the summer and early fall months, when the mercury rises and humidity levels are high, many Americans — myself included — have come to rely on air conditioning to allow them to sleep comfortably and live their lives without dissolving into pools of sweat.

So, why are so many establishments in non-American countries so different? During our recent trip to Quebec, when we stayed at an otherwise spectacular hotel, our room air-conditioning unit was a pathetic failure. The only “conditioning” apparently accomplished was to add moisture to the air, and then feebly exhale the still warm, now moist, air into the room. It had about the same effect as someone breathing on you, and each morning I woke up a sweaty mess. Nor do I think our Canadian experience was anomalous. During our terrific trip to Italy, we experienced a number of sleepless nights when the heat and humidity in our rooms was unbearable. This may also be why so many restaurants and cafes overseas emphasize outdoor seating, where there is at least the promise of a breeze and cool shade.

Why can’t other countries be more like America, and recognize the value of air conditioning? If, as France’s high court found, access to the internet is a basic human right, shouldn’t air conditioning also receive that designation? Of course, if something like the recent “climate change” legislation passed by the House of Representatives is enacted into law, America could end up being more like other countries, and the current days of brisk, air conditioned comfort would become a fond but distant memory. To that I say:  Please, Congress — don’t take away my air conditioning!

Qualite’ en Quebec

Chateau Frontenac
Chateau Frontenac

Kish and I had a wonderful time in Quebec, where we stayed at the memorable Chateau Frontenac. It is a grand old hotel, replete with the kind of detail and polish and wood paneling and flourishes that you would expect in a grand old hotel. (We won’t speak of the air conditioning unit in our room, however.)

Prior to our visit to Quebec, the only time I have been to Canada was to visit Niagara Falls when I was a kid. I’m not sure why I haven’t been to any other locations in Canada, but I now think that we will look to our neighbor to the north for other visits in the future. The country seems to have a lot to offer, from the islands to the east, to the French-speaking enclaves, to the Canadian Rockies and Vancouver to the west.
Kish and I like to walk, and Quebec is well-suited to self-guided walking tours. It is very picturesque, with pretty street scenes, colorful buildings, and little parks wedged in between. The streets in the old town section are brick and shaded and lined with shops and bistros. It is ideal for a casual stroll, some window shopping, and a spur-of-the-moment decision to stop for a cold beverage at an outdoor cafe.
A visit to Quebec helps to demonstrate what downtown Columbus is lacking. The streets in Quebec are inviting and friendly to walkers, but the streets in Columbus really aren’t — there are too many surface parking lots, too little shade, and too few buildings that catch the eye. Unfortunately for Columbus and many other American cities, quaint older brick and stone buildings were razed during the urban renewal days, and the buildings that remain are like islands in a concrete sea. I don’t think Columbus could ever be as scenic as Quebec — it isn’t a 400-year-old walled city that with French for its main language, for one — but a few parks, and small buildings, and shade trees, and street vendors would be a good start.

Quebec, A Church, And A Choir

Kish and I are in Quebec for a conference. It’s a very interesting city, particularly in the old section where we are staying. It is as if a portion of an old and charming European walled city had been lifted out of France or Luxembourg and plopped down in Canada, complete with crooked streets, pastel colored brick and stone buildings, outdoor cafes, and street performers.

Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Victoires

Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Victoires

Yesterday, as we we browsing through shops, I decided to take a break from the next shop down the street and instead visit the Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, which is one of the old churches in Quebec — and there I had one of those magical travel moments. The church itself is striking. There is a sharp contrast between its simple stone exterior and its extraordinary interior, which features cream and gold coloring, large paintings, an altar with a castle theme, and a wooden boat hanging from the ceiling that appears to be an exact miniature replica of a sailing ship, correct in every detail. It was a feast for the eyes.

The wooden boat hanging from the ceiling
The wooden boat hanging from the ceiling

What really made the moment special, however, was that as I entered a choir happened to be singing. It was a choir of mostly children and teenagers, with one or two adults thrown in. They sang with only an organ for accompaniment, and their voices were terrific. Kish joined me and we sat there, mesmerized by the scene and the music as they sang hymns and an Irish prayer set to music. The choir closed with a rollicking version of an old spiritual, When I Lay My Burden Down, and then everyone filed out of the church and the moment was over — but it is a moment that I will always remember.