I did not come from an air-conditioned family. In the hills above Lake Champlain, open windows and a breeze were enough to keep us comfortable. But New York is different. No breeze pushes through my lonely sixth-floor windows. Heat rises up from the five floors below and collects in our apartment. The nights feel even more humid than the days, especially at four in the morning as I lie awake thinking of nothing but sleep and cooler days. So three years ago, we bought two used air conditioners from our departing neighbors–the first I’d ever owned.
This year–probably from some primal “I’m almost 30” desire to feel like I have a home–James and I have been working our way through an extended spring cleaning. We painted the walls, scrubbed hidden corners, repositioned furniture. We purged and simplified, years of collected “stuff” without a place, without meaning, gone. I grew more plants. Vegetables, herbs, giant vine-y monster plants that grow and grow and grow. And then, from the need to have more space and more light, I had the best idea ever. Let’s get rid of the air conditioners.
We replaced the a/c with fans, the idea being if we can’t get a breeze through these window, we will make one. In June, everything was fine. I read articles about fans like this one from the New York Times and felt special. I imagined telling people of my a/c free apartment to be like telling people I don’t own a TV. A careless mention in casual conversation. “Well you know, we’ve done away with our air conditioners.” People would stare, trying not to betray their awe, as they congratulate my moment of asceticism in the name of smaller energy bills and a better environment. Instead, everyone thought I was crazy.
And they’re right. Fans move air around and evaporate sweat. They do not cool the room. With the heat index near 115, evaporation stopped, and the indoor temperature rose to 91. Hot is still hot, whether fans are moving air around or not.
We tried to hold out. We kept a blue spray bottle near by–one squirt for the cats, one squirt for me. We froze blocks of ice in loaf pans and left them in front of the fans hoping to lure out an arctic breeze. I put frozen peas in my bra and slept with a wet washcloth draped across my forehead like a fever victim. Without a swimming hole nearby, I jumped into a cold shower whenever the sweat started rolling down my back again.
The only word for it is surviving. We were surviving. Until I woke up on Friday morning and found both cats flat on the floor, panting with eyes focused on me like lasers of desperation and loathing. We bought an air conditioner that day.
These are the days when I miss the gazpacho we ate in Spain. Salmorejo in Cordoba–peeled tomatoes pureed with bread, olive oil, salt, vinegar, garlic. Garnished with Serrano ham and chopped hard-boiled eggs. There must have been a secret ingredient, a secret reason this soup was so good. Or maybe simplicity is the secret.
Back in NYC, tomatoes at the market are still too expensive, so my Salmorejo dreams will have to wait. On the hottest day of the year, I made green gazpacho instead of red.
adapted from Plenty
2 sticks of celery, leaves on
2 green peppers
12 oz small cucumbers
4 oz white bread (stale is good)
1 hot green chili
4 cloves of garlic
1 tsp sugar
5 oz walnuts
7 oz baby spinach
1 oz basil
3 tbs parsley
4 tbs sherry vinegar
1 cup olive oil
1.5 oz Greek yogurt
2 cups water
4.5 oz ice cubes
2 tsp salt
1. Chop celery, peppers, cucumbers, bread, chili, and garlic and throw all into a blender.
2. Add the remaining ingredients, but only use about half the water.
3. Blend until pureed. If you’d like a thinner soup, add more of the water. Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired.
4. Serve with a drizzle of good olive oil and crusty croutons or a slice of bread.