The title of this post may be misleading. Although I sincerely miss, sometimes yearn for, my central air conditioning that I grew up taking for granted, I’ve come to look at it with a new perspective since living here in Italy.
It is no revelation that warmer climates beget warmer, more social people. It is true across cultures all over the globe. As a young girl I was always fascinated with the culture of the southern U.S. and often wished I had grown up on a sprawling plantation where I could dangle my legs from a porch swing and sip sweet tea all summer long. My grandparents and even parents fondly remembered summer evenings of a time gone by when neighbors, friends, and family would flock to each other’s porches to play cards, gossip, and offer a cool drink while the children rode bikes or played ball in the front yard. It was a time to catch up on each other’s lives, discuss politics, swap recipes, offer advice, to have human contact that would feed the soul.
Somewhere around the late 60’s and early to mid 70’s America goes frigid. Central air conditioning units begin replacing swamp coolers and people in hot climates begin to shut their doors, crank up the a/c, and tune in to their favorite sit-com. Decades later, the trickle down effect of this is neighbors who don’t know each other’s names, kids who don’t know how to ride bikes, and an unattached community. I’m generalizing of course, and exaggerating some, but not by much. Some neighborhoods have tried to return to America’s grassroots in their yuppy, Desperate Housewives sort of way, but it will never be recaptured. It’s a time gone by.
I can honestly say, although cliché, those social ties that bound small town America so tightly, still exist here in Italy. As the sun begins to set and a cooler breeze comes up, windows begin to open and people come out of hibernation from the blazing heat of mid day. My young son often goes out to play in the early evening with the neighborhood children . He’s supervised by the nonnas of the neighboring buildings who are sitting in chairs chit-chatting about all the passersby and who occasionally interrupt playtime with an admonishment directed to the children to slow down or to take it easy for a while. I will sometimes join them in their chairs or I’ll look out from my open windows and balcony while taking down the laundry off the line as the kids make their way around the buildings laughing and hollering. When they’ve been called in for dinner, they will sometimes communicate from balcony to balcony showing each other various toys from their rooms and asking if the other will be going out to the piazza later on. It feeds my soul to see my son experiencing this kind of simplicity and camaraderie and it makes me wonder if I would even ever install an air conditioner here. Maybe I would, but I’d reserve it for stifling days when no one dares to go out. After all, I wouldn’t want to shut out the neighbors.