Thursday, 24 July 2014

Cool Space

A dilemma occurs over lunch: the weather is hot enough that any butter left in the butter-dish on the kitchen counter turns, in short order, into unpalatable goo. And yet, if we were to put the same butter in the fridge, it would be too rock-solid to make ham-and-raspberry sandwiches*. 

I found myself wishing we had a Beurrier-a-l'eau,one of those useful little devices that no self-respecting French kitchen would be seen without. And this got me thinking about France. 

Americans like to sneer that the French have yet to discover the delights of air conditioning. But have you ever noticed, on a hot day, how cool it is inside, for example, Chartres Cathedral? Heat energy soaks into the walls. When it gets there, instead of heating them up, it goes to work on evaporating years'-worth of accumulated dampness from them.

An air conditioning unit uses the same idea, but with an ugly twist. Instead of leaving the dampness floating around in the open air, only condensing once it has found a place (or a time, like 4:00 a.m.) cool enough to do so, the unit expends a lot of energy compressing the vapour it creates, so as to retrieve and re-use the liquid. The compression process produces heat, which is then dumped unceremoniously on to passers-by of the car or other space in which our transatlantic punter wishes to remain, well, cool.

In other words, the thick walls of Chartres Cathedral, and the entire French fleet of beurriers-a-l'eau, are quietly doing their job in a much more considerate and public-spirited way than typical air conditioning. As befits French dirigisme rather than American laissez-faire, in fact. They also give much less of a shock to a body as one moves from one space into another. 

After all this existential musing, I now recall that there is a
beurrier-a-l'eau lurking in a high-up cupboard here at Space: it was bought as a souvenir in, where else, France.

Looks as if it's time for lunch...

*At 32oC it is a touch too hot for Wensleydale-and-honey

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