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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of February 20 - 26, 2002


Heat rises—when you have it

Commentary by JoELLEN COLLINS

Recently I moved back into the first apartment I occupied in October when I began living in a renovated farmhouse in Italy. I lived there for a couple of months until the mice I shared my rooms with wouldn’t go away and because the downstairs became dark when I could no longer leave the wooden doors open to let in the sunlight.

The second, an upstairs apartment, is smaller and has more windows, letting in more daylight. It is also absent mice but is, alas, very cold. The old maxim that heat rises doesn’t seem to apply, for several reasons. The unit, located on the coolest side of the building, is composed of old brick walls which retain cold, and the door is smaller than the space it occupies, thus letting in icy drafts of air all the time. I have learned to stuff papers in it at night and cover the gaps with makeshift fillers such as my wool scarves and a dustpan wedged under the door. Unfortunately, this is a place designed for summer visitors, and the frigid air still comes up the interior steps and is reflected on the thermostat at the top of the stairwell

Thus, when my landlady offered me the chance to move back to my former digs, I was thrilled, as they have since been fitted with glass doors set inside the charming old wood farm doors, enabling me to let in the sun and keep in the heat. Even with these additions, I am still cold, and have found that a small space heater makes my daily life more comfortable. I am learning some tricks I will use to conserve energy when I return to Idaho.

Of course, I dress warmly and layer. Nonetheless I am colder that I remember being, even in snowy Idaho. It reminds me of the old Mark Twain saw about the coldest winter he remembered being the summer he spent in San Francisco. This European winter has been the coldest in ten years. Although the crisp beauty of the city made the shivering worth it, New Years’ week in Venice was a chilling experience: reports of the canals icing were not exaggerated. Venice, of course, was damp, but so is the Umbrian/Tuscan countryside where I reside. I love the sight of the mists and fog every morning out my window, but I think being used to the dry cold of Idaho has made for a more difficult adjustment.

All this might be bearable if the costs of heating were more manageable. I pay $3 an hour for the heat in my small apartment, and it adds up quickly. My landlords aren’t gouging me, either: this is what heat costs in Italy. The high tariff is evident in my local "supermarket," where there is no heat and where the checkers wear parkas, wool hats and scarves and still manage to smile.

One of my housemates during my stay in Siena was a young woman who spent an excessive amount of time in the shower, "hogging" the bathroom shared by four women. I realized later that she was charged for the heat in her room but not for the water heat, so this was probably the only time she could feel warm. I was not billed for my radiator emissions because I lived there for a brief two weeks. As it was, my Siena landlord only allowed us heat from 9 to 11 each night, so we all felt the chill.

Additionally, driving a motor vehicle in Italy may also be prohibitive for many, as the cost of fuel is easily three times what it is in Idaho. Now I understand why so many Europeans depend on bicycles or motor scooters or drive small cars and use diesel engines whenever possible. I had a vision of myself (one since corrected by reality) of using public transportation or a bicycle most of the time I lived here. Since I am not known for my sense of balance, and since the distances between the places I want to go are farther than I expected, it would have been laughable to rely on a bike or scooter. I am fortunate that my landlady’s father has a Ford dealership and rented me a small car for a very reasonable amount.

Living in Italy has reminded me of the luxuries we in the USA enjoy regarding energy. I used to complain about winter heating bills, but now they don’t seem quite so large. I also have more empathy for people who can’t afford adequate heat. My heart goes out especially to the elderly who can’t install better double-paned windows or other energy-saving devices available to those with more money. It must be tough to be old and poor in Idaho, a concept I always held but which has now been reinforced. When I come home I hope I will think twice about some of the things we have in America: our gas guzzlers, our huge homes, our disregard of the finite resources we have. One of the delights, of course, that awaits my return is my own built-in electric blanket, my two small dogs. There is a reason a cold night is called a "three dog night.’ So Oscar and Olivia, my doggies, here I come!


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.