Notes from Virginia: Love in the Time of Cholera, Air Conditioning, and Basic Human Rights

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Is the comfort of air conditioning worth the cost to the environment and to human interactions? We all have to decide for ourselves. Photo: Joe Hennager

Is the comfort of air conditioning worth the cost to the environment and to human interactions? Photo: Joe Hennager

At the end of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book Love in the Time of Cholera, Florentino Ariza’s lifelong love is finally reciprocated. Fermina Daza, an aged widow, accepts his invitation to ride a riverboat down the Magdalena River. As owner of the company, he gives her the presidential suite.

The river’s nearly destroyed. Timber that held the bank of the river had been harvested to fuel the ships, to the point where it’s difficult to find any trees along the muddy riverbank. At the end of the trip, fearing the return to her former life, Fermina Daza says, “It will be like dying.” Florentino Ariza, to please his lover, commands the captain to turn around and continue puffing up and down the river. Jolly and obedient, the captain replies, “And how long do you think we can keep up this goddamn coming and going?” Florentino answers, “Forever.”

Air Conditioning

I recently had an argument with my partner, Lindsay. With humiliation that resembles Dr. Juvenal Urbino’s when he admits that it had only been three days, not seven as he had first accused, that soap had been missing from the bathroom, in short, an excruciating and painful humiliation that for most men is only ever experienced in domestic situations, I agreed to install the air conditioning unit our neighbors lent us.

Notice that they don’t invite us over for lunch or coffee. They stopped by one day and left an air conditioner on the porch.

I prefer a less obnoxious method of cooling the house, what Marquez calls the Roman style. At night I run a big fan at the window, blowing out, and in the day I shut the windows and blinds. I told Lindsay that if it got hotter than 80 degrees, I’d install the air conditioner. After four days of bickering, and a thermostat that wouldn’t budge past 79 degrees, things got ugly.

Essentially, I either loved her, and would install the air conditioner, or I didn’t love her, and she would leave me and take our baby.

Picking basil for pasta, I considered the proposition.

Florentino Lorenzo’s devotion to the woman, not the river, provided the justification I needed to save my love life from impending solitude and regret. Love, truly, is worth an air conditioner. Once inside, angry to see her still angry, I said I would install it, but tried to set some terms about when it could be used…which she refused. We ate the pasta in a hurry. She left to babysit for a friend.

The next morning, cheery again, no doubt because of my concession, she related some of the ridicule our friends had administered behind my back. “Do you have a fridge? I’m going to come take that!” one said, pointing out the arrogance inherant in depriving someone of such a right. Regarding an indirect argument I made about climate change and the famine in Somalia, the other said, “Oh please! Those things have nothing to do with each other.” I hotly explained how global warming causes desertification. She shook her head. I scowled.

It is cool today, below 80 degrees, and I’m putting off the installation, like a communist does the revolution.

Basic Human Rights

My mom emailed me, in a panic, you know how moms are. “You need to get your own insurance, you’re not eligible to be on your father’s anymore, because your graduate program offers you your own insurance deal.” It’s not a deal, really. It’s basically private insurance channeled through a state university for a minimally deduced price. You might be familiar with it. I make $16,000 a year, so paying $2500 for my own insurance is sort of sickening. Of course, I still have to pay if I get sick, with deductions and percentages, the game of mousetrap I have to play to get the company to pay anything. I replied with one letter, “k,” and turned off my computer.

I was planting leeks when a siren went off. “This is not a test, seek shelter immediately” says a booming male voice. I assumed tornado. Only a few clouds, no wind. I continued mulching. Why do I think the disaster is always going to come from the direction of the voice, anyway? Actually, there was a man reported carrying a gun on campus, in a hurry. This is Virginia Tech, so we are scared. Reasonably so, actually. Sadly.

What if I got shot in the shoulder. (I’m thinking like my mom, now.) Would I be able to afford to get the bullet removed?

I wonder why it is that most Americans consider air conditioning a necessity, but not health insurance. Why is it that the conveniences that isolate us from each other, encourage us to stay indoors, in our own homes, accept the closing of public pools, libraries, and take away the common thing we have to complain about, in short, kill summer, why is that more important to the public than public health insurance?

If Lindsay had told our friends that she didn’t have insurance (the truth), I imagine they would have bitten their tongues, or said, “Times are hard,” with the embarrassing awkwardness most Americans exhibit when anything political is mentioned.

But air conditioning is political. We’re not only losing a valuable, shared tradition of struggling to stay cool in the summer, isolating ourselves inside private homes. We’re not only providing dividends for irresponsible coal mining companies that strip away the local landscape. We’re also increasing demand for greenhouses gases. Whether or not they believe it, I believe the toll of climate change won’t only affect African countries, but economies, lifestyles and cultures, ranging from Oklahoma, to Iowa.

In the words of Bob Dylan, “What you gonna do when you can’t play God no more?” Maybe we should all accept a summer with a dose of humility, and sweat it out.

Elias Simpson

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living