Monday, November 5, 2012

The joy of a hot shower

We keep being amazed by the smallest, most simple things since the storm. We are back in our Manhattan apartment. We cooed with awe at the elevators working, instead of climbing fifteen minutes in the dark with flashlights. The corridors are lit, which suddenly seems like an astonishing thing. We could clean the kitchen and wash out the fridge with....wait for it ... Water!

And I could turn on a stream of hot water in the shower this morning, at the flick of a tap. I stood there thinking that was something Louis XIV could not do in Versailles.

I briefly mentioned before being struck at how much more difficult daily life was in the past. Plumbing was very rudimentary at Versailles. Heat in the winter was mostly absent, as the small fireplaces were highly inefficient ways to heat large rooms.

Fernand Braudel relates in The Structure of Everyday Life that on 3 February 1695, the Princess Palatinate wrote "At the King's table the wine and water froze in the glasses." (p299). Builders later learned to use the draught in a fireplace more efficiently from around 1720 on, he says, but it is a surprisingly late development.

The great monarchs of European history spent the winter wrapped in fur or under layers of blankets.

One of our big problems as human beings is the hedonic treadmill. We very quickly get used to and take for granted good things, so they become routine and not a source of particular pleasure.

But every now and then we are reminded what a daily miracle ordinary life in a modern city is. Central heating. Hot water. Refrigeration. Light. TV and stereo for entertainment, and Internet for connectivity and all the world's knowledge. The outward form of dwellings may be much less grand than the houses of the rich in the past. But apart from hurricanes and other catastrophes, wine doesn't freeze over in our glasses at home.


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