Saturday, August 4, 2012

Cycling in Israeli summers: How air-conditioning boils me alive.

Its the end of July and it hasn't rained in Tel Aviv for over three months. The ambient temperature is 30 degrees centigrade by seven a.m. and at night it doesn't get below 23. Humidity reaches 65% and midday temperatures are close to body temperature.
We have no air-conditioning in our house and I cycle to work, which causes constant astonishment in my office. Everyone else lives and sleeps in air-conditioned flats, they briefly step out into the heat as they go to their cars, which are also air-conditioned and then they drive to the office where they again, briefly, step into the heat of the underground car-park before ascending to the air-conditioned office.  So they only have brief encounters with the heat and can't understand how I manage.

Cycling in this heat does require a certain amount of care. I wear sandals, shorts and loose sleeveless shirts in an effort to keep my body from heating up. Gloves are out of the question and I would prefer not to use a helmet, though I do. Its a six kilometer ride which takes me less than 20 minutes, so its not that bad. Once I get to the office I change my clothes, wipe myself down and drink water. In truth, entering the air-con I get a burst of cold air and it feels amazing, as if I can breathe again but its misleading.  Every year without fail the office-air-conditioning makes me ill. You see I'm like a frog being boiled alive - only in reverse.
It takes some time for my body to cool down after the ride and early this year I decided to leave my sandals on because it felt so pleasant. What then happened was that my body temperature very slowly went down.  The air-conditioning is inevitably set to temperatures of 20 degrees or lower and because my body temperature goes down very slowly (by now I'm wearing long trousers and a t-shirt), I don't feel the change.  Perhaps my body has simply adjusted to the heat and can no longer manage winter temperatures.  Either way by the end of the day I was severely ill and faced with cycling home while feeling appalling.

Last week I wasn't feeling well, but wasn't actually ill, so I went to work by motorbike instead. That has a whole set of different problems. Most Israeli bikers wear t-shirts and very often they are also in shorts. The though of smearing my body on the asphalt at 100 kilometers per hour generally motivates  me to wear my  rather ancient Belstaff motorcycle jacket. Its a tough decision because if you do wear it, it gets very hot in summer.  Yes there is a good breeze at high-speed and the jacket has air-vents, but the air just isn't very cooling. Because of traffic-lights and the need to park in the basement, it takes me only a few minutes less to get to work by motorbike then it does by bicycle, so its still very hot.  
At work we were taking an Author-It course last week (that's a technical writing tool), so we were in a different, even  cooler office and I forgot to order lunch.  Then my partner called towards the end of the day to say she had fallen off her bicycle and hurt her knee. She needed me to take her to the emergency medical center. In Israel our health services provide a local emergency service for low to mid-level accidents so as to reduce the load on hospitals.

I biked home and we drove to the Kupat Cholim emergency center in Tel Aviv.  Unfortunately the nurse who was running the show was Ukrainian and rather than take off her home clothes before putting on her white coat she simply made the air-conditioning colder and wore her white-coat over her clothes. Being Ukrainian, she anyway considers normal weather temperatures to be somewhere below freezing so it was really cold and by the time we got home I was, once again, severely ill.  This time courtesy of the medical services. The hot-cold transformations also caused agonizing muscle pains in my legs.

The malls are also extremely well cooled and I recent came out of the Ayalon Mall and found my glasses had steamed up in the external humidity.

I will now do the right thing and take a jacket to work and remember to dress for winter while I'm at my office.  It reminds me of the northern-English teenage girls. In mid-winter, with temperatures below zero you see them wandering around in mini-skirts and short tops. No tights. I once asked why they do it and was told that the clubs are heated to mediterranean temperatures, so they prefer to dress for the indoors because then they don't have to find somewhere to store all the clothing they've taken off.
Girls in Newcastle city center


  1. I read your article in Hanoi, which is even hotter and more humid than Tel Aviv, and the minimum night-time temperature is 28. We had our conference in a hotel with air conditioning, but our own hotel was a little distance away so we had to walk there and back in sweltering heat once or twice a day. Fortunately it was cloudy most of the time we were there (and it also rained very heavily several times), so although I felt incredibly heavy most of the time, I didn't have the feeling I was going to be burnt by the sun. Very easy to get dehydrated under those circumstances. The Vietnamese don't normally have air conditioning, and most of them seem to spend their lives whizzing around on motor cycles, or conducting domestic activities in little groups out on the pavement. I assume they just don't notice the heat.

  2. My friend mentioned to me your blog, so I thought I’d read it for myself. Very interesting insights, will be back for more! Ventilation Home

  3. So they only have brief encounters with the heat and can't understand how I manage.about his

  4. I could not refrain from commenting. Well written!


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