The Dog Days of Summer & Attic Fans…

I’m feeling lazy today. Actually, I’ve been feeling lazy for several weeks, ever since the temperatures topped 90 degrees and started reaching for 100. Now they’re topping 100 and I’m feeling as wilty as my caladiums in the flower bed appear to feel each afternoon.

In Mexico, I did not feel this way during mid-summer. I lived there high in the mountains and while the summer days of July and August could get hot, the nights were still crisp and cool. Here in Central Texas the nights just seem less hot. Warm, I suppose you’d say. A brief respite but nothing to write home about. And certainly not cool enough to warrant sleeping under a sheet.

So for the first time in many years I am using an air conditioner. I didn’t even have an air conditioner in Mexico. Didn’t have one in Prague, either. If the weather got warmish, I used a fan, and that was enough. The right kind of fan could work here in Central Texas, too. I grew up in houses with fans called attic fans. These fans were large, and set into the ceiling between the living space and the attic. We opened all the windows and the attic fan sucked air into the rooms and up into the attic and blew the attic air outside through big vents. In that way we enjoyed a constant flow of fresh air from outside. Even warmish air can feel cool if it’s blowing. So we lived with a constant breeze created by the attic fan and I recall it feeling comfortable.

But folks don’t seem to use attic fans anymore. Every house has ceilings fans—sometimes one in every room except the bathroom—but they are mostly used to push around the cool air produced by air conditioning units. This whole setup—the air conditioning plus lots of ceiling fans—strikes me as an inefficient use of energy. I hear from friends who have monthly electric bills of $200-300. I’ve no idea what my next electric bill will look like. The last one was $50 but that was before the mercury topped 100 degrees. Though we still don’t use the air conditioner at night, we are running it from noonish until bedtime, so I suppose I’m due for a shock.

But the thing I like least about air conditioning is that it cuts me off from the world. Until recently I could hear birds singing and wind in the trees. During the night I could listen to cicadas and crickets and armadillos nosing around the bushes and even a bobcat barking now and then. You can do that if the windows are open. But now they are shut against the heat and they also shut out many things I miss. I feel less connected to nature. The world itself seems more distant. I don’t like that. So I’m looking forward to when I can leave the air conditioner off and keep the windows open all day and night and once again feel part of the natural world.

If I only had an attic fan, I wouldn’t be in this sad situation. I know the prevailing notion is that air conditioning has brought us humans a great improvement in the quality of life. But I truly think attic fans were a bigger improvement, and a better one, too. And the loss of them has represented a specific decline in civilization.

Well, that’s it for today. I’m wilting again. It’s time to eat a slice of that cold watermelon I have in the fridge. I’ll feel better then. And if the watermelons don’t run out down at the market, I might even make it until autumn.

Stay cool.



Meanwhile, in Texas…

Our new home.

So, we are here now. On a wooded hill above the Colorado River, overlooking limestone ridges and green hills to the southern horizon, about 10 miles west of the center of Austin as the crow flies, about 20 miles by road. It is lovely. And we are glad to be here.

That said, it was not an easy transition, returning to Texas after 21 years (excepting one brief period) living abroad as an expat in France, Mexico and the Czech Republic.

First, there was the culture shock. After so many years away, I felt (and often still feel) like a stranger here, a foreigner of sorts, an immigrant. The culture here in the USA seems more ingrained with fear and anxiety than when I left. The politics have become more right-wing and polarized. The political class in Austin and Washington, D.C., are more alienated from the people. The economy is skewed. More people are working but they are working for lower wages. The wealthy have become wealthier and more estranged and separated from the mainstream culture. And the news media seem more manipulative and exploitive—focusing on shallow events or crucial events in shallow ways, and less interested in reporting deeply on the things that truly matter to our lives. Such changes are disappointing to me. Yet my family and friends are all struggling as best they can to cope with these downward trends. It is not easy for them. The stress is high. I see them as brave people. And my heart goes out to them.

Second, the transition back was difficult because of the sheer logistics of the move. I do not recall my move to Paris in 1994 being so complicated. Nor the subsequent moves to Mexico (1996, 2003, 2008, and 2013) and back to Prague (2004, 2009) being so hard. Maybe it’s age, or at least part of it. But it seemed that every transaction Katka and I attempted upon our return to Texas this spring was complicated by manifold screw-ups and hapless mistakes by those with whom we were dealing. Ironically, given the anti-government noise I hear so much, the government agencies were the most efficient and responsive of those organizations we encountered. Whereas the private sector companies all managed (and I do mean all, without exception) to cause us endless rounds of grief. I’m speaking of phone companies, cable companies, retail outlets, property repair businesses, privatized services that once were handled by government agencies, and so on. Dealing with them meant endless phone trees, endless time waiting on hold, repeated mistakes on orders and billing, erroneous information, no-shows on appointments, broken purchases, and… well, enough. All this incompetency surprised me in what’s supposed to be a service economy. One with poor service, it seems, or none at all. In the end, I realized the top people in these companies are scamming the profits and providing little training or support to those who are on the front lines doing the actual work, often for little pay. It’s no wonder our very complex economic and technological systems are breaking down at the bottom—right where most of us experience those systems the most (as what the commercial sector calls “consumers”).

Well now. Here I’d moved to a “first world” country from a “developing country” (Mexico) but the service I encountered was just as good south of the border. And the stress there was considerably less. Also, the folks here in the USA seemed less happy, less satisfied. Naturally, there were moments when I wondered if I’d made a big mistake in returning.

Yet… yes, I am glad to be here, as I said. I am closer to my family. And to dear friends who I so rarely saw for so many years. And our home is comfortable here on the hilly, wooded outskirts of Austin. We have live oaks, cedar, wildflowers. We have deer, armadillos, squirrels, rabbits. And of course countless birds, small and large. From the front porch where I have my coffee each morning I watch a hawk soar high above the trees. Cardinals flit about the bird feeder. Meanwhile, deer filter through the oaks not fifty feet away. It is the natural world that makes me feel at home. And this has been the case no matter where I’ve lived on this planet we call Earth. It has been that way all my life. Mother Nature is profligate, nourishing, giving… everywhere I go.

Well, that’s my latest report here on the blog. Yet I have neglected to mention some other events of import. My TV project—adapting my novel Robbers into a TV series for Sony Studios and the TNT network—is moving forward. I am now writing the pilot script. The singer/actor Tim McGraw has signed to star in it. I met him recently in Los Angeles and can tell you he is a decent, smart, likable man. And Katka has turned our large two-car carport into a workshop for making concrete garden sculptures. She’s just finished five sculptures, and we plan to hold an open house on June 20 for anyone interested to come see them (and buy them, if they wish).

So as I say, life is good. We are happy. The transition is mostly done. My complaining is done, too, for the most part. Sorry you had to hear it. Hope you will forgive me. As I mentioned in a recent post on my Facebook page, the world is also a beautiful place and most humans are mostly kind to one another. And I promise: my next blog entry will be more upbeat from start to finish. Because really, that is how I intend to live my short life on this spinning rock in space. Surrounded by family and friends, surrounded by Mother Nature. With a wry smile on my lips at my own lack of faith.



Gone to Texas…


So we are almost done packing, Katka and I. And tomorrow we set off from the Mexican highlands here in San Miguel de Allende, headed north toward the border, the Mexico-USA frontier, to cross the Rio Bravo (though US-Americans call it the Rio Grande) and arrive in Texas.

Our pickup truck, T-Yoda, is loaded. Crammed full of personal and household goods, sitting low on its shocks. But T-Yoda (a Toyota Tundra) is a fine truck and has been a reliable replacement for our previous pickup truck, Rambeaux (a Dodge Ram), which served so well for 18 years before he retired in late 2013. In case you didn’t notice, I like giving Cajun-flavored names to my vehicles. T-Yoda as a name adds in a little Star Wars tang, as well. Well, he’s our space ship.


Now we are moving north after this past year and a half in Mexico. We’ll land in the Austin, Texas, area and look for a suitable house, one that affords us both the space we need to work. We’ll no doubt end up in a small town or rural area within hollering distance of the city proper. Perhaps Wimberley, or Blanco, or Elgin, or Taylor, or Bastrop. Some place like that. I’d like to have ample space to breathe, to run. And to plant a garden, too. Maybe I’ll even get some chickens and we’ll enjoy fresh eggs every day. The country life, or close to it.

But we’ll be working hard. I’ve got a novel in progress, and it appears that I’ll soon be writing a pilot script for a TV series based on a book of mine. (Knock on wood. But more on that subject later, as it gels, i.e. when contracts are signed.) And Katka will be creating her ink and pastel drawings while she expands her functional concrete garden art (sculptures) business. So we’ll be busy.

There also are personal reasons for the relocation. I have family in Texas, both in the Austin area and in East Texas, so I’ll get to spend more time with them. And I will reconnect with many good friends who I’ve missed these past 21 years living in Paris, Prague, and Mexico.

I’m somewhat anxious about the change, of course. After so many years as an expat, when I’ve visited the USA during recent trips I’ve felt like a stranger there. I felt like a foreigner. I’ve experienced culture shock. So it will take some time for me to adjust. And of course for Katka, it will be the same.

So we are setting off on another adventure. I’m feeling excited. Walking through a door into the unknown is like that, always. A new world awaits. Wish us well!