Chills in Chile

The recent cold snap in Santiago was quickly snuffed out by blazing heat, reminding us that being near a western-facing window from 5pm to 8pm is like stepping into an inferno. But in a few months, as this inferno fades into memory, we will be in the midst of winter that on paper should not feel as miserable as it is.If San Francisco’s summer is often a tourist’s coldest winter, then Santiago is the coldest winter most people will ever endure even if logic points to the contrary. Apparently there are other places that are cold for no reason: “I have lived in New York, Boston and Chicago, in Bettendorf, Iowa, and currently, in Livingston, Montana (where, as I write this, it is -8C). But I have never been as cold as during my last six winters in Los Angeles. If you live in an authentically frigid climate, you will call me an exaggerator, a wimp, a whiner, but let me explain. It’s true that temperatures in Los Angeles rarely approach freezing, and that except on occasion in the foothills, snowflakes hardly ever fall. Yet Los Angeles, with its peculiar brand of wet, rainy cold—dank and insidious, not crisp and snow-bright—often feels chillier than any place on Earth. An LA-chill seeps through walls and under clothes; it ensures your feet are always slightly damp. The persistent feeling is that unpleasant clammy sensation of wearing clothes removed too soon from the dryer. And a cold from which there is no refuge is the coldest cold of all.” Amanda Fortini sums it up beautifully in her brief piece for Monocle Alpino from Winter 2010/11.

Three winters later I’m sure it’s still as cold in Los Angeles as it will be in Santiago. Both cities are nearly the same distance from the equator and even though in most cases latitude comparisons are nonsense, anecdotal evidence leads me to believe southern California mirrors central Chile’s geography and climate. If anything, both places suffer from poor residential design. Fortini’s evaluation of her home in Los Angeles hits close to home: “None of my LA residences have been toasty but the worst was the fancy guesthouse my boyfriend and I rented last year. Designed by Rudolph Schindler, a California Modernist architect who worked in the first half of the 20th century, this little house either lacked insulation entirely, or its walls were padded with some diabolically contrarian substance that absorbed cold like solar panels trap heat. All winter, it seemed to be icier in our stupid designer house than it was outdoors.”

We live 32 floors in the sky so cold wind is our biggest enemy in the winter. Last year we taped plastic paint sheets to the smaller windows; the wind was so ferociously unwavering that the air bubble between the glass and our interior space only disappeared once we removed the plastic. A cheap band-aid that we will no doubt revisit in a couple of months. This amusing blog post about winter in Chile is a nice warning about what to expect. I’d like to add that running down to the ground level of my building helps me stave off the chills.

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