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Front Porch

Windows will soon shut as we await winter's return

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
Published April 27, 2007


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Last night while out on my daily walk, I noticed that the weather was still cool and fine and gentle, despite the fleeting days of spring and the close proximity to May.

I passed a couple walking their dogs who remarked on the beauty of the evening but remained wary of the days ahead.

"The hot weather is coming," the woman observed. "We're about to close our windows up for good and turn on the air conditioning."

I nodded at her sage assessment because she spoke the truth.

After months of open window weather, sleeping blissfully at night beneath quilts with my windows wide open, I know that soon I will have to give up this little luxury and grudgingly switch on my central air until next fall.

Months of boxed-in living lie ahead for Floridians who love fresh air and living a true indoor-outdoor lifestyle.

The longer I live in Florida, the more I become an open-window person. I love to hear my neighbors' wind chimes singing, the sound of the breeze stirring the oaks and pines, the plaintive coos of doves in the morning. With the windows open, I'm more inclined to look out the window at the moon or an egret or a batch of shells drying on my deck.

In the 20th century, air conditioning really changed the way people lived in Florida. It even changed when - and for how long - tourists visited. My former apartment building was built as a hotel in the 1920s and, from everything I've heard, was only open from late fall through the spring - cool months when open windows and door transoms coaxed in the balmy breezes.

Like many other Florida hotels in those early days, the place shut down for the summer. I recently bought a reproduction of an 1898 brochure for Henry Plant's Belleview Biltmore Hotel in Clearwater, and it lists the opening date for the winter season as Jan. 1.

After air conditioning evolved from luxury to staple, many in Florida began to view our beautiful winters from inside a sealed, air-conditioned environment. I'm sure many tourists travel to Disney World in the winter, stay in hermetically sealed and air-conditioned rooms, wander from one air conditioned attraction to the next, and never fully appreciate the fact that they're in Florida.

In my journeys covering homes, I've met a small handful of people - I can actually count them on one hand - who live with a window unit or two and open windows most of the year.

I met one woman, an elderly descendant of Florida pioneers, who still lived without air conditioning in the family homestead, which was cleverly built to capitalize on the cross breezes.

A few weekends ago I went to a party at the home of some Florida natives. The man's father owned a wonderful beach club and saltwater swimming pool on Miami Beach in the 1920s (Johnny Weissmuller trained there for the Olympics), and there were old photos everywhere of throngs of Florida tourists soaking up the sunshine.

I noticed that my hosts had all their windows open - front to back - and that the gathering spilled out onto the side porch and around the pool.

Someone remarked that they truly enjoyed their home and lived like true Floridians, that other people in the same development didn't open their windows - ever.

I collect antique Florida postcards and as much as I love the images on the fronts of the old orange groves and hotels and tourist attractions, I love to read the hastily scrawled notes on the backs. Almost inevitably people remark on the beauty of the winter weather.

Most of my postcards wear postmarks from the 1920s, '30s and '40s. No doubt, their senders spent the winter with the windows open. So, as I write this, our luxurious winter and spring days are dwindling, and the temperature outside is climbing.

The AC will be turned on, the stunning heat tolerated until the earliest opportunity to throw open the windows again.

I'm wishing for late October.

In the meantime, I'm reading my home and garden magazines, dreaming of those cool, summer days in the North, when gardens are lush and windows open.

Maybe, just maybe, I tell myself, we'll have a little cold front in May.

[Last modified April 26, 2007, 07:44:37]


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