Thursday, July 14, 2005

My current location (not Krakow) happens to be in the Florida panhandle--the place with magnetic attraction for fearsome hurricanes like Ivan and Dennis. We had planned to travel out of town the weekend that Dennis hit, anyway, and we extended our stay a couple of days to avoid the discomforts of living without electricity. The power had been restored by the time we pulled into the driveway, so we did not have to endure July temperatures without the blessed respite of air conditioning. (I've often wondered what possessed settlers to settle here before AC was invented. I wouldn't have.)

But the whole situation reminded of something that happened virtually days after we first arrived in Poland, also in July, in 1997. We moved into a Stalin-era "block"--one of those concrete boxes broken up into hundreds of little flats. We set up house, American style. We purchased a washer and a dryer (a rare thing in Europe). We used transformers, and set up the computer and printer. We ran the radio, toaster, hair-dryer, computer, washer, dryer, electric lights, and probably a few other things, like any normal 20th-century family.

What we didn't know (until it was much, much too late) was that the wiring in our Stalin-era flat was not equipped to handle the electric load of an American family in the 1990's. The wiring wasn't even all copper--some of it was aluminum. So, within about two weeks of arriving on Polish soil, we completely destroyed the wiring in our apartment, requiring that the entire place be re-wired.

This definitely ranks as one of the most uncomfortable experiences I can remember. We were without power for about three weeks, although I think that were able to give us temporary power in one room, so we could have lights in the evening. Our co-workers made ice and brought it to us via tram (no one had a car at that time), so we could keep a few things cool in an ice chest. Even though it was July, no one in Poland uses air conditioning anyway, so we didn't miss that.

It took a long time for the apartment to be re-wired, and we had two Polish workers in our home all day, every day, when we were unable to communicate beyond saying "hello" and "coffee?" or "tea?"

What I really wanted to blog about was the extraordinary difference between electrical wiring in Poland and in America, but this has gotten long enough that I think I'll save it for next time.

In the meantime, I am thankful that I have power to run the air-conditioning and the computer--both of which feel essential right now. I wouldn't have made a good settler.


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