February 19, 2012

The Wife and the Parrot

It is cold in Beirut. Cold for Beirut standards, that is. Nothing compared to the Siberian temperatures that pummeled Europe the past weeks. No Arctic winters here, but 11 degrees Celsius for Beirut, now that is cold. I, as a Northerner, should have no problem with that type of weather. And indeed, outside the house I am in my element. Makes me all nostalgic, feels like Holland (in summer).

It’s inside the house that I suffer. Beirut houses are not built for this kind of weather. Thin cinder block walls, no double glazing, marble floors and aluminum window frames sort of suck the cold in instead of keeping it out. Well, turn on the heat then, you say?

That is a bit of an issue. Since it doesn’t often get cold like this, we’re not really into advanced heating systems. My building did – at one point –have a central heating system. I know that from a radiator I once discovered in the back of a closet. The war, lack of water pressure, the price of oil, the state of electricity or the general Arab attitude towards the maintenance of equipment; you take your pick, but that radiator was all that was left of a once functioning system.

I don’t know many people that have central heating in their houses in Beirut these days. The stack of cast-iron radiators at the ‘antique’ dealers of Basta is an indication that many houses are now without. Only the new high-end apartments these days come with central heating; the rest of us mortal souls have to do with a variety of solutions.

There is the inverted AC, (If you can turn it on cold in summer, you can put it on ‘hot’ in winter), there’s your ‘subia’; an old-fashioned furnace that runs on oil (or wood, if you’re lucky), you have your little push-around heaters fed by bottled gas, and you have the mobile radiators, which run on electricity, and will suck your bank account dry and blow up your main switch board once the neighborhood generator takes over from the government electricity.

If you are not from Lebanon, you have probably no idea what I am talking about.
If you are from Lebanon, but living abroad, you are probably laughing your ass off because you do not have to deal with this misery anymore.
If – however – you live in country , you have by now identified your source of heat in these cold days, and sympathize with me in my misery.

I am an inverted AC gal. (although I do have the mobile radiator for the bathroom in the mornings). Inverted AC sucks. Your hair gets static, there’s the constant drone of the unit, it is only really warm if you’re right in the flow of it, and if it turns off, it’s back to cold within a matter of minutes. But if that’s all there is, you take it.

Now in comes the parrot. (Hence the title). Hubbie got a parrot last summer. It flew in, just like that, and it stayed. It’s an African grey. Not really an indigenous species, but quite popular, and so now and then there’s an escape artist landing on our balcony. Hubbie is quite smitten by this one.

And so, when this morning, I decided to turn on the heating unit because I was freezing to death, he said: “No, you cannot do that. It is not good for the parrot. He’ll die with these temperature changes and the draft. Turn it off.” (Did I hear a please somewhere?)

Now I sit here on the couch, in four layers, a scarf around my head and a blanket around me, typing with 4 fingers (the others don’t function well when it gets this cold), and reflecting upon my faith and that of the parrot.

On a totally different note, I did go and see Cat Stevens in concert (Yusuf, these days). I was more impressed with being recognized by Tracy (thank you Tracy!) then with Cat Stevens.


Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

I'm cold right along with you. My house in Moldova is new and has a functioning gas heating system. Unfortunately the new floor-to-ceiling windows in the new house (2 yrs old)have gaping spaces around them not to be plugged with simple weather strips. I have blankets and towels and rugs on the floor and stuffed the open spaces with rolled up bubble wrap.

We've had temperatures down to -20C and have not yet seen anything above 0, so the cold air that comes in through the windows makes it that the heat simply cannot keep up.

Unbelievable in a new house. Who designed this thing?

In your case, stick the parrot some other place and turn up whatever heat you have. You come first!

Can't believe that tropical bird will be happy in the cold ??

PepsiCanPat said...

hahaha I can so imagine you sitting there in the cold under four layers of scarfs and blankets giving the parrot the look of death and plotting for a certain "accident" to happen :-)

If you need an alibi, I can always say I saw you strolling in hamra around the same time the cat entered the cage!

UTH said...

I have an African grey myself, and I'm sure they'd tear a cat into pieces.
Try feeding him a piece of chocolate instead.

Riad. lb expat said...

Know exactly that feeling and laughing my heart out :)

Sietske said...

@Miss Footloose:
Moldova!? My gosh, it was so cold there that it was on the news last week!
@ PepsicanCat: I'll put himin front of an open window. :)
@ UTH:
Ours doesn't eat chocolate! I tried. Does that kill it?
@ Riad;
Yeah, I bet you do with your central heating!

Anonymous said...

I only know the norwegian blue parrot J.

Anonymous said...


UTH said...

Hahaha! yeah, chocolate and avocado can be toxic to parrots.
And there's always the overheated Teflon pan "incident", but then again, the parrot should be close enough to the fuming pan.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the Teflon pan "incident" can be corroborated. A Thai cook once tried to fry a living parrot in a Teflon pan, but alas the animal perished in the fumes before the the frying was concluded.

Charlotte said...

We used to have one of those little gas heaters... One of the legs was snapped off so it was always leaning at a very precarious angle and it emptied gas bottles faster than it managed to actually heat the house. Fun times, indeed.

Ekios said...

Am I the only one to be scared with all your methods to kill a bird ? :D

Anyway, you missed an option in your list :

If you are not Lebanese but you went once in Lebanon during a cold winter, you know what I'm talking about

Since hell yes I know what you describe ! I come from Alsace, a frankly cold french place during winter, but HELL, with 11°C in December @Lebanon I thought I was going to die when here at my place with 5°C it's like "yalla lets take the bathsuits !"

Good luck with your parrot :D

Snapdragon said...

It was lovely to bump into you at The Cat Stevens gig Sietske. I don't normally go up to people (honest!), but I believe when someone does a great job, they should be told. I love reading about your day-to-day experiences in Leb; sometimes your writing makes me laugh so hard it hurts. Awesome photos too. All-in-all it is a first class blog.

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