It’s only relatively recently that air conditioners became common in average family homes in Milan. Most of the buildings here are built out of thick stone, which serves to mitigate the impact of the outside temperature. The way you experience temperature in a stone structure is completely different than in a traditional Japanese house made of wood—and I’m guessing that’s why they were able to get by without air conditioners for so long. But construction has changed in recent years, and the modern apartment buildings built in Milan are typically made out of reinforced concrete. Add to that the heat island effect and rising temperatures, and summer has become a rough season for Milanese living in the city.
Installing new air conditioners in the old stone apartment buildings is no easy task, and first requires the rather expensive process of cutting holes in their thick walls. That’s probably why there are still a lot of families that don’t have air conditioning. Seeing my co-workers dragging themselves into work with exhausted sighs and haggard expressions is testament to how much they’re suffering from a lack of sleep during the muggy nights without air conditioning.
The traditional thing for the Milanese to do when summer comes is to escape to the seaside or the mountains. Long ago, the aristocrats of Milan would summer at Lake Como, which explains why so many lavish estates still line its shores even today. I sometimes dream about spending a year at Lake Como, though it wouldn’t have to be in one of those.
Once when I was muttering about how much I’d like to immerse myself in the changing seasons at the lake, watching the colors change along the shoreline from morning until night and enjoying the changing weather from sunny skies to clouds and rain, a nearby coworker snapped back, “Oh, you don’t want to do that,” he began. “The people that live on Lake Como are cold towards outsiders and they’ll watch you like a hawk trying to figure out everything about you. It’s a really unpleasant place to live. Really inconvenient, too. The closest supermarket is dozens of kilometers away. Yeah, the shore is lively during the summer, but everything changes in winter. It’s humid, gloomy, and deserted. The houses that were originally built along the shore there have high ceilings and cost a lot to heat during the winter. I lived in my parents’ vacation home there once because I got fed up with Milan and how expensive it is to live here, but it was just awful.” And with that, my Lake Como fantasy was shattered.
But another acquaintance of mine who actually grew up at Lake Como is totally in love with the place and was eager to boast about it. “Lake Como is the best!” he told me. “Just about every day during summer I take my kids in the boat out on the lake. You can get around to the other towns that way without having to deal with traffic, and on the way, you can jump in the lake, swim around, cool off, and have fun. It’s also relaxing just being out on the water. I have a friend on the other side, and it’s fun to go and pick him up and let him ride on the boat, so it’s pretty convenient and also lots of fun. I put an air conditioner in the house just in case, but we almost never turn it on. You hear a lot about kids these days being all caught up in their video games and phones and all that, but our kids living on the lake go out and play and are really active and away from their electronics, so I don’t think they’re addicted to them the same way other kids are.”
So there’s that, too.
At this point, it seems life on Lake Como has its good points and bad points. I’m still interested in trying it out someday though. My awe and curiosity pop up again every now and then.