I got up at 6:45 and the first thing I did, of course, was to check the temperature outside: minus 9.5 degrees centigrade. Now it's 7:45 and I just checked again. The thermometer is still going down — minus 10.1 is the latest reading. That's 14ºF. It's the coldest morning so far. This cold snap started only a week ago, but it seems like a month. And we live in a relatively warm micro-climate for our region.
I know a lot of people live in places where it's a lot colder than 14 degrees F, but they don't live in the same kinds of houses we live in here in Saint-Aignan and across France. Our houses are built of stone or concrete blocks, with tile floors. There isn't much or any insulation in the walls, and the tile floors are freezing cold. (Our house in San Francisco, built of wood, wasn't insulated either, by the way. It too was cold when the temperature dropped, but then it was pretty much always cold in San Francisco.)
In our 1960s-vintage Saint-Aignan house there's a thin layer of fiberglass in the ceiling, but that's it. Otherwise, the air spaces in the concrete blocks of the walls provide the only protection against the cold. When we got the attic finished in 2010, we had walls built of plaster board put in up there, with a thick layer of insulation between the walls and the roof tiles. The loft is actually warmer than the main living space downstairs.
Besides the arctic cold, which is all the news in the French press and on French TV, what's going on here these days is the ramp-up to the upcoming presidential election, scheduled for April/May (with two rounds of voting). The incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, has not yet declared his candidacy, but he is clearly campaigning. And he has help from outside France. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is in France doing what looks like campaigning with and for Sarkozy.
Some say the situation is unprecedented. It makes me wonder what wag might have said that it would be “a cold day” when a German political leader would be the model and inspiration for a French presidential candidate, declared or not.