Fragments from songs and poems always float into my brain as the monsoon season finally begins here in Santa Fe, with heavenly afternoon thunderstorms that sprinkle a few drops on the parched earth.
“Cool, clear water” is a line from an old cowboy song—Gene Autry?—I heard long before moving to the southwest; but an earlier and more somber line, “Water, water all about and not a drop to drink,” from Samuel Coleridge’s “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” also floats up.
I was spared these memories a few weeks ago in Granada, Spain, and again, in Barcelona, because of the great inventiveness in the use of water shown in those two places, across many centuries.
In the gardens of the Moors’ great palace, the Alhambra, in Grenada, built on a dry hill emerging from a dry plain, I was always in earshot of the trickle of running water. Two thousand years ago, those precious invaders—precious because of the civilization they built on cooperation between three cultures—found their source of water in the snows on the Sierra Nevada; building long pipes down from the mountains, they had cold, clear water all summer, in parching heat, water that still flows through the shallow canals in their flourishing gardens, where roses, especially, throng up as though this were Dorset. They piped water into the domestic parts of the palace, for the first flushing toilets, and recirculated the garden water after it had run through the town below.
So simple, and majestic in its simplicity.
Here in Santa Fe, we live at approximately the same distance from the great mountains of the southern Rockies—the Sangre de Cristo—and draw water down from the snows, but it is contained in two big reservoirs that are only at fifty percent capacity now; and I wonder how much of that precious snow water is lost to evaporation. Underground pipes make so much more sense.
Later, in Barcelona, we visited Gaudi’s revolutionary housing complex, where the concern was less for water than for ventilation. Building on the ancient Spanish concept of a marble-floored courtyard in the center of a house—marble keeps its cool all summer—and vertical metal shades for all windows, Gaudi also added ventilation strips to walls and doors, little louvers that could be opened, directed, and closed at any time more air was needed. The result, even in the blazing heat, is a relatively cool house.
We seem particularly unable, here in the desert Southwest, to learn from these earlier techniques; there are no light-proof shades over the windows here in the middle of the day, no habit of closing early and opening late (which used to be the rule in the U.S. South), no planting of trees to provide crucial shade. Instead, as the climate grows hotter—demonstrated, dramatically, this June, all over the country—people begin to install air conditioners. Since all our energy comes from the giant coal-fired plant at the Four Corners, each air conditioner is contributing its bit to global warming.
And, as the town grows and parking lots proliferate, there are none of the simple canvas canopies I saw over parking areas in Spain, just blazing sun, and cars so hot the drivers must immediately turn on air conditioning.
When will we learn?
They even put their banking miscreants in jail.