<%-- Page Title--%> A Roman Column <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 134 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

December 19, 2003

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The Ice King

Neeman A Sobhan

If I caught you in the act of flipping the page and by-passing this column because the title convinced you that this was some fairy tale nonsense, let me just tell you that it isn't. It is the true and sordid story of what a husband turns into in cruel middle age when the temperature drops and the cost of living goes up. Now you can move on to the next page.

Okay, now that I've caught your attention, let me confess that 'sordid' may be a slight exaggeration, but today as I write this, shivering and punching the keyboard with mitten-ed fingers, while the thermometer hanging outside on my terrace wall registers 5 degrees Celsius, I feel like a Persephone abducted into the underworld of winter by none other than my heartless husband, a latter day incarnation of the Prince of Darkness.

Surely you remember the Prince of Darkness, from that great humorist Erma Bombeck, who gave this title to her husband who, according to her 'dedicated his entire life to flipping off light switches'? My husband went through that phase with the boys, but once he realised that 'who left the lights on in the bathroom?' was one of those of life's questions that would never get answered, he promptly shifted to the role of the Saint of Lights in our home. He was the one who suffered in silence and sacrificed his time and energy saving the family from financial ruin by going from room to room killing those money-chewing bulbs. He even changed some of them to those slow-lighting ones where you enter the kitchen in the dark, switch the light on and nothing happens so while waiting for the bulb to warm up, you proceed to bump against the fridge, stub your toe against the table and scream to your death faced by your obscured reflection coming alive on the glass oven door in the slowly, glimmering ghostly light, and then the captain of the Light Brigade comes charging down asking what ever is the matter? By that time the stupid light bulb is fully alight, maliciously aglow and flooding the now lit up, non-menacing kitchen, while you weep silently into your mid-night cereal bowl.

But, I can still live with this Duke of Darkness. (And, I must admit, he is much better than what my father used to be: the High Priest of Heat. Yes, in summer, he was a compulsive switcher-offer of fans. According to his perspective, the world began and ended with his entrance and exit from a room. So, no matter how many people were sharing the room with him, watching T.V. or dining with him, and sharing the cooling breeze from the ceiling fan, as soon as he got up to leave the room, the show was over, so he would automatically turn off the fan on his way out. “Abba! Hullo? We are dying here!”)

But since yesterday, my husband the Ice King has taken over the domestic kingdom, as has winter, which was quite late in coming to Rome. Even two days ago, it was almost spring-like; sun ablaze, blue skies, and only the minty hint of a chill to remind us that this is December. Suddenly, the other day, the temperature took a nosedive. A rugged northern European type of personality has pervaded the mild Italian winterscape. We are seriously into over coats, gloves, stockings, mufflers, AND central heating. Well, left to me, my house would have almost round-the-clock heating! And herein lies the reason for Persephone's abduction from the world of eternal spring.

I mean, there I was at noon, having just returned from an expedition into town, chilled to the bones, now warming my hands on a hot cup of tea as I sat at my computer when my Hades calls from office. We discuss how cold it has suddenly become. Then without warning husband says, “By the way, I hope you turned off the heating? It's been on since morning.” Of course, I haven't. I didn't remember, and it's so cold! I sputter in disgust: “WHAT? Didn't we just agree that it's so cold! Can you hear yourself? Don't you have a heart? Your poor wife's fingers are freezing and you're asking her to turn off the heating?” He clicks his tongue “Arrey Baba! We can't afford to keep the heating on all day. Give it a break. Turn it off for a few hours. The residual warmth will last sometime. And you can turn it back on in the evening…” “Yes, when you come home… Oh! My God, you're turning into my father.” Hades starts to laugh. He loves the idea of turning my father's double. “How quickly we forget,” he reminds me. “When we lived in an apartment you never complained about the heating being turned on and off automatically.”

Its true enough. I still remember a decade ago when we lived in an apartment building where, as is the norm, the heating was regulated automatically by a central condominium system. It would come on around six in the morning and last till about 10 a.m., and then come on again from 4 p.m. to 9 at night. Unlike the U.S where houses and apartments are so over heated that you wear tee shirts and leave windows open, I actually found the Italian system healthier. It made you dress appropriately for the season, to conserve your natural body warmth, and enjoy winter for its specialness: wearing woollies, eating hearty food and drinking hot beverages, and drawing to a real fire in the hearth for the real reason, that is for the warmth and not just for the reflected cosiness.

The Ice King calls again to check if I have turned the heating off. “Yes, I have. But remember as they say in Italian about buying cheap food, 'Money saved in the market is spent in the pharmacy', likewise, what you save in heating bills will be made up for by hospital bills.” I try to generate visions of me languishing away in a hospital bed with pneumonia and the Ice King shaking his head in self-recrimination. But with a pair of his woollen socks on my feet and a second sweater pulled on, actually the house is rather pleasant without the dehydrating heat, but catch me admitting that to him. “Oh! For heaven's sake, if you're that cold turn it back on,” he softens. I'm slightly mollified. “Don't worry, I'll survive.” Today, I'm actually beginning to enjoy the true advent of winter in Rome. Maybe we can light the fireplace this evening. I better not mention this to the Ice King lest in anticipation of fully enjoying the crackling warmth of fire he suggests a turning off of the heating for the entirety of this evening! And now to lay out the walnuts, nutcrackers, dried fruit and the scrabble board before the fireplace. 'Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer…'



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