This week, my partner and I decided to spruce up the house and do some deep cleaning in addition to taking down and putting away the Christmas decorations.
I’m keenly aware that this may sound like an impossibly boring and tedious task to some, but I take great pleasure in beautifying and renewing my physical spaces, especially when others are on board to do it with me.
As far as I’m concerned, cleaning, organizing and decorating is basically very accessible witchcraft: what a different feel you can give a place!
Those of you who’ve been reading my column for more than a couple years might remember my passion for organization and good design. Indeed, if I could choose a superpower, it would be invisibility — not so I could see everybody naked (meh, I’ve seen us…we’re all kind of equally funny-looking) but to peer inside all the buildings and houses that raise my curiosity, especially here in Mexico where the lack of visible yards and walls that go right up to the sidewalk leave so much to the imagination.
This summer, we had the fortune of renting what is basically our dream house, in the close-to-downtown neighborhood I’d been fantasizing about living in for a while. The top floor is filled with light from gigantic windows and has those high, wood-beamed ceilings that I think make any place look both cozy and elegant.
The bedrooms are downstairs — and therefore darker, perfect for sleeping — and there is more storage space than I know what to do with, a rarity in most places I’ve rented. There’s a bodega in the back where we keep our budding beer production and a large yard (also a rarity) that I’m still trying to decide what to do with.
The place is huge and fancy, with opulence but also with those little detalles that all Mexican homes, at least around where I live, have: mainly, humidity, humidity and more humidity.
In the tropical areas of Mexico (like Veracruz, where I live) this is a never-ending battle.
In addition to my city just being an overall wet place, everything is built with concrete, which is porous. This means that water seeps through wherever it can and eventually starts battling against whatever paint you’ve got on the inside of your walls. By the time the humidity gets to the inside of the wall, it looks like there’s air bubbling up under the paint.
If you’re like me and can’t help poking at it, you’ll find that the space underneath might even have a fuzzy, white substance already. In Spanish, this is called salitre, and it’s basically salt residue that’s a result of the water mixing with the minerals in the concrete.
While it’s not mold, I can’t imagine that it’s fantastic for people’s health to be trapped inside humid places like this, and I’ve long suspected that when people blame the cold weather for respiratory trouble, it might have more to do with staying inside of cold, humid places with all the doors and windows closed, letting whatever viruses they’ve picked up proliferate.
I’ve met people who have been diagnosed as “allergic to humidity,” and honestly, I just can’t imagine how they manage in a city like mine, where shoes left in a closet for more than a few months will come out moldy.
Figuring out how to get rid of humidity indoors is something that I’m still exploring. After talking with my buddies at the local Comex paint store, where I spend a hefty portion of my income, I’ve settled on muriatic acid for getting rid of it with a special indoor sealant paint on top. Because the stuff on the outside of those walls is damp soil and not air, that’s as far as I can go, but I’ve got high hopes.
By the way, do not take this as technical advice; these chemicals are dangerous, and you need a step-by-step guide from a professional if you want to try it yourself, and that’s not me.
I also need to figure out how I’m going to “even” the wall after finishing this process but before I repaint — plaster, maybe? But I am nothing if not motivated when it comes to home improvement. In the meantime, I’ve been closely observing the solutions that other people have found.
Many, quite honestly, simply let it be. Humidity is a fact of life around here, and there are enough other things to worry about. Tile is a popular choice to cover walls and is at least effective at keeping the humidity on the other side.
Most people simply depend on good old-fashioned ventilation.
You might have noticed that few houses around here are built to be perfectly sealed: windowpanes are thin and flimsy, and gaps between windows and doors and their corresponding frames are common. And I realized earlier this week while using a pressure washer on the outsides of those big, luxurious windows in my home that even spaces that look sealed are not.
The battle against humidity at my own house continues in the meantime as I try to find the right balance between doing what I can and relaxing about the inevitable, a goal well-worth pursuing in many areas beyond just home improvement.
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Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sdevrieswritingandtranslating.com