Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Long, Coal Winter

Our neighbor's house is engulfed in coal smoke.

All I wanted was to barbecue.

We moved out to the country in September 2007, after having lived in the center of Prague, for many reasons -- in order to have a garden and a terrace and place to host a barbecue or two, and to be nearer to Emma's school, the International School of Prague.

The advantages are, indeed, many.

There are a few disadvantages, however.

It's a longer commute to work. It's hard to do anything in central Prague - go to a movie or dinner, for instance -- on the spur of the moment, especially if alcohol is involved. The nearest grocery store is, well, there isn't really a grocery store nearby.

At the top of the list of my minuses, however, is coal smoke.

Many of the houses out here in the boondocks still heat using coal furnaces.

Now I'm no expert, but as far as I can tell, there are two basic types of coal -- black coal and brown coal. And brown coal is much dirtier and stinkier. And that's the type of coal that seems to predominate around here.

I've seen piles of coal outside of houses around here, and they definitely seem to be in two distinct colors.

We live on the crest of a ridge, and during the winter, if the winds are just right, it's not uncommon for thick coal smoke from some of the houses below us to waft upwards and engulf our house. But we don't get it as bad as our neighbor's house, which seems to attract the coal smoke like iron filings adhere to a magnet.

A pile of, I assume, black -- not brown -- coal, outside a home near my house.

Most of the time, the smoke ascends fairly straight into the sky, but you can still see it, and you can definitely smell it -- a stinging, acrid smell that I find unpleasant.

I've heard of some who don't mind the smell -- in fact, they say the odor is tinged with a bit of nostagia for their childhoods -- but not me.

I do like the smell of burning peat when I travel to Ireland. But peat smells sweet to me, and reminds me of waves crashing on the Connemara coast.

Just one more reason to look forward to the first signs of another Prague spring.


  1. Černý Vůl is really terrible in that aspect. With weather conditions as they are now, "inverze" as Czechs call it, the smoke from the houses in the valley below (that would be Statenice, I guess) for a blanket at about the level of the road, even with the car windows up, you can still smell the stink. And I really hate it! In Velké Přílepy I lived in a hill and when the wind blew from the SE going up the last few metres, breathing that dirty smoke, was terrible.
    Many people still use brown coal because is considerably cheaper than any other fuel for heating.

  2. Grant,
    I remember as a kid the roar of coal sliding down the coal chute into the coal bins in my grandparents house when the coal man made his deliveries in Skunk City. My mom and I lived with my grandparents till I was 4 and again when my old man went to sea.
    Same deal at my Uncle Frank's house. He converted to gas much later, having build way out in Fairmount, where gas lines didn't run till much later.
    When I was around 8, all the furnaces were converted to natural gas.
    Coal is filthy and unhealthful. Peat may smell good, but all that crap will ruin your lungs and shorten your life.