Paris Windows

Written by admin on March 26, 2010 – 11:35 am -

It’s rare I have revelations in the true sense of the word. But recently, I realized I’ve seen and experienced so much of Paris simply by peering out my windows. And looking into them.

If this makes me sound as if I’m a voyeuse, it might be deserved. I’ve never considered myself one, but perhaps I should reconsider. Spending hours looking out of my apartment’s windows has given me insights into how the French live. It’s a very personal microcosm on Parisian life.

This view isn’t unique to France unless you live in the country or far enough away from neighbors you’d need to sneak around for a look-see or resort to binoculars.

However, when you live in Paris, few people have clear vistas. That’s one of the city’s charms. People talk about its rooftops and, yes, they’re lovely and do change according to the light, the weather and shadows. But they remain essentially the same if you live in central Paris. Rooftops aren’t living theater unless your thing is watching birds and where they perch.

Parisians rarely close their shutters unless they’re away and, if they’re home, why pull down shades or close curtains unless they want to darken their bedrooms when they’re sleeping. The French, at least in my quartier, don’t appear to be instilled with the same sense of modesty as Anglo-Saxons.

When I first moved into our home 20 years ago, many of our neighbors were older and lived predictable lives by the clock. The kitchens were functional, but that was about it. Many of them had racks where people would hang laundry to dry.  Many French didn’t believe in dryers because of the cost—they were expensive to run—and they could possibly ruin clothes.  No self-respecting French woman would put underwear in a dryer because undies are a true investment. Some people had maids and left the laundry to them.

Five years later, some of the apartments’ residents began dying off. If they were living in some of the smaller apartments across the courtyard where my bedrooms and kitchen are situated, more than likely a younger relative would move into the premises. As a rule, the French don’t like to sell property because of inheritance taxes and they feel better owning bricks and mortar.

Contrasted to Americans, most French didn’t redecorate for the sake of redecorating. Family furniture was cherished. Much of it was period and may have been recovered, while the walls were given a fresh coat of paint—but that was it.

The surprising thing is I didn’t know the name of my neighbors even though we were a part of the others lives. One couple had a cat and our kitties were brought to the window each morning to say hello.

There was a deaf woman who lived across the way who would always smile. When she first moved in, she had a lover. When they broke up, my heart ached for her. After approximately a year, another woman moved into the apartment and it was apparent their relationship was more than platonic.

We’d bump into each other on the street and always nod and smile but we never knew one another’s name. When the apartment was sold, I was sad when she moved out. A woman, who has covered every wall with purple wallpaper with tiny flowers, has bought it. She dresses and behaves to match the décor.  In other words, boring.

Babies have been born and I’ve seen them grow up. One teenager, whom I’d watched since she’d moved into the apartment with her parents, made the family’s apartment headquarters for all of her friends.  They’d come home after school, go into the garden and light up and they weren’t smoking cigarettes.  I did know the parents and debated as to whether or not I should tell them what was taking place while they were at work because the air was being permeated with smoke from cannabis and you could get a contact high. After a few weeks of ongoing parties, I did tell them and questioned my decision.

In recent years, many of the apartments have been sold and the area has made more than a few contractors and architects rich. Designer kitchens equipped with high-tech appliances and super chic bathrooms are now the rage.

New owners are gutting the apartments, and after they’ve completed the rehab, frequently decorated with Italian furniture mixed with antiques, they entertain. But they never close the curtains.

Which means you can see things at all times of the day and night, including parties.  They could be parties anywhere, except the French serve far more champagne and far less food.  I’ve attended so many of them, but from afar—across the courtyard or the street.  I’m tempted to organize a block party, but that would be so very un-French.

Discussing the know-your-neighbor-but-not phenomenon with the building’s guardienne, she laughed and told me that everyone refers to me as the American who’s always sitting in front of her computer. They’re right.

However, that doesn’t mean I miss so many of Paris’s nuances. Still, I’m becoming increasingly tempted to throw that party. If no one shows, so what? I’m betting it will be a mob scene since so many French have become increasingly Americanized.

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