On windows

“Let us dally a little longer, be content still with surfaces only–the glossy brilliance of the motor omnibuses; the carnal splendour of the butchers’ shops with their yellow flanks and purple steaks; the blue and red bunches of flowers burning so bravely through the plate glass of the florists’ windows.”

– Virginia Woolf, Streethaunting

I’m watching Hitchcock’s Rear Window right now, and although I’m not too far in – so the suspense which would prevent me from pausing to rant on here hasn’t quite set in yet – I can’t help but think that this is a movie Woolf would have liked a lot. I like it a lot: watching people live la vita quotidiana unselfconsciously; the more diminished pathos of human life played out behind glass panes. It reminds me of that scene in The Voyage Out where Rachel & Helen watch people in the hotel.

“They had come out upon the broad terrace which ran round the hotel and were only a few feet distant from the windows. A row of long windows opened almost to the ground. They were all of them uncurtained, and all brilliantly lighted, so that they could see everything inside. Each window revealed a different section of the life of the hotel. They drew into one of the broad columns of shadow which separated the windows and gazed in. They found themselves just outside the dining-room. It was being swept; a waiter was eating a bunch of grapes with his leg across the corner of a table. Next door was the kitchen, where they were washing up; white cooks were dipping their arms into cauldrons, while the waiters made their meal voraciously off broken meats, sopping up the gravy with bits of crumb. Moving on, they became lost in a plantation of bushes, and then suddenly found themselves outside the drawing-room, where the ladies and gentlemen, having dined well, lay back in deep arm-chairs, occasionally speaking or turning over the pages of magazines. A thin woman was flourishing up and down the piano.”

– Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out

I like that about London, too, especially in the winter-time – the streets get dark very early, and everything is sort of shadowed and muted. No neon lights & bilboards galore, like the cities I’m used to. So I like looking at windows, empty frozen but lit-up living rooms, etc. I can’t quite figure out why, but there’s something incredibly comforting about it – maybe it reminds someone on the outside that there is a warmth, there is an inside, there is this cordoned-off little sanctum-space in which life plays itself endlessly, even if somebody else somewhere stops to watch. We are not all out on the streets, ‘hustling for a buck’ or running from point A to B with our heads bowed down and scarves wound tightly round: some of us bask in the glow of yellow lights & linger in the liminal space of tenement stairs.

'Rear Window'. From Google Images.

I suppose this would be a good time to add that I’ve been dreaming of New York. I have never been there, but I tend to have a nostalgia for places I’ve never seen anyways – one absorbs their (often falsified, poeticized, romanticized – yes, all of that) aura from Paramount pictures in 1950s Technicolor, from the pages of feverishly typewritten novels, et cetera. I want to go to New York so very badly!


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