One of my favorite past times in the Netherlands is going on long walks in the city and glancing into the living rooms of the urban natives. Many of the brick homes are rather uniform, with wood trimmed windows and white curtains. But the Dutch windowsill is another matter. Sure, their dimensions are quite similar and they are usually white, but it is all the little things that lie there that make them so special. It’s as if, in this crowded country, these few meters of space have been allotted for people to express their individuality. Along one street I saw; a collection of sailboats, religious figures, glass orbs and a row of potted plants—each window as different as the people within.
On a recent walk through a neighborhood in Scheveningen, I came upon a bright orange bust sitting on the windowsill. It would have been inexplicable on its own, but through the open curtains I could see large, modern art pieces that made the orange bust seem like a subtle accent. As Ezra and I walked along Riouwstraat in Den Haag on our way to a speeltuin (playground), I came upon a whole row of ground floor flats with their curtains wide open, as if inviting me to gaze inside.
But, this invitation is not without preparation, as I have yet to see a disheveled Dutch house—cluttered, yes, but always organized and clean. No plates with breadcrumbs left on the table, or half drunken cups of tea.
And then there is our house. For the first three nights, we had no curtains to draw closed, and the broad, front windowsill just happened to be the right dimensions to set papers and books, seeing as we don’t yet have any bookshelves or files set up. Thus, we are completely in violation of the Dutch windowsill code and the immaculate house code for that matter.
I felt a bit exposed those first three nights as I sat in the curtainless living room, reading a book. Outside I could see people getting on and off the tram and passing by on bicycles. Hardly anyone looked our way, but I know that a lighted house at night with the curtains open easily pulls the eye, whether you are curious or not.
We have curtains now, yet I pull them closed at night with hesitation, as I like being visually connected to the world outside. This, I think, explains the open curtains in all of those urban ground floor flats; the reality of people walking by has long been accepted, and their view outward is far more important than anyone’s gaze inward.
Writing a blog feels a bit like sitting in a private, curtainless room. You are inviting everyone to gaze inward into your brightly lit, personal space, and although you know the curtains are open, you can’t see your visual visitors.