“The landscape always fools us, and I imagine always will.” – Lawrence Durell
Trying to picture what Italy is like is a constant battle to push stereotypes out. Pasta, pizza, gelato, wine … Of course, there’s the infamous Cinque Terre houses, bright and perched upon the Ligurian Sea. What is it about these little houses, villages full of only four thousand inhabitants, that draws millions of tourists each year? What is it about pictures of the Florentine Duomo that has people running after into each other at Piazza del Duomo? After boiling it down as much as possible, I have realized the unlikely answer to that question is: windows.
I came up with “The sun shines the same way everywhere” when I was fourteen, stricken by the loss of my beloved summer camp. It was that quote I fell back on during hard times, a quote I relied on for the comfort of knowing that the light of the sun would ground me while experiencing the emotional growing pains that travel often provides. It is here in Florence, in my poorly lit apartment where I understand the importance of light, the sun, and the windows that open up.
I learned, by the tour guide that first introduced me to my neighbor when getting here, that the colors of the windows are mandated by the city to maintain particular aesthetics. The window shutters of said poorly lit apartment are all blue, including my neighbors’ and the Coin store’s across the way. Windows are important here in Italy, the six windows of the Duomo’s Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral are only of utmost beauty, drawing visitors from all parts of the globe to marvel upon the circular fragments of holy figures in saturated full color.
In the States, all the windows I’ve ever seen are anything but poetic. The windows in my New York City apartment didn’t open more than a crack, and the little that came through rushed with such a shudder and sound, I sacrificed my love of fresh air and never cranked them open. In Jersey, where I grew up, I would plunge my windows open, but the fine netting between the outdoors and my sunlit room closed me off from the fresh air. The gap between the net and the window pane was full of crusted wasps and dust. Opening the window happened out of necessity, the air was cool, smelled of the lavender my father grew downstairs, and provided me with the little movement I begged for in the quiet suburbia I had grown out of.
Perhaps it is here, in a UNESCO World Heritage site, where the Renaissance flourished, where novel ideas and history found their form, where light has its utmost importance. The Renaissance is spoken about as the period of birth, of techniques like chiaroscuro, which is a balance of light and dark to create perspective. Even the intangible (arguable) ideas conceived by the Renaissance, such as Dante’s “From a little spark may burst a flame.” All that is life revolves around the good and bad, the light and the dark. It brings your eyes to depth of purity, the varying shades of gray we all see in our daily lives.
Now the importance of a window must be clearer to you: They are the middlemen between the warmth of the sun and the labyrinth of your wine-stained bedsheets and wood pencils. Windows are the literal expanse into the outside world, full of all its glory and ghosts. My blue shutters, Via Ricasoli’s pink ones, the Duomo’s stained glass beauty … I could go on. Windows are our essential eyes, the connection between us and the environment around us. We only get this certain outlook pictured by a window, only a piece of the larger whole produced by a wood frame. Let me know when you step into the light.