Italian windows are purposeful. What they keep out is as important as what they let in.

Heat, light, air and people, too, all are closed out or welcomed in depending, in part, upon the season. Each window has multiple layers. From within one sees top to bottom curtains, long slim simple natural-colored panels of cotton with perhaps a hint of lace. Behind them are long paneless sheets of glass, which rattle in the wind. Beyond are rolled slats of wood or aluminum or folding wooden shutters creating a protective barrier against the outer world – light, heat, sound and people. If one lives on a lower level, between the long sheets of glass and the rolled slats lays gridded metal bars.

Open only occasionally, Italian windows keep the heat of the summer sun out and trap the fleeting winter heat within, no doubt, a functional visual expression of Mediterranean life. In summer the sun blazes casting long hot, sweaty shadows that invade interior spaces. In winter, if you live in a communal flat, heat visits only during the day and must be trapped within for nighttime warmth.

All the day they remain closed. Wondering down Italians streets, save for the multitude of voices that rise and fall (mostly rise) and the clatter of dishes long preparing lunch or dinner, it seems that no one resides within the flats that line the street. Blocks of windows with wooden slats rolled down or shuttered pulled closed.

All the night they remain closed. This time wondering down the street there is silence. Only later, long into the morning hours, can one finally say “bouna notte.” For in Italy dinners often do not end until well beyond ten and then still it is “bouna sera.”  In le notte, there is a visual silence that is strangely repetitive of the afternoon, windows rolled shut.

Day or night, a sort of visual silence permeates Italian streets, a longing for security. But, in brief moments the windows fly open – and then wide–open. A moment, perhaps a few hours, as if washing hot winds out and sweeping cool breezes in, or welcoming some light that they had not previously noticed. Then, again, they fly shut. The open windows appear like periods at the ends of long Italian sentences spoken with flying Italian arms.

Flatted frames of brown, like long sentences, repetitively dot exterior walls. By night they sing a silent lullaby. By day their voices echo emptiness. Yet the closed windows of Italy belie a deep cultural warmth – or perhaps they exemplify a cultural irony. For as warm as Italians may be it is a warmth felt, only, once on the other side of their cultural window.

All photographs copyright: Jean Grow


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Filed under codes, culture, insight, tradition

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