When I stroll with Felix through his leafy green neighborhood, we always pass a house that makes me wonder. It’s nearly windowless. I inevitably think of that row of student housing on Barnett Shoals, the complex where some cheapo developer actually added outlines of fake windows. Did he think he was fooling us? I think of how “they” say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and I wonder why someone would build or buy a house that looks so soulless, that must border on blindness inside.
I point at the house, and express my bewilderment to the baby. “Why do you think that is, little love?” He responds, without hesitation, “Thwa, thwa, thwa.” Do I sense some condemnation in his answer? Is he saying “Don’t be so judgmental, Nana!” Or are those precious syllables asking, “What’s a window? Will you tell me someday please?”
A view. Most of us want one. The best one, the most awe-inspiring one, one that takes our breath away, one worthy of preservation as an electronic souvenir of what we saw – our wallpaper, the home screen on our phone. We crave a vista that soothes and slows our breathing, instills peace as we stare out toward the sea. Do we sense home in those waters? Our distant ancestors once swam there, before they crawled out onto shore to begin their earth-bound odyssey.
We go to Savannah, and want to open wide the tall French windows and watch the ships sail into port, try to decipher the crazy-looking languages on the massive containers and play a game of “where’d it come from, what’s within?” We want to sip red wine high above the Roman rooftops, enjoy a terra cotta sunset from our place of privilege in the Eternal City. And we want to find our way back home, where we open our eyes to the Georgia pines that brush against the morning sky outside our dormer windows. At least I do.
So when I see this peculiar house, I can’t help but wonder.
It makes me think of the stone cottages I saw so long ago in the Yorkshire Dales. The undulating countryside was lovely: low stone walls segmenting the land like enduring stitches on a lush green quilt. But the slits that stood for windows in those little houses made me think dark thoughts about the need for protection, not just from the elements, but from pillaging strangers breaking into the peaceful valleys’ fold.
There’s the contrast with the glorious 17th-century merchant houses built during the Dutch Golden Age. I don’t know how those expansive windows overlooking the Prinsengracht were dressed in centuries past, but now they’re mostly curtain-less, and I marvel about Amsterdam, how life’s lived there, wide-open, so exposed. Is it in reaction to everything that once was hidden? A refutation of all the horrors stashed in the overstuffed attic of the European soul?
I push the swank stroller up the hill on the East Side of Athens, and my envy of one neighbor’s attempts to keep their grapes from the critters prompts visions of the future. I tell Felix, “I can’t wait to stand on my front porch and pick blackberries with you, little love! Hope the birdies leave us some!” I stare into this child’s eyes, see him stare back into mine; I feel him trying to fathom what’s behind them, what’s inside this talking head. No DNA connects us, but it’s already clear we have much in common: So many questions. (What makes Nana, Nana; what makes a tree, a tree? Who designed this garish sticker, stuck it “just so” on my stroller, so when I wake up from my sleep time, it’s the first thing that I see?)
Then suddenly the Talking Heads have joined us. I’ve always loved their song,“This Must Be The Place,” their sweet take on home and togetherness, the say-nothing-more-ness of the line,“You got a face with a view.” So even though this is a song about “traditional” romance, and I remember only a few snippets, I lean over the stroller, get closer to sing. “Hi yo. You got light in your eyes.” “Eyes that light up, eyes [that] look through you.” Felix giggles and gurgles up at me, seems not to begrudge me one bit my warbly, off-key rendition of David Byrne’s words.
I add a few lyrics as we make our way downhill, back home: “Of one thing I am certain: You’ve got a face with a view.” “Hi yo,” I chant as we stroll.