Window watching

Ever looked out the window at the pouring rain and wished like mad that it would stop soon because you want to be out there doing something really useful like ... wasting time in the open air? All you know is that you are on the wrong side of that pane of glass. Right? I bet you don't give that window a second thought. It's just there for you to look through longingly.

It's amazing, when you think about it, how many windows there are in the world. They're everywhere, in cars and boats and planes, homes and factories, offices and barns, little shops and big stores - all shapes and sizes and ages. You can even find windows in paper envelopes.

House windows are often different in different countries. Japanese windows, for instance, are traditionally much wider than they are high. In the West it's the other way around.

Although it isn't raining in the painting above, the large dog peers out a slightly open window. This may be the best kind of window, one that opens wide on the world. But imagine a house without any windows at all. It would be like a prison, wouldn't it? Not much fun to be inside. And not really a bag of laughs to look at from the outside, either.

Have you ever noticed how the windows make a house look as though it has a face? It can appear pleasant or unpleasant. It depends on all sorts of things. On where the windows are put on the walls. On how square or how squashed they look. Or how tall and elegant. They can have arched eyebrows that lift in surprise. Or they can pop out of roofs like submarine periscopes. Sometimes they look terribly lonely on a bare wall. Or they can be lined up like drilling soldiers in city buildings while their country cousins are scattered dottily on old barns as though thrown there without even a thought. Windows are like eyes - lively or distant, intelligent or absent-minded.

Some people are very secretive with their windows, have you noticed? They put up endless curtains and blinds and things. I think this is unfair to the rest of us who like to look into their houses (very politely, of course) and see what they or their wallpaper looks like. In some parts of the world, though, people don't seem to mind at all. In Glasgow, Scotland, where I live, we have neighbors who always open their curtains and blinds at night when they have visitors in for supper so that passers-by can have a good look at them all munching away and making conversation. And in Holland, too, many people deliberately don't draw curtains at night in their brightly lighted living rooms. It is a kind of tradition that grew up after World War II when the Dutch had been forced to have complete blackouts after dark.

Looking at a window from outside is different from looking out of one from inside. Then you don't usually look at the window, just through it. Windows bring you the light and images of the outside world. We take them for granted, of course, but they are, in fact, rather like the screens on a TV set or a computer. Or like paintings.

Artists down the centuries have been fascinated by windows. This could be because paintings are themselves often like substitute windows. They have frames, and quite often, hanging there on people's walls, they are like celebrations of what their owners most enjoy looking at through windows. Things like the hills and the sky. The ocean. Dogs and cats and birds. People going by. Shadows and colors. Maybe even the pouring rain.

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