Diamond Turquoise

By Louise

Windowicon_1

   

      I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about windows this week. Both the view we see through them and the eyes we use doing it.

     My brother, Jim, called to say that he was going back to Hawaii on vacation for the first time since he sold his house on Oahu eighteen years ago. But when he searched Google for "Hawaiian vacation rentals," the first listing that came up was his old house in Kawela Bay.

     He decided to try going back home.

     Sure, they’d tarted it up with new paint and bathroom fixtures, but it was the same bedroom where his wife had given birth to two babies. The same backyard where he’d dug a pit and buried a whole pig for a luau. The same front yard where the damned breadfruit tree had attacked me with a seven-pound missile.

     I wondered what it would be like for him — eighteen years later — to look out those same windows. Would the view have changed? Or just the eyes that regarded it?


                   Hawaiiwindow

   
   
 The pet goat would no longer be tied to the mango tree in the side yard. He’d no longer be able to see into his best friend’s kitchen window on the next lot over. His kids’ tiny baby clothes would not grace the clothes line strung between the palms.

     Of course, the shoreline wouldn’t have changed much. Unless they’d cut down the trees and added a golf course, that is.


                          Hawaiibeachwindow

      Then I realized that I, too, had tried to go home once before. To see through old windows with new eyes.

     Donkey’s years ago, I lived in New York City, on the top floor of a five-story, walk-up brownstone on East 39th Street. It was a long thin slice of a room, with one exposed brick wall, and a handkerchief-sized kitchen that I would now describe as adequate for camping. An even smaller bedroom — not much wider than a double bed — was upstairs.

     The best part about the apartment was the private roof deck. Covered in astroturf and populated with dozens of city smog-resistant plants, it was larger than the entire apartment below it.

     And it made it the easiest apartment to break into on the entire East Side.

     My address must have been printed on the inside of matchbook covers, right under the ad that said "You, too, can learn to rob a brownstone!" I had four burglar-visitors in one year.

     But that was the price I thought you had to pay for charm in NYC. And I learned to shout and flail at most of the would-be intruders, threatening them with the wrath of a non-existent dog or gun.

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       So, thirty years later, when I discovered that the New York hotel
I’d booked for a business trip was on the same block as my old
apartment, I thought it would be interesting to see how the
neighborhood had changed.

     The W hotel had rejiggered five brownstones on the block, keeping much of the facades and gutting the interior. I asked for a fifth floor room on the front.

     The room was what I could only have fantasized about in my advertising executive-in-utero days. Subtle lighting. Eight-hundred thread count sheets. A bathtub you could actually stretch out in. The raw brick wall was gone. As was the roof deck.

     But they kept the same windows. 


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     I pulled aside the curtains, absentmindedly wiping a clean spot on the glass with my shirt sleeve, the way I used to. It didn’t need it. And the window sill was no longer littered with grains of black soot that would sneak in like thieves when the wind blew from the north.

     The brownstones across the street were still pretty much the same, although the fruit market on the corner, where I’d stopped to buy daisies on my way home every Friday, had been replaced with a pan-Asian fusion restaurant.

     The trees were thirty years taller; I could almost reach out and touch them. But they didn’t obscure the thin, between-the-buildings view of the Chrysler Building, still gleaming like a gemstone hidden in a pile of Legos.

Chryslerbldg_2

 

 I looked down. They’d replaced the sidewalk and the old brownstone entrances, erasing the crack in the pavement from when I’d thrown a waist-high potted palm out the window to stop the last of those fleeing burglars.(The first cop on the scene had tactfully dragged the unconscious man back into the entryway, so that I could claim he was on the property when I attacked him with the lethal greenery.)

     So, not much had changed.

     Or had it? Had my eyes changed more that the view?

     In the last thirty years, I’ve been loved by fumblers, and hurt by experts. Found new roads and dug deeper ditches. Forgotten all the words and learned to pun in three languages. And I wouldn’t have changed any of it.

     My new eyes were perfectly at home, gazing through those old windows.

     So, what do you think? Are there any old windows you’d like to go look out of again? Maybe that  cactus-framed window in Arizona where you first fell in love? Or the porthole on the houseboat in the South of France? The dorm room with dusty white blinds? Or maybe your parent’s  kitchen window.

     Do you think you could find the person who used to stand there?  Or has the view changed so much that you wouldn’t even recognize it with new  eyes?

 

Cactuswindow

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28 thoughts on “Diamond Turquoise

  1. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Can I go look through your brother’s Hawaii window instead? Wow…

    I guess the window I’d choose is in a house in Hampstead, where I spent a month with my friends in the original Reduced Shakespeare Company when they were doing an extended run in London. I’d just sold my first script and so had just broken in as a real, professional writer, and everything was new and possible and slightly surreal. It was a wild time and I had very little cynicism about the profession because I just didn’t know anything. I’d still rather be here now, with the chops I have now – but it would be interesting to have that much – magic possibility.

    And be able to walk to the Heath.

    Reply
  2. Louiseure

    Alexandra wrote: “everything was new and possible and slightly surreal.”

    That’s very much how I felt in those early New York days. I was heady with possibilities, and didn’t know enough to be afraid.

    I bet you’d love those Hampstead windows even more now.

    Reply
  3. billie

    I love your post!

    My favorite window view from the past is actually the front page to my website, and was the view out my little garret window in Paris when I was there back in 1983/84.

    I never really “went away” to college – stayed close to home – so at some point it felt like I really needed to strike out somewhere big, by myself.

    I booked a flight to Paris with no return ticket and no real destination, found myself a room via a little “service” at the airport, and proceeded to fall in love with a city that felt like it was meant for me.

    Okay, so the first night I got hives all over my body – I think the enormity of my “aloneness” hit me about one a.m. – but after that it was wonderful.

    The view out the window was a schoolyard that was filled with children in the a.m., midday, and late afternoon. Otherwise it was very quiet and still. Somehow the still photo reminds me of the process of writing fiction. The spiral stairways, the surreal sort of clock, the motorcycle and its mystery.

    Anyway, thanks for reminding me to actually remember all this, and to think of some other windows with new eyes.

    billie

    Reply
  4. Stephanie Good

    Such lovely memories. I had the fortunate opportunity to purchase my childhood home not so many years ago. The home both my mother, brother and myself we born in. On the outskirts of Austin, Texas off Red River Road, now an antique structure tucked amist modern housing tracts. Built from the large field stones when my family built it over 90 years, it still stirs up all the years spend wandering the acerage. The majestic oak trees on the property, the hay barn years ago torn down by the past owners. It is the simplistic kitchen with the walls of windows, looking out over the property and the small creek that runs along the property. A vista of the ancient fruit orchard, populated by the bats in the evenings searching for a tasty meal. Every once in a while, on the early summers mornings, I can still catch a memory of hot brewed coffee and fresh rools coming from the oven. The ghosts of my grandparents and family, wandering the worn oak planked flooring. Its all there and occasionally so am I. If not for the solitude of writing, to gather up my unwound thoughts once more.

    Reply
  5. Louiseure

    Billie, the photo on your website is so evocative! (And I’m glad you show it in black and white. That does it justice.) There’s something so introspective about that courtyard and spiral staircase. Staring at that picture would definitely put me in a writing mood.

    And Stephanie, I am so jealous of you going back to your family home. Walking the same oak-planked flooring where your grandmother paced, with your mother in her arms. I’ll bet those windows are a constant source of inspiration for you. Thanks for adding your comment here.

    Reply
  6. Elaine Flinn

    I know Thomas Wolfe said ‘you can’t go home again’ – but you’ve offered a lovely journey, Louise.

    The only window I truly miss – (a view actually) is from the deck of my son’s home on Maui – where one can spend hours gazing at the Lahaina Roads – especially at sunset.

    Reply
  7. Cornelia Read

    The view I miss most is off the lanai of a funky old house we rented on Oahu when I was four, and again when I was eight–straight shot across the lawn of Diamond Head, framed in very tall palm trees.

    Beautiful post, Louise!

    Reply
  8. Louiseure

    Elaine and Cornelia, I knew I could count on you two for Hawaiian memories. And I’ll bet that your memories include as many frangrances and sounds as they do views through those windows.

    I disagree with Mr. Wolfe only this far: you can go home again, and sometimes that’s the problem.

    Reply
  9. Elaine Flinn

    Were I to list the memories of fragrances and sounds from wonderous times on Maui – it would take reams! Just know that my heart is there…and always shall be. What’s lovely to remember too – is that ‘Aloha’ does not just mean goodbye.

    Reply
  10. Karen Olson

    For one year, I lived in what I fondly called the Rabbit Hutch, a tiny one room apartment with a loft off the back of an old 1700s house in spitting distance of Long Island Sound in Clinton, Connecticut. It had so much character, everything was in one room and the stairway was such that I couldn’t even get my bed upstairs; I slept on a mattress the floor. But it was the place where I lived when my husband and I started our romance, when my newspaper career was still exciting and fulfilling and I was attempting to write a novel for the second time, where I cried when my grandmother died and I found out my sister’s children had cystic fibrosis. A year full of happiness and sadness, and I always think of that Rabbit Hutch as a turning point in my life.

    Reply
  11. pari noskin taichert

    Louise, what a glorious post.

    Your words evoked a flurry of memories and emotions: the incredible dinner of fresh flying fish and breadfruit in Puerto Rico; Phosphorescent Bay, also in PR, and swimming in the blackest of night through the balmy water with what looked like turquoise glitter from the light-emanating organisms; the two-story apartment I had in grad school in Ann Arbor — it’s second story was part attic with only a thin wall of wood between undeveloped and my rooms and I could hear the squirrels and other creatures romp and chitter in there on summer nights . . .

    Thank you for bringing so many of these images back into consciousness.

    Reply
  12. Louiseure

    Oh, to dine on flying fish! It must make you feel younger and lighter with every bite.

    I once swore that I would dine on swan. Served “under glass,” of course.

    I can’t tell you how many drunken evenings I spent trying to coax the swans in San Francisco’s tiny Mountain Lake to come to me.

    “Here, birdie, birdie. Pay no attention to the burlap bag I’m holding.”

    Reply
  13. JT Ellison

    Oh Louise. It was worth waiting all day to get to read this post.Funny, I can give several examples, but my favorite view involves thememory of a look into someone else’s eyes.You’ve reminded me that I need to stop and take in that view a littlemore often.Thank you.

    Reply
  14. Louiseure

    JT, the view into someone else’s eyes? That’s a lovely image. And we don’t look there often enough, any of us. Thanks for stopping in. I know you’re on deadline, and going crazy today.

    And MJ, what a nice thing to say. I’ve just started reading Duane S.’s THE BLONDE, so I’m not feeling so evocative today. Just jealous. Damn, that man can write!

    Reply
  15. Dana

    Great post.

    The window I’d pick is the broad window in my college’s newspaper office which overlooked the track. After the rest of the staff left, I’d stand at that window for a good length of time before closing up shop. I thought about bigger things. Where to go from here? What will happen down the road? Would I ever get a decent job writing in the Midwest after graduation? Did I do well on that final? I have a few of the answers. The rest are still out there.

    Reply
  16. Rae

    Yet another great post, Louise. Like Stephanie, I had the opportunity not long ago to acquire a family home, in the grubby little mill town where I did most of my growing up. My childhood memories have been overlaid with new good memories and friendships. And while I’ve gone through a number of metamorphoses between leaving and returning, the view from the window hasn’t changed – I find it very comforting to look out that window and reconnect, just a bit, for a moment, with the little girl who used to believe that all things were possible.

    Reply
  17. Sharon Wheeler

    Wonderful post, Louise! I hope you’re going to use the potted plant anecdote in a book somewhere.

    A view to remember? My friend’s apartment in Paris where you open the shutters, step out on the tiny balcony and can see across to the Eiffel Tower. Or a Bristol newspaper office where I worked for several years. Once a year the city hosted a balloon festival and I remember one Sunday night glancing up from my desk and seeing these balloons floating past the window, almost close enough to touch.

    Reply
  18. Louiseure

    Dana, I can picture you at that window. But the track, is that railroad or running? Either one has those “lanes” you’re supposed to stay in, and both suggest movement and speed. I’d say that’s a pretty good contemplative spot.

    Shaz, I love the image of Baloons Over Bristol. Promise me you’ll write something with that title some day. (And yes, I must use that potted-plant-as-weapon story in some book, but in all honesty, I’d forgotten about it until I started working on this week’s post.)

    Rae, if you’re any example, that girl who used to believe that anything was possible, is still alive and doing well. In fact, she vacations regularly in Paris.

    Reply
  19. patty smiley

    Louise, I posted a comment on Tuesday but came back today for a revisit and noticed that it didn’t register. Can’t remember what I said except for kudos for your beautiful prose.

    Reply
  20. Louiseure

    Thanks for the kind words, Patty. And for the re-visit.

    I’m new to this blogging stuff, but find that it’s a great way to begin the writing day. Like calesthentics for creativity.

    Reply
  21. Tom, T.O.

    Wonderfully nostalgic post, Louise. I have many windows I’m fond of remembering, but my favorite is looking out the tent flap, sometimes out of the cliffside shelter site (no ‘caves’ in sandstone)in North Ponil Canyon outside of Cimarron, NM, during summer hail storms, marveling at the fusion of hail into golfball-to-baseball sizes that when they fell, ripped through the trees, causing a wafting of pine scent sweeping through the canyon. Heaven.

    Reply

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