On a recent night that was slightly too cold for summer I sat on the edge of a roof with two friends, swinging our feet over the party below us. Delft is full of back-door spaces, the spaces behind and above and under what you can see from the street, the corners of irregular buildings. (As you might recall, we were once shown an apartment that had to be reached by crossing someone else’s roof. “It’s a great location!” the agent insisted. This more recent instance occurred at an apartment that must be accessed via a shop: an entryway of night-stacked furniture and a statue of some sort of fish.)
Slightly above our eye level but impossible to miss was a window to a stranger’s apartment, where a young couple appeared to be readying for bed. The guy had passed by a few times, shirtless, and seemingly uncaring about the audience. His girlfriend seemed annoyed by the party outside, but several times paused before her TV, for long moments brushing her hair.
The apartment didn’t look great. Christmas lights, the colored kind, were strung in one corner, and some sort of non-seasonal lighting that didn’t look sufficient was mounted on the wall. The only attempt at a curtain was a torn sheet.
“If they don’t want us watching, they can close it,” one of us said.
“I think it’s illegal,” said another, and only partly joking. It’s not the Dutch way to close your curtains.
Some nugget of writer in me has always been fascinated by windows. As a kid I remember feeling this way about Manhattan: seeing so many lit apartments and trying to get my head around how many lives, how many individual stories and secrets those boxes framed.
This month I reread The Great Gatsby. (I wanted to see the movie, but may have missed my chance. It’s already gone in Delft.) I was impressed by the language, how much is contained in its small package, and I had to mark this line below. It describes how I’ve felt on a hundred nights in Delft, fifty train rides between here and Amsterdam.
Yet high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering.