Vis-à-vis: Rear Window(s)

If you’ve ever seen the movie Rear Window, you know what a vis-à-vis is. Picture Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly at their window watching the goings on and making up stories about their neighbors. Windows everywhere. Such is our Nice apartment–surrounded on all sides by buildings, windows, terraces and their inhabitants.

Where they looked out at brick buildings and fire escapes, we look out over masses of pale yellow stucco, studded with wrought iron balconies of various sizes. Some are planted (flowering plants if they’re occupied, cacti if not), some shuttered, some with a tiny table and chair or two. All with their own personalities.

Directly across from our kitchen, and close enough that I could toss them a box of sugar, lives an older couple. One day we watched them trying to change a lightbulb. Madame was holding a ladder as her husband was making his way up it. Monsieur was very well attired, wearing a dress shirt, tie, jacket, pocket square, shoes, socks with garters, and…boxer shorts! No pants. I’ve taken to calling him Mr. Sans Pantalon. Funnily enough, while the lightbulb remained unchanged for a long time, months later, hanging out to dry was the missing pair of pants.

We have a big terrace which ends up being a dumping ground for all sorts of things. Cigarette butts, ends of joints, a pair of sexy black panties on a Saturday night, and a roast chicken leg (that we hope was dropped by a seagull). Our upstairs neighbor periodically drops clothespins when she’s doing a wash, but we’ve become friends now, so I recognize her clothespins and leave the dropped ones on the steps so she can reclaim them.

The terrace and all our windows also give our neighbors and the workers in a local restaurant a look into our lives. As the summer warms up and we close the shutters to keep the apartment cool, our every move will become less apparent. Even our closets, if we leave the doors open, are probably fair game for the vis-à-vis of the apartments across the way. As we make up stories about our neighbors, what are they thinking about us?




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