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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Shut-Ins



For many years I’ve had a question about the nature of Spanish people, or at least those here in Valencia. Do they have some deep, dark secret they're harboring? To they all have something shameful to hide? Just what is going on with a majority of the homes here? Why does almost everyone in this city have their blinds and windows closed almost all the time?

As I sit here typing this I’m sitting on the bed in one of my back bedrooms looking out into what we call the “patio de manzana” or the rectangular interior area of the group of buildings which form my block (manzana is “apple” in English but also “block” from two different root words). Almost every flat has its windows closed and most have their heavy exterior window blinds shuddered. It is August 25th at 08:00 but on this morning I almost feel uncomfortably cool without a shirt so I know that people aren’t attempting to fend off the vicious sun. I’ve noticed this phenomenon throughout the year which means that it isn’t just a summer thing. Why on earth would you want to block out the sun in the winter? Why would you ever want to block out the amazing light we have here in Valencia? Most people would kill to have even a fraction of our sunshine.

It isn’t because people are running their air conditioners. People use air conditioning very sparingly in Spain with the exception of the big department store, El Corte Inglés, whose polar vortex exhales with such force each time the front doors open that the frigid air practically knocks me off my bike, but I can’t hear a single AC unit running in the courtyard outside my window. I've asked dozens and dozens of people about why they keep their windows and shutters closed and I've received not much in the way of answers. Sometimes when entering people’s houses I'll have a coughing fit because the air inside is so stuffy and uncomfortably warm because all of the windows are closed. People will ask me if I want to have them open a window and I feel like screaming at them, “No, I want you to open all the damn windows and keep them open!”

Different patio, other month
The responses I've received from locals vary but hover mostly around evasive, like they don’t even know why they do what they do. I half-expect people give me some medieval answer about keeping out the pox or something like that. I've been told that keeping their flats closed up keeps in the cool night air which is highly unlikely since you'd have to open up to let in this coolness. Keeping windows shuttered in the winter does act as an insulator but this is mostly undone by the fact that you aren’t allowing in any heat in the form of ultraviolet rays. I can’t stand shuttering my windows even at night as this blocks out the artificial light from the street and it makes me feel like I’m living in a crypt.

The only answer that I've come up with on my own is that people are incredibly modest and don’t want to be the target of peeping Toms. This would also explain why almost no one uses their little balconies. I seem to be just about the only person on my street that actually uses my modest little balcony as an actual part of my living space. The only time I’ll see my neighbors out on their balconies is when they’re having a cigarette. As I said, I think this is because people feel too much like they are under a microscope when they’re exposed in this open area.

I open my windows the first chance that I get in the early spring and I don’t bother to close them until winter. I want to bring in every ray of light and every breeze that passes by. If I have any complaint it’s that my windows aren’t big enough to capture all the light and air that is available. On especially hot days I’ll sometimes leave my front door wide open to get the breeze from the stairwell. One morning I noticed that I had left the door open throughout the night. When I shared a flat with a good friend here in Valencia we would remove the window in the kitchen area of the flat leaving an opening of about 2 x 1.5 meters during the months of summer.

I just can’t believe how many people close up their flats like they are closed for business. And when I say “most people” I mean like about 90% of the households you see here. If you don’t believe me just take a look. 

2 comments:

  1. Una vez leído el artículo, he decidido observar minuciosamente esas miles de ventanas cerradas,tanto a la luz como a las miradas indiscretas y probablemente inexistentes. En cada una de ellas, intentaré descifrar el enigma. Pero sobretodo, voy a abrir aún más mis ventanas a esa luz espléndida que tenemos, y que con total seguridad no valoramos, permitiéndonos ignorarla, sabiendo que ella insistente, aparecerá de nuevo mañana.

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  2. I want my non Spanish readers to enjoy this thoughtful comment as much as I have so I offer this humble translation of Silvia’s words:

    After reading the article, I decided to carefully observe the thousands of closed windows, both from light as well prying eyes, probably nonexistent. In each of these cases, I will try to decipher the enigma. But above all, I will open my windows even more to the splendid light that we have, and that we don’t seem to value, allowing us to ignore it, knowing that persistently it will appear again tomorrow.

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