Earlier this month, we announced our Windows on the World contest, giving readers the chance to have the views from their windows sketched by Matteo Pericoli. We’re happy to share the views from our five finalists—their photographs and essays are below. We’ll announce the winner on Friday.
Zara Khadeeja Majoka, Lahore, Pakistan
My window looks out at the ugly, unpainted, pipe-decorated gray concrete side of the neighbors’ house. Parsimony has preached to many in Lahore that having only the front of your house painted is enough; if your neighbor’s soul shrinks at the sight of the frowning, naked gray concrete, well then they must deal with it. And so, of course, that is what I must do. Joohi is a flowering vine that produces small, fragrant pink and white flowers as lovely and delicate as its name. I had some of the tiled floor beneath my window removed to reveal the soil and planted joohi; within three months, laden with flowers, it had made its way up to my second-floor window. Some days the liveliness of joohi would seem absurdly lovely in contrast with the concrete peeking in from behind its spread. On other days, the unavoidable sight of the concrete still menaced. I am aggressively ugly, it said, and I will outlast your fragile, pretty vine. I needed a tree, I decided, and opted for a peepul, a tenacious tree that clings to whatever scarce particles of soil it finds and is often found sprouting out uncannily from walls and roofs and pipes. I had some more of the floor cleared and planted a sapling. My parents warned that in sixty or so years its unfurling roots could destroy the foundations of both our house and the neighbors’. I pointed out that we were all likely to under-live this problem, so they agreed. I think it will be a year before my peepul reaches my window with its beautiful heart-shaped leaves, the tips of which extend like sweet, elongated musical notes. A peepul tree grows and grows and lives for hundreds of years. Four-thousand-year-old clay seals from the Indus Valley Civilization depict deities standing inside the sacred peepul, Vishnu is said to have been born under a peepul and Gautama Buddha is said to have attained nirvana while meditating beneath one. I only wish to watch mine grow, and know that it will outlast the concrete.
Roderick Moody-Corbett, Calgary, Alberta
A pair of broken clocks, stilled at odd hours (impossible to say who gave first), rest on the window’s scabbed wooden sill. A garage, the key to which I seem to have lost, if I ever owned (I am house-sitting for friends on sabbatical in Germany), overwhelms my attention, invariably. In the summer, neighborhood cats laze on its mossy slopes. Today, the snow-capped roof is empty. My own cat, nose pressed to the window (she remains one paw too pudgy for the sill), regards this vacancy with an amount of nostalgia, amusement and regret.
Shadows twitch on the clapboards; magpies tinsel the eaves. Funny, I often forget about the short blue stool sitting below the windows whose shades are unevenly drawn.
Fixed to the garage is a slant metal trellis with small lantern feeders sprigged to its rails. The feeders appear empty. If I knew where they kept the birdseed (probably in the garage), I might fill them.
Heidi Lang, Innsbruck, Austria
From my window, I see a building with scant, round windows, like portholes on a cruise ship. Hulking over the ship are the Alps. After having spent so many years on the Great Plains, in a sprawling river city with few dominant shapes, seeing the mountains every morning still surprises me.
My corner apartment is cramped, but from my wraparound balcony I can see in every direction. I can see the school across the street, which keeps its fluorescent lights on even after the neighborhood Lokal has stopped serving Zipfer. I can see hiking trails, but not their avalanche warning signs. I can see a moped shop, but more often I hear it. Hemmed in by the mountains, the city is small enough and the streets congested enough that the fastest way to get around is by bicycle. I walk.
My balcony keeps quiet company with the balconies of neighbors. There’s the elderly gardener, who lives with his wife in the stern of the retired ship. One afternoon he snipped grapes, bunch by bunch, from the single row of vines in his garden, collecting the harvest in a five-gallon bucket. There’s the woman who grew up in the guesthouse that once stood where my apartment does now. She lives with her middle-aged daughter, who shouts cheerfully to me from her balcony.
On a rare sweltering day, the neighbors and I spent the afternoon on our balconies in various stages of unapologetic undress, dutifully not noticing each other. The hot wind billowed in the bed sheets I’d hung up to dry. I sat in a deck chair. The woman who grew up where I live now sat on her terrace, her eyes closed and her short hair gathered up in what looked like a swimming cap.
Simon Rowe, Himeji City, Japan
Time has gathered Japan’s villages into towns and cities, even turned some into metropolises, but the cho, or neighborhood, remains the heart and soul of the nation.
Mine resembles an overcrowded circuit board with its dense clusters of houses spanning a century in design and its winding pathways, which deliver children to school, businessmen to bus stops, and elderly to their kitchen gardens. This is Kamiono-cho, in Himeji city—where the westward sprawl that begins in Osaka finally runs out of steam.
Bamboo grows as thick as a man’s leg in the forests beyond the neighborhood, lofty and mesmerizing when the valley winds blow. In Autumn, the smell of burning rice chaff reaches through the window, signaling the end of the harvest season and the start of the festivals that celebrate its bounty. Taiko-drum volleys rattle my window, just as the earthquakes do.
Snow dusts the rooftops in winter. Through the opened window, knife-edged winds carry a whiff of Siberia—chilling, yet invigorating. Spring sees cherry blossoms garnish the neighborhood and family picnics mushroom beneath them. Then the blossoms fall, like the brief and beautiful life of a samurai, with the first spring rains. Summer arrives and the window is shut to the whining insects and the suffocating humidity, which descend on the city. The pane rattles once more with the typhoons of late summer; TV antennas waggle on tiled roofs, momentarily lost to the rain.
The old neighborhood, once famous for strawberry growers, is vanishing. Where fruit grew, model homes now stand. Outside them, housewives gather on dusk to chew over the day’s proceedings and await their children’s return from school. Long after dark, the buses will disgorge their tired husbands, who will drift heavy-hearted back to their homes and sleeping families.
Jessica Thummel, Denver, Colorado
The man who previously lived in my apartment had lived here since the early eighties. He was a hoarder and apparently died alone in my bedroom and wasn’t found for weeks. I often think about him and how this view must have changed over the course of those thirty years. All around, buildings and houses and businesses have come and gone, and yet the distant horizon has stayed the same. It’s comforting to think of the writing life in this way. To see those mountains, far off in the distance, and know that they will always be there, ready to be climbed, no matter how many new obstacles or roads intersect in the foreground.