tiny sidewalks

November 25, 2013 · 2 comments

in Belgium

This is what I saw while out walking one day, standing in a perfectly normal spot in the center of the sidewalk:

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I could almost pet this cat.

I’m a bit shocked by the closeness of European cities. All of the houses are smushed up against one another; sidewalks are barely a few bricks wide. It means that when I’m outside, I’m always inches away from someone’s living room, kitchen, whatever. I see their cats, their faded, plastic flowers, their questionable design decisions and what TV show they’re watching. Is it weird to stare? Sometimes I can’t help it, especially at night when the lights from inside the house project the inhabitants’ actions like a movie screen. Oh, I see you’re preparing dinner now. I see you’re enjoying some football (ahem, that’s soccer to you Americans). I see you store your bikes inside. I see you have tacky wallpaper.

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(I can’t fit on that side of the street with Darwin’s stroller.)

Bishkek felt a bit more anonymous and guarded, with its looming, concrete Stalinkas. Dozens of inhabitants wrapped up in the same outer walls, usually situated far back from the sidewalk. I could stare at the windows, but the only thing to differentiate them from each other would be barely noticeable wisps of curtains or the different colored light bulbs each owner used to illuminate their apartment at night. Some cool blues, some warm yellows. The distance gave me some anonymity too, I could gaze at a specific window without anybody being able to pinpoint exactly what I was looking at.

Not here. It makes me feel like a voyeur to even turn my head for a quick glimpse. Suddenly I feel embarrassed, like I need to hurry past an exposed window, eyes looking down, apologizing for practically intruding in a stranger’s living room. I’d be inside their house with no effort if not for this thin pane of glass.

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I guess it’s something I’ll have to get used to here, but for now I’ll just use Darwin as an excuse to shamelessly gawk and point at all the cats in my neighbors’ windows.

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