Once again, we find ourselves in the midst of stay-in orders due to the rising cases of coronavirus across the country. It reminded me of the time earlier this year, when Italians with stay-in orders spent their evenings on the balconies – socially distant yet connected with their neighbors – singing songs together and trying to make the best of a very difficult situation.
This gave me the idea for today’s blog – people in their balconies watching life go by – sometimes wistfully, sometimes happy to be onlookers, sometimes to connect with the outside world, sometimes to disconnect from the world, sometimes spying on others – and occasionally being spied on by others – like in Caillebotte’s woman looking at and at the same time being looked at by another woman on a balcony across the street!!
Balconies are a special world – a meeting point of the interior world of homes and shelter spaces and the outside world – they can bring a tiny bit of the outside in or take a bit of the inside out – it all depends on the person inhabiting the balcony at any moment in time.
Looking out – whether to watch people on city streets, or to become one with nature, or to be mesmerized by the sea…..
Nothing quite like the childlike joy – filled with anticipation – of looking out..
(Sources: Google Arts and Culture, Tate Gallery, Art Institute of Chicago, Christie’s, Van Gogh Museum)
Paris at the dawn of the 19th Century was a very different city from the one that closed out the century – a medieval, overcrowded, dark city with narrow streets was transformed into an light and airy city that radiated out of the Arc de Triomphe with wide boulevards flanked by Chestnut trees and beautiful buildings made of white Lutetian limestone and adorned with carvings and wrought iron balconies. The two people responsible for this transformation were Emperor Napoleon III (nephew of the Napoleon) and Georges-Eugene Haussmann.
It was a match made in heaven for these two – they gutted the city with little regard for its present or past residents and displaced 350,000 residents and over 6 million graves. And while people complained endlessly about the endless construction and the endless cost – out of all this finally arose the beautiful City of Lights we know today.
It is to the brilliant Prefect of the Seine, Baron Haussmann, that Paris owes much of its beauty. The buildings that line the wide boulevards are called Haussmanns and are one of Paris’s most defining features. Each apartment building was five stories high, with a nonnegotiable uniform exterior façade – its height in proportion to the width of the boulevard. The interiors could vary according to the owner’s preference.
The ground floor had high ceilings and was for retail stores and offices, the first or mezzanine floor had low ceilings and was for storage for the first floor. The most desirable floor was the second floor or the noble floor, which had beautiful windows and wrought iron balconies. The third and fourth floor had smaller balconies and windows. Each building has a uniform 45-degree mansard roof.
Artist Gustave Caillebotte seemed to love the newly transformed Paris as well!!