Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Life Through A Small Window

In my last year of high-school when I was supposed to study for the matriculation examinations, I discovered life. It came in the shape of a tiny studio apartment  on the ground floor in the building where my best friend used to live.

Until then our days consisted of going to school and study, but all of a sudden a young man, who moved into that room  filled our dull existence with excitement and joy.

He was a university student about nine years older than us, at sixteen it was a huge difference, he was even older than my brother. To my mind in those nine years he managed to do everything: to  get married to be divorced, to almost complete his degree and to collect a huge number of exciting friends who packed the apartment day and night.

Although in theory he was still a student, at that time, he took some time off to reflect about life and to figure out what to do next. In the meantime, it seemed that, all he wanted to do was to have fun, and we were there to watch and admire.

The apartment had a window strategically positioned at the bottom of the stairs, where we could stand on the steps and peek in.

Thus even before I was ever let in, my friend his neighbour had met him first, I noticed that the walls of his room were covered with beautiful posters. It was 1971 and in Israel the sixties were still going strong.

 Through the window we could also listen to the music which was always playing, and to hear voices of people talking. As many of his  friends came to Israel from different counties the conversations were often in foreign languages.  Standing outside the window we could often smell a sweet scent in addition to that of  regular cigarettes.

As there was no phone, that window also helped  deciding how to act, if you saw people inside, it was a sign that you could come in. If the window was closed and you heard music but also muffled voices  it meant that our friend  was busy and should not be disturbed.

Although I spent time inside the apartment,  there was nothing like the pang of excitement and anticipation that I got from standing on the steps and looking through the window. And often it was safer just to stay outside.

In a way  that window was also the opening to my adult life, growing up in a quiet neighborhood on the Carmel Mountain in Haifa we had  never met people like those who filled the apartment. They were doing things that we only read about in books, and the sights, sounds and smell were all new and exciting. 

But what I saw through the window was not really my life, not at that time and not later. It was a short year and then I graduated high-school, enlisted to the army and left home. Sadly, that wonderful apartment remained behind and was no longer the center of my being

Still there were consequences; since I hardly studied my grades suffered, and I didn’t do so well on my matriculation exams. As a result I couldn’t major in what I had  originally planned  to study and took literature instead.

As I could not imagine my life without literature, this digression was probably for the best, and of course I don't regret the most exciting period of my youth.

PS. Although slightly different, Barbara Pym has a beautiful passage about being inside and outside the window: In a talk given in February 1956  on  “The Novelist’s Use of Every Day Life,” she said  : “Everyday life is not for every novelist, but . . . each one must make use of some of it. . .  Many people enjoy the kind of novel that they might be living in themselves, and that constantly reminds them of their own lives; more amusing, more interesting perhaps, but familiar. And sometimes much worse, but still probable – the kind of thing that could happen, but fortunately doesn’t very often. I always think that reading these novels is like looking in through a window. You’re interested in what is going on in the house but glad not to be inside it."

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