Update from Italy: Curtains

Photo by Maria Orlova on Unsplash

Our apartment in Florence has four enormous curtained windows that face south, east, and west. White linen panels with fine needlework cover the single casement panes. They provide privacy from the upstairs and downstairs windows, and even blocks of fine needlework run in parallel vertical lines down each length, perfect rectangles stacked one atop the other. Held in place by tension rods that inevitably pop out if someone (for example, a small child) pulls on them, I removed the panels in the west-facing window because they’d popped out one time too many. I was afraid we would break the rod or tear the starched panels. Francesca is very proud of her palazzo and keeps an eye out for any damage or impending risk to her property. The panels are from another time, when live-in housekeepers in perfectly tied aprons would hand wash and clear-starch the lengths of cloth, drying them in the loggia on the top floors where the even taller windows open to admit abundant sun and light and breeze. Our bare kitchen windows face north, up and toward the monumental windows of the loggia where Claudio keeps his art studio. Large sails of canvas hung on grommets billow on the outside of the windows. I can’t see his art or sculpture from the kitchen, but the leaves of his thriving ficus plants in their window pots flutter in the air on temperate days.

White sheer curtains, five dollars each, purchased from Ikea, hung from an unfinished wooden rod and matching brackets in the front window of the Wallingford house. They snagged and snared and attracted a herd of dust bunnies at their hem, but I loved them so. I left them in the house when I moved to Capitol Hill. They were practically rags by then anyway.

The Capitol Hill apartment had five windows that all faced south and west, down to First Hill and over to Queen Anne, hung with expensive custom double-drop cloth louvers that could be adjusted from the top or bottom, depending on the season and low slant of the sun. It is the case that a great quantity of low-slant sun shines in Seattle, and blinds that merely rise from the bottom could never rise to the occasion. The light in that apartment was heavenly, and the forty coats or so of paint on the walls, applied over a hundred years or more, changed from light peach to deep tangerine depending on the subtlety of the sun’s rays. In the bedroom I bought white sheers again, with velvet panels in midnight blue, to block the late afternoon and evening sun that stuffed the room with heat. It was a cruel irony that black mold destroyed all my shoes in the closet one winter. Pick one: damp cave or sweltering heat. The velvet panels made indigo puddles on the natural berber carpet and were effective. The room remained cool as a shoebox in my final summer there.

Vinyl curtains hung from the sole windows in the economy motels that my family stayed in when we made our routine, epic American road trips, stopping in Chattanooga, Savannah, Pensacola, Kansas City, Cheyenne. We only ever took one room. My parents got one bed, my brothers the other, and I slept on the floor, beneath the undulating plastic curtain that smelled of mildew and unsuccessful attempts to disinfect or remove said mildew. The curtains often were stamped with a faux French pattern or chevrons in tones of peach and orange. It’s really their cheap perfume I remember most. I close my eyes and can smell the mildew that grows from years of hanging above an economy air conditioner that rattles and wheezes throughout the night.

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