One of my most frequent idiosyncrasies about life in the UK is the state of houses in which the Brits have decided to live in. Cold, dampness are common occurrence; carpets cover every possible surface, prices are absurd and, more often than not, the plumbing hasn’t been introduced to any improvement in the field after what the Romans had figured a couple of millennia ago.
But the bit I really don’t understand is why a country so far up north, with so few hours of light in winter, seemingly has a love for fitting ridiculously small windows. Sure enough, not all the houses have this problem – think at the large bow window on the ground floor of many detached and semis – but it really beggars belief how the average British room has, in general, one window (small). And how balconies are practically nonexistent.
With this in mind, you then can image my surprise and delight when, strolling aimlessly around Bergen, I finally stopped marveling at the mountains and at the sea and noticed that something else was catching my eye. See if you can get it.
See them? They’re windows. Dozens of them, all lined up, just framed by agile, lean bits of painted wood or brick and mortar. It might not be anything new for you and you might be thinking, as you read this, “You’ve really lost it this time, mate”.
But if you’re from Britain, or if you have lived here long enough, you’ll get what I’m on about. Norway is a cold country, arguably colder than Britain. It lies pretty much at the same latitude, more or less, and has more or less the same hours of sun (or lack thereof). And yet the Norse had festooned their houses with openings to the world, covering the walls with as much glass as they could without making the buildings collapse. And with good reason! Natural light is so scarce that you don’t ever get enough of it and, besides, there’s so much beauty, out there, to look at.
This laudable habit allows the fine folks of Bergen to admire their city, its surroundings and, obviously, their fellow Bergenites. And, all at the same time, it allows nosy tourists to have a glimpse of how a Norwegian house looks like without having to knock on somebody’s door and asking to be let in for a quick peep.
Looking at someone else’s windows sounds, I’m ready to admit, a bit of a questionable activity, the one you’d imagine performed by nutjobs wearing anoraks who also enjoy flashing in public parks. But in Bergen it seems that the locals have benevolently accepted this custom and, what’s more, have made a point to embellish their windows for the pleasure of the inquisitive passer-by.
Rich or poor, well-kept or scruffy, it seems that every household love to show a homey image out of at least one window. An image of warmth, cure and care for the domestic environment.
Everywhere I went I noticed this pride in portraying a harmonious image of the house to the outside. It might all have been a façade hiding domestic abuse, drug addicts or political extremists, but it was a stark contrast to what I see daily in the streets of London where almost window is either blacked out – by curtains, wooden shutters or foil and those horrendous frosted adhesives you can put on glasses – or, when it isn’t, it shows the hollow emptiness of a house conceived as an investment and lived as a temporary shelter in which to simply crash in for the night.