My sister has been trying to find one of those fly-blocker door screens made of long plastic ropes, so far with no results. It has brought my mind around to some of the subtle and strange differences regarding doors and windows in our houses.
When we built our house, my joy at having small balconies on every upstairs room from which to admire the countryside was vexed by the fact that a glass door, or porta-finestra, cannot be had with any type of closure from the outside. In other words, if you step out on the balcony you cannot close the door behind you! If it should be closed by someone on the inside, you will remain there indefinitely, lacking a rope, because there are no door handles on the outside. After many years I managed to procure one balcony door which actually locks with a key on both the inside and outside, but still with only an interior handle. God forbid I should ever forget to have that key in hand when outside. It is not my plan to be closed out on a balcony in the country, with no hope of escape other than a very loud yell.
This represents to me an interesting insight into the differences in psychology between the cultures. Maybe Italians don’t enjoy spending time on the balcony? Yet clearly they do. Hanging and gathering the laundry is carried out daily, and rooms are expensive to heat. On a day with a chilly wind, leaving the door wide open must seem counter intuitive. Maybe Italians do not care about flying insects coming inside? The plastic rope fly screens would belie that theory. Or maybe the concept of having another door handle with a necessary locking device would just complicate things in the dolce vita… What I can say is that I have devised all manner of ways to keep the darn door almost, but not fully, closed when I am out on the balcony. Bricks, rope cords, elastic bungee cords and wooden wedges; trying to keep the door shut never fails to frustrate me.
Windows, constructed in similar fashion with interior-only handles, can never be blocked in such a way that they don’t slam shut in the wind. I use American rubber doorstops (another item that simply does not exist in Italy) to keep them open. The panes invariably open into the room and create a hazard to the heads of shorter people and children. Oh to have some sliding windows which don’t have to be propped open! Screens are a new addition to windows, and thank goodness. Ours are mounted on rollers, and at the end of the summer are the dwelling place of wasps and tiny adorable bats. We have to be careful when pulling them down not to squish them in the roller mechanism.
On the positive side, I can’t say enough about the wonderful rolling shades which serve to black out any room, any time, all or partially. These are on the outside of the glass windows in any house. There can be nothing more relaxing than to take a siesta, drifting off on a warm afternoon with the shades closed only enough to leave small spaces between the interlocking strips, small checkerboard snippets of light and a nice breeze blowing through the room. When I am in the US I find that having only a curtain between my rooms and the street never lets me completely relax at night. I feel exposed. In Italy my rooms become essentially windowless with the shades down, a silent and private space. They are also marvelous when jet lag sets in, and a totally black night-during-the-day room is required.
As children we all marveled at bank vaults, their cylinders aligning to form a solid unbreakable wall of steel between ourselves and the shiny stuff. In Italy, every house has a front door which is a porta blindata, which means it locks with a series of steel cylinders just like the bank vault. A large key can be rolled over and over in the lock to insert the cylinders ever more deeply into the receiving end of the iron door frame. The doors themselves are also made of reinforced steel, with a thin veneer of wood. But as any workman will tell you, it is fine to have one of these doors, but anyone with a hammer can knock a hole in the masonry walls of any house faster than you can remember that maybe a big dog would have been a better idea. I have known people who will leave a little dish of money on the kitchen table to discourage burglars from doing gratuitous damage to the house, after they have taken everything else of value.
When I suggested that we should fence our plot of land, my husband dismissed the idea by explaining that we might antagonize our neighbors by creating a physical, and therefore psychological, barrier between us. In going with the flow I did not insist. However each small yard in the suburbs is clearly delineated by a fence, and each driveway boasts a large and imposing automatic gate, which opens with a remote control device. Even the humblest houses have these gates, and it would seem everyone has a need, even if they won’t admit it, to keep “me” from “you.” So now, out in the country, everyone is in the process of fencing their property, if they can afford to. If it is true that good fences make good neighbors, we can hope that this trend will make for fewer skirmishes among property owners. But I worry about the goats, who depend on their free-roaming grazing each day in order to supply that good milk for our cacciocavallo and ricotta.
Of course it is true that architectural peculiarities can determine the feel of a neighborhood. I think of air-conditioning and how it has caused the total demise of porch-sitting and interacting with neighbors in Texas. Air-conditioning in Bernalda is beginning to cause the disappearance of those folks who, in order to keep cool, sit outside their doors in the afternoon and chat with passersby. I don’t know if I would choose sociability over superior comfort, myself. However I can recommend a plastic fly screen, those lines of hanging spirals which hang in the doorways of houses and bars during the summer. They do work, and are the best hands-free method for creating a barrier I have seen. People are welcome, flies not so much.
“Openings” oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches