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Brussels: Our windows, our balconies

The city is a hall of mirrors, for James Alexander Portoraro, of encounter and exercises in empathy - and the reflections they show help us to better see ourselves.

Since lockdown measures here in Belgium, I'm only outside to buy food, go for a walk or a run; most of my time is spent working near my windows, where the sun shines, where my plants are. It has become my viewpoint, as I often catch myself looking outside, looking for other people, for signs of life in my neighbourhood. Right across from my flat are two apartment buildings, dozens upon dozens of windows and balconies confront me; there is always someone looking out.

Photo by James Alexander Portoraro

Windows and Balconies: These elements of our domestic lives had always been lookout points, yet now, they are one of our main connections with the outside world. I look upon those looking at me, we share the same face. Wrinkles, eyes, brows, mouths, searching for others, wondering when this will all be over. Each of us wearing an expression showcasing our uncertainty, our care, our concern and a sense of searching for connection. Underlying all this is a sense of universal humanism, that we are not alone, that we are all in this together. Whatever I am feeling, you are feeling too. For the past few days at 20:00, the neighbourhood comes to life to applaud medical and emergency workers, I feel we are also clapping for each other; that we can do this, that we can get through this.

Those of us who have homes are lucky, as the homeless in Brussels don't have walls and glass to protect them; self-isolation doesn't apply. Consider another use for glass, that of a mirror. The situation outside my window, in my neighbourhood, in Brussels, mirrors that of the world, of what we are all going through. Those anxious faces looking out of the apartment building are also the expressions worn across the world. The homeless here reflect the homeless in all other cities, exposure here is exposure somewhere else.

Here in Belgium, we've gone through weeks upon weeks of relentless rain; the sun is finally shining, the birds are singing and the flowers bloom... We've been waiting so long for you Spring and are glad you are finally here.

James Alexander Portoraro is a masters student in Urban Studies from Canada currently living in Brussels.

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