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Anonymous neighbors and rooftop views: Three photographers’ dispatches from isolation

A man stands on his balcony in Buenos Aires. "I rarely see this guy, he spends most of his time inside," the photographer says. (Erica Canepa for The Washington Post)

Over the past month or so, many people’s worlds have become much smaller. Large numbers of us are contained to our rooms, apartments or houses, finding new rhythms to our days and new routines to pass the time. Within these familiar places, there is an unfamiliar reality for us to discover.

Although they can’t help you find the best coffee shops in their cities right now, three By The Way photographers showed us what their worlds look like. Hopefully their photographs will inspire you to notice new things in your space, too. That amazing afternoon light streaming through the window on your meetings, the neighbor’s cat watching birds for hours, or, if you’re in this with someone else, how it’s kind of nice to have three meals a day with the people closest to you.

Erica Canepa - Buenos Aires

“She usually spends the whole afternoon sitting on her balcony reading. This day, she went to the common terrace to make a phone call, or maybe she was recording a video. She walked back and forth, I think because she was looking for the best light.” (Erica Canepa for The Washington Post)

“I am lucky enough to live on the 25th floor in my building in Buenos Aires. The apartment is small, but my partner and I fell in love with the view the moment we set foot in it three years ago. The sky from up here is stunning, and I spend long hours looking at the clouds.

For some reason, only since the quarantine did I realize how many neighbors I have. From my balcony, I’ve watched neighbors using their terraces to escape their closed flats, spending time in little squares of open air. I’ve slowly noticed their little habits: the families who meet on the rooftop as their children play football together, the girl who chain-smokes cigarettes, the couple that always has dinner on the terrace and chats until late. In my mind, I invent stories about them with the few details I can catch from up here, and I feel like we’re friends, even though they probably don’t know about my existence.

“The woman on the left goes on her balcony multiple times a day. She keeps it very clean. The girl on the right is a habituée of afternoon coffee, often accompanied by her big dog.” (Erica Canepa for The Washington Post)

“This man spends hours and hours outside with his child. They always look like they have very deep and interesting conversations.” (Erica Canepa for The Washington Post)

“Like L.B. Jefferies in ‘Rear Window,’ I look at all of them with my long lens. I spy these little and intense worlds with curiosity. Watching them is a way to feel life around me and to contrast the horrible news that is coming from Italy, my motherland. Or, maybe, Hitchcock would just call me a voyeur.

It surprised me how little people talk to each other from balconies. The first day of the national quarantine, I was happy to talk from the window with two neighbors I had never talked to before, but it never happened again. I have started a friendship with one of my neighbors, though, Belén. We chat from our balcony and share homemade food that we leave in front of each other’s door before running away. It surprised me how little other people look for human contact."

“Belén turned out to be the most fantastic neighbor. We leave homemade food outside each other's door and chat from our balconies.” (Erica Canepa for The Washington Post)

“My favorite building.” (Erica Canepa for The Washington Post)

A mother and daughter at dusk. (Erica Canepa for The Washington Post)

“I enjoy looking at this neighbor, slightly moving her curtain to spy on the outside world.” (Erica Canepa for The Washington Post)

“I like when, at night, lights are turned on, allowing me to see inside the apartments. This building only has studios, and to me it looks like a beehive. I love it.” (Erica Canepa for The Washington Post)

Lauren Crothers - New York City

“My partner making stock at dusk. He had been collecting vegetable peels and meat bones for weeks, and the end result took several hours of simmering on the stove.” (Lauren Crothers for The Washington Post)

“The bustling expanse that was the New York City I know and took for granted has been stripped away, put on pause and replaced by a little world where the only traveling I do is pacing from one end of my apartment to the other. Gone for now are the honking horns, the interactions, the peculiar and spectacular, replaced by an unsettling quiet. Many of us have retreated inward while essential workers engage in an unimaginable battle on the outside.

Having to slow down and withdraw from that frenetic pace has encouraged me to become more observant of, and grateful for, my own surroundings. The neighbor who hangs outside his back window to smoke a cigarette; the sound of a banjo being played on a rooftop nearby, its comforting twang being urged on by someone I couldn’t see a few doors down. The lady hanging out her laundry, which on at least one occasion was in sync with another bleached line several doors down. The local cats tearing apart the carcass of a bird … a snack much meatier than the kibble we toss down to them. The way the light falls on our vegetable bowl for a few fleeting minutes before it continues its journey beyond the rooftops."

Food and cookbooks that the photographer's mother sent her, bathed in afternoon light. (Lauren Crothers for The Washington Post)

“There are days that we can sit out on the fire escape for some fresh air, but this was not one of them.” (Lauren Crothers for The Washington Post)

“Preparing to take a midday nap on a Sunday, which may as well have been any other day of the week.” (Lauren Crothers for The Washington Post)

“I find myself wondering how this experience is bearing out for other people who live all around me.” (Lauren Crothers for The Washington Post)

“All this time at home means the plants have been getting lots of attention.” (Lauren Crothers for The Washington Post)

“Most days it's different, but on this occasion, there was a perfect synchronicity when my neighbors hung out their laundry.” (Lauren Crothers for The Washington Post)

Tiago Maya - Lisbon

“The gel disinfectant is always nearby.” (Tiago Maya for The Washington Post)

“My wife, Filipa, always had to wake up two hours before work; now she wakes up 30 minutes before turning on the computer and fixes her hair for her first video meeting at our dining table. The children’s schoolwork was complicated the first two weeks, but now there are classes and exercises online that are much more fun than listening to their father dictating what has to be done. Another silver lining of quarantine is, for those who are lucky to have a happy and united family like mine, the fact that all meals are eaten together, sitting on the sofa, because the dining table is occupied by my wife’s office.

It doesn’t bother me that much anymore that my daughter, Guiomar, almost 9, is always talking loudly, singing and swirling from side to side. At first, it irritated me, but now this noise is part of the routine, and we all try our best to respect everyone’s needs.

In a frame is a family snapshot on a day from the past spent outside, while the photographer's children, Gaspar and Guiomar, study near their mother. (Tiago Maya for The Washington Post)

A heart made for Father's Day joins a collection of memories on the refrigerator. “The pandemic closed us in at home but never deprived us of celebrating life and love, even when death outside lurks in every corner.” (Tiago Maya for The Washington Post)

“It seems like it was yesterday we were all out, but it’s been weeks now. What worries me most are my parents. I feel that this is wearing them out. They won’t be able to be present at my twins’ birthday and can’t go and hug a close relative who has just lost someone they loved.

On the other side, I see my children dealing with all this so well. The ease they have to adapt to this way of living is inspiring. It is difficult for me to live within four walls when I know a world so big is outside."

Photographer Ashley Gilbertson talks about walking in Manhattan during quarantine on Instagram Live. “Social sharing now seems even more humane, putting all humans at the same level.” (Tiago Maya for The Washington Post)

Daughter Guiomar and her mother, who is at home teleworking during quarantine. (Tiago Maya for The Washington Post)

“Even though we’re home, there is a little effort made.” (Tiago Maya for The Washington Post)

Gaspar and Guiomar do exercises suggested by their teacher. “Vamos todos ficar bem (Everything will be all right)” has become an uplifting message here. (Tiago Maya for The Washington Post)

Read more:

What our City Guide writers are doing, cooking and watching during the pandemic

5 classes you can take while isolating to be a better traveler in the future

The best movies to transport you to another place during your quarantine

VIDEO | This 20-minute hotel workout is perfect for social distancing

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