Before I started self-isolation, my fire escape was what it was always intended to be: It was a vaguely frightening exit that I could use if, well, there was a fire, and, yes, if I needed to escape. But after being confined in my room for two weeks, my fire escape, which is the length of a tiny highschool freshman girl and the width of an overgrown preschooler, has become a small sanctuary. I’ve furnished it with a tiny beach chair and a doggy pee-pad mat that resembles grass where I rest my computer and sometimes my feet. (It’s an upgrade from the old pillow and piece of cardboard I had been using.) Here, looking out at the different quiet yards, I find a tranquil moment of bizarre bliss. (I’ve learned that my neighbor has rope climbing equipment in his space, and my other neighbor smokes a joint at approximately 4:00 p.m. every day.) It has also been a way to talk with people face-to-face and six feet apart: A few days ago, when I hadn’t spoken to another living being in the flesh for days, I used it as a place to chat with my second-floor neighbor.

As COVID-19 has been spreading, requiring social distancing and shelter-in-place policies, city residents around the world have been using the balcony as a place to get fresh air and, of course, communicate with one another. There have been hundreds of videos that show quarantined Italians singing together from their balconies. This past week, the Washington Post did a whole roundup: DJs played sets in the Italian cities of Palermo and Sicily. Italian tenor Maurizio Marchini sang opera from his balcony in Florence. The co-designer Luisa Orsini of the Rome-based labels TL-180 and Capucci sent me a video via Whatsapp from her own balcony, showing the bare scope of the city, but with the background noise of a woman’s sing-songy voice reverberating through the streets. We may not see the woman singing, but her voice reveals that someone is out there, and that we are not alone.

Here, over 5,000 miles away in New York, as the situation inches closer to Italy’s, fire escapes, roofs, and balconies are becoming fresh air sanctuaries away from the confines of the home—no longer just for me. Just yesterday, Vogue’s social media editor posted a video of a boy on his roof playing a game of basketball—no hoop—by bouncing it off the brick wall, all by himself. Every day in my Brooklyn neighborhood, I’m starting to see more people emerge from their windows to stretch their legs, read a book, or eat. From my fire escape, I can see that already one person added a pillow to his fire escape. Another, a rug and a plant. Yesterday, across the way, I waved at my neighbor as he was lighting up a joint. He waved back to me. And after years of both living here, we finally said hello.

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