Special section: Doors
This issue, we take a moment to meditate on the intrinsic possibilities and promise held within an otherwise very everyday object: the closed door. Writer, Lot tie Storey welcomes us in and tells us a story…
Doors are a portal to a different world, from Narnia’s wardrobe doorway to a chalk outline on a brick wall that Adam and Barbara in Beetlejuice escape through.
My father’s fascination with doorways was catalogued through photography. We walked with him through tiny foreign towns, stopping along the way for him to snap- capture les portes. We became experts at knowing which doors would tickle his fancy – the ones with the faded colours and always the ones with the interesting door furniture. Our knowledge of knockers was extensive (my personal favourites? The traditional British brass doctor’s door and the feminine French Hand of Fatima) and we’d also get to see the doors again, at home, once dad had carefully framed them and hung them on the wall. He collected them like football stickers, seeking to fill the gaps in colour or shape, until he had compiled a tiled poster homage to doors. Frames within a frame.
His interest turns out to be hereditary. I cannot visit a town without snapping doorways for Instagram (itself a natural home for #doortraits). But while Dad’s door grid was a kind of prehistoric Instagram, existing for aesthetic interest only, my collection serves another purpose.
The summer before last, we jetted over to Venice for a long weekend and discovered – amid the canals and the tourists – a maze of doors. Doors and walls to be precise. Doors opening directly onto the water. Doors that looked as though they hadn’t been open for decades. Doors that opened up in front of me, inviting me down a path I hadn’t expected. The thing about Venice is not that it’s a hidden city. Venice tells you it has secrets that you can never know, those doors a constant reminder of what you cannot have. My imagination was sparked in an unstoppable way. My pragmatic partner suggested that f lying a drone over this mysterious city would reveal its secrets but that felt too intrusive, like ripping the lid off a beehive or opening the stage curtain mid-interval. Instead, I wanted an invitation to be a secret-keeper rather than a spy.
Entering my imagined door led to an invented Venice of my own making, a city full of adventure asking to be explored.
A door is an invitation. To pause. To imagine. To enter. All the best adventures begin by stepping through an open door...
That night we walked to a rather plain brick wall, notable only for its curve that followed the path of the canal. The door was set back a little, crumbly with brick dust but otherwise a plain, dark door. The handle opened easily and we walked through. The path was unsteady underfoot and we stumbled as we parted the leaves to make our way through.
After battling the branches, we emerged into a wide garden. Shielding our eyes from the low evening sun, the scent from the lemon trees filled the air and led us towards the ornate mansion at the far end. Under a vine- covered pergola, ornate ironwork tables and chairs were arranged in cosy pairs, lit by candles. We sat. We sipped limoncello as the sun slowly set, picking at fennel- studded tarallini while the conversation dipped and rose like a rollercoaster.
We woke the next day to thunderstorms. Dodging tourists scurrying over bridges, clad in see-through plastic ponchos, we made our way to the far edge of the city. Down at the end of a street that stopped abruptly at the water was a contemporary door, the kind an architect might win an award for – respectful of the historic surroundings yet true to streamlined modern aesthetics. It opened silently onto a sparse courtyard, dotted with abstract bronze sculptures. Directly opposite was a second door, the same style as the first, through which we entered the art gallery. Eighteenth- century masterpieces hung alongside conceptual work, people keeping a respectful distance with the first before swinging their heads 90 degrees to the side to get closer to the second. The rain came down again, thundering on the roof and trapping a school group in a covered gazebo outside. Puddles filled. In the café, we sat and warmed up with miniature espressos, watching people come and go. I watched an older man wearing a hat and box-fresh bright yellow suede brogues, seemingly untouched by the weather.
A friendly shopkeeper gave us directions to catch a gondola back to the hotel. Down steps, through the archway and round to the left – we did as we were told. The archway would’ve once held a door, carefully hung hundreds of years ago by craftsmen, a team in situ with planes and tools to fill the hole seamlessly, joining wood to stone. We walked straight through. The gondolier held my hand as we boarded the boat, pushing hard off the side before we coasted away on the wobbly waterway.
The canal led us under bridges, past doors that would’ve opened directly onto the water (mind the gap). The steady pace of the gondolier beating as a pulse to our journey, he doesn't sing. Gazing down into the water, I imagine a riverbed not of pebbles and stone but of keys. Thrown into the water by tourists, whose love is locked now for eternity to that bridge, but also by the keepers of doors. Secrets locked away forever, doors closed and painted shut. The mysteries of what’s behind only coming to life in a world of imagination.