Who respects these balconies, one must ask, and what does a balcony do to gain such respect? Are there perhaps some disreputable balconies in the neighborhood, not respected by anyone? The judgmental qualities of architecture are well known, as James Joyce demonstrates in a respected short story, “Araby”: “The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.” The personification is appropriate and effective in the Joyce story, but I’m not sure my student is trying to achieve this in her own sentence—since, as I said, we don’t know who respects the balconies. It might be other balconies, or the buildings that face the balconies; or it might be passersby, or architects, or the residents of the flats so graced.
What would a respected balcony have to do to maintain its standing in the community? Always be tidy, perhaps sport well-watered plants, and certainly not host any loitering riff-raff of the human or pigeon species, I would imagine.
I know my student meant “respective” balconies. Students love that word, and they scrupulously use it to avoid any possible confusion, as in Adam and Eve wrote their respective names in the hotel register; Lois and Clark donned their respective swimsuits in their respective cabañas…. Okay, I made those two up. But not by much. The reader can’t be trusted, I guess, to understand that Adam didn’t sign the register “Eve,” and Clark didn’t don Lois’s swimsuit—in either cabaña. Nor can the reader be trusted to understand that the two girls in the story my student was summarizing, forbidden by their parents to play together, were standing each on her own balcony, not huddled on one or using each other’s as a joke on the folks.
What charms me is the things they feel they must be this scrupulous about, and the other things that they feel comfortable expressing any which way. What are the criteria for the choice?