Laundry Line

On a slow moving Sunday afternoon I went back to and old file on my computer titled IN PROGRESS WRITING. As I had imaged there was the sketch of an essay in there titled “Clothes Line” created on March 5, 2006. I am not sure I have opened it since until today. But clearly there has been a thread running though my consciousness about laundry, wanting to make its way onto a page.

Like many people I know, I grew up with a big drier in the dark basement of an old home. We used it often. It wasn’t until first my summers at camp and then my college days in Vermont that the drier became obsolete and everyone around me used clothes lines to dry their clothes. I found it a delight to, as I wrote in 2006 “putter with clothes pins and rearrange pieces of fabric.” But then as the winter months wore on (and they surely did in Northern Vermont) the laundry would inevitability go into the drier. It’s not as if we didn’t have dryers, we just chose not to use them when the sun and warmth was good enough. Save the planet.

I so enjoyed these moments of arranging my belongings delicately on a line and then gathering them up when they had lost their dampness and became deliciously warm to the touch, smelling like what I imagine to be the scent of the horizon. There was precision in the placement and tenderness in the touch. Today I live in a country where no one owns a dryer. Where hanging your laundry is as much of a daily chore as washing the dishes and making your bed, no matter what season. But somehow it still retains that momentary state of mediation for me. It is in these quick moments before heading off to work for the day or while simultaneously preparing lunch that I feel most human. It is a pause, a moment to breathe. A chore that I actually look forward to.

The difference here is that no matter what season, no matter the weather, your laundry gets hung on the line, or in your living room, in full view of any passerby or any visitor to your home. To a foreigner, the laundry line can scream….hey look at my underwear…and thus, my personal life. To an Italian, the laundry line just is and letting the personal objects of your home life hang out for everyone to see just adds to the beauty of a culture where intimate moments are plainly visible.




Yesterday the thermometer clocked in at 41 degrees Celsius. This translates to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest temperature I have experienced in my 35 years. Yes, it’s a different kind of heat….less humidity, but the sun just beats down differently here and I witness as the world around me adjusts.

I’ve always been fascinated with the way in which climate affects the culture of a place and the way people interact with one another. But I am from a cold climate and so I understand about the culture snow removal, navigating icy roads and generally the way people react to long drawn out winters.

But here in Puglia I am learning a different kind of climate culture. That of extreme hot and blaring sun. I’ve learned (the hard way) that leaving your laundry out in the middle of the day in July will bleach out your clothes. I’ve learned that 8 am is already much too late to go for a run. I’ve learned that my hair turns a bit red under all this sun—who knew? And like everyone else around me, I’ve adjusted.

Around 1:00 in the afternoon we break for lunch…..this is a given, but after the meal, in the sweltering heat of mid afternoon in Puglia there are really two options—get in the water or go to sleep in the coolest, darkest place you can find. Nothing else is all that plausible. Working in the tourism industry and communicating with other parts of the world who operate on different schedules, I do not always have this luxury. But even still, July and August things slow down even for us and these days I begin to feel this automatic pull towards slumber around 2:00 pm. Like the moon controls the tides, the high sun steers me to my bed. It is just what is meant to be done.

If I do happen to be out and about during these mid-afternoon hours among the deserted streets, empty piazzas and shuddered windows  I get this strange feeling. It’s as if this mid-day quiet is part of the larger story of this place, deeply rooted in the past and for a moment, I feel part of it. It is a similar feeling I get when I hear a fog-horn sound on a stormy night on the Atlantic. It’s a bit inexplicable, but the feeling comes from the same place.

This is a year of adjustments in many ways. Adjustments to a new way of living, shedding some habits (good and bad) and picking up some news ones (also good and bad) and generally changing the way I move through my day. For now, deep in the Puglian summer, it seems to make some sense.