Laundry looms large in my life. Ever since I was a girl I’ve been fascinated with clothes flapping in the wind or basking in the sun. This fascination started, in my childhood, with my mother’s obsession with cleanliness. There were five children and three adults in our small house, so doing laundry was a major chore.
Mounds of clothes lay on the basement floor, waiting for their turn in the semi-automatic washing machine, circa 1950. After the clothes—separated into lights and darks, of course—swish-swashed around in the “tank,” my mom would hand-feed the wet garments through a wringer, cranking the handle. The damp clothes fell into a huge wicker basket on the floor, waiting to be dried on our clothesline.
Mom would heave the heavy, wet laundry up the stairs to the landing and the side door that opened to our small yard. In every season, she and at least one of her three daughters would hang the laundry neatly across the clothesline. In spring and summer, the clothes dried in the sun and were easily folded. Not so in winter. We took down the stiff towels and personal garments to “melt” before they could be folded.
Fast-forward to Israel, where I spent a school year on a kibbutz. The porch of our kibbutz apartment had two short clotheslines. I washed most of our clothes by hand. The air was oven-hot, so by the time I hung the last item on the second clothesline, the clothes on the first line were dry!
When I returned from Israel, my father (now a widower) did his wash in a washing machine in the basement of his house, but since the dryer was broken, he would take the wet clothes to a local Laundromat for drying. My experience in Israel took over and I hung the clothes on the line in our backyard instead of using the automatic dryers, walking barefoot and smelling the grass. Nirvana!
Our condominium does not allow clothes to be hung outside. I miss that. Seeing so many clotheslines in Italy on my vacation there last May brought back my childhood memories and a sense of something lost in moving from air-dried clothes to machine-dried laundry.
In Italy there were laundry lines almost everywhere but in the center of a town or city. I started taking photos of clothing and linens hanging from balconies, doorways, railings, and jalousied windows. When we reached the last city on our trip, the island of Burano. I hit a laundry bonanza! There were clothes hanging on every street, at all different heights. Given their backdrop—brightly colored stucco houses—I felt as though I were walking through a laundry exhibit in an art gallery.
Laundry is personal. It often reveals someone’s personality, and it obviously reflects whether a person dresses or decorates in style, and even hints at how the home is decorated. I could learn about Italy from her clotheslines. Laundry lines would become an art form and the photos could actually hang in a museum. I could have my own exhibit!
Just in case such a thing might happen, I took 75 photos of laundry lines in Rome, the Amalfi Coast (a smaller bonanza), Florence, Venice, and, as noted above, the island of Burano, near Venice. Here is just a sampling of my renewed passion for clotheslines. Looking at them, I can almost smell their freshness!