Healthy Life Tip: Hang Your Laundry
By Tony Moglia
It’s laundry day . . . the poetic imagery of hanging laundry.
In quarantine for a few more days, and was just thinking about laundry . . . no, not about doing it although that’s something that needs to happen, but now that we’re back in Italy remembering, and now experiencing again, how Italians hang out their laundry to dry in the bright, warm sunshine.
Not many countries in the world make their clean laundry a street decoration, but Italy does. From Venice to Naples, lines of reds and greens, browns and yellows and blues and whites, all hang out of windows like a fragrant rainbow of normality, God knows how much we need that nowadays – in the days of COVID.
You can learn much about the people from the laundry hanging on the line outside their windows. How many people live there, their gender, are there any children? Their favorite soccer team, the style of their décor and even their nationality. During the dog-days of summer, when you start seeing bathing suits and beach towels, you realize who’s been on holiday and who hasn’t yet taken a well-deserved rest by the sea.
If you look carefully, you can imagine outfits, even people ’s daily routines and their jobs.
It’s not peeping, or being nosy, laundry is hung out, in public, for all to see. Paying attention to it is getting to know your neighborhood, learning to love a place, discovering the quirky ways of a country. You see, we’re in Italy where there’s plenty of art, and there is art in laundry too.
There is art in the way clothes lines join together windows and buildings, joining rooms and houses on the street. They are the connection between families, before even phone lines, along which mothers, sisters and wives talked to one another and created a vicinato (neighborhood). There is art in this sea of shapes, textures and colors blessing old houses and ancient buildings, beautiful residences and traditional homes. That laundry hanging outside the window speaks of hope. “Look after your laundry, and your soul will look after itself.”
In those clothes out in the air, you’ll find plenty of magic, too.
When the wind blows, fabrics and colors move as if on a stage: it’s a theatre, a hide and seek performance of cotton and wool, silk and linen, whites and blazing colors. Light and shadows play above your head, with sheets masking the sun and their shadows changing the way the ground looks under your feet. And the sounds: that quiet note of cotton being whipped around, the squeaky noise of clothes lines being pulled, the clicking of clothes pins being collected: what a commonly beautiful symphony of — normality.
But perhaps the best thing about laundry hung outside to dry is its scent. Fresh laundry scent is the epitome of cleanliness, of home, of peace. It means everything is, “in the right place,” that you’re ready for whatever comes next. Fresh line-dried laundry is also the scent of memories and it doesn’t matter where you come from: it remains the scent of our parents and grandparents doing chores, of that first few seconds after getting into a clean bed you didn’t change yourself.
The scent of laundry hanging in the air has something magic. It smells like the sun. An Italian scientist, Silvia Pugliese, who works at the University of Copenhagen had the results of her study recently published in the Environmental Chemistry journal. She found that laundry that dries in open air produces a large quantity of aldehydes and ketones, organic molecules also produced by plants and flowers. Apparently, exposure to ozone and ultraviolet rays contributes to the transformation of common chemicals into these organic wonders that make everything they come in contact with smell nice. The magic of science!
If you grew up in a country, or a time, where the laundry dried inside, in a tumble dryer — you may not understand why Italians, sometimes, miss the colorful and apparent chaos of laundry hanging out. But if you were born in Italy, or have spent a lot of time here, it’s a different story. You miss it, when you’re away. You miss it because it tells you a thousand tales about the place you live in and the life of those around you; about nature and love, about families and solitude, about life, death and what lies beyond.
Imagine . . . it’s all there, cherished within those white sheets, summer dresses, Juventus jersey’s, denim jeans and crimson gowns, gently and unassumingly hanging just above your head.
You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.
Ciao . . . a presto,