Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Mystery of the Ringed Clothesline

For this week's   view of  life in Italy, I have dipped  into  the archives of 50 years in Italy  and offer this piece:
originally  published on  International Daily News, Rome

 April 19, 1979 

On the outskirts of  some villages and along country roads  you will notice wet laundry spread out on the top of bushes to dry.
laundry  as it was done in the past

 This saves the trouble and expense of setting up a clothesline and some say that it makes the laundry whiter since it is in closer contact with the chlorophyll of the plants.  Then why don’t the sheets  become green? 

And what about  clotheslines in the city, especially those strung across courtyards and stretched between windows in the older neighborhoods of Rome?  Most families use the single pulley system with nylon cords or   stronger ones with a steel center that hardly ever break.

The clotheslines which stretch below my 5th floor window,  in the Prati neighborhood,  are at the same time ingenious but extremely complicated systems: the antithesis of the sheets flung over low bushes to dry.

illustration for original article 

There is a stationary iron wire- which rusts and leaves indelible rust stains on Nonna’s heirloom linens- and a supplementary nylon cord, infinitely thin, which breaks at least once a year and must be repaired by splicing worthy of a Sixth Fleet sailor.

Along this double cord are run a series of metal rings with hanging strings-white, brown and black, depending on their age.
To the strings are tied the corners of the sheets, skirts and other family biancheria , then  the rings, with clothing attached, are  pushed out along the line with the help of an old broom handle, or perhaps two broom handles tied together,  in order to reach the further end of the line.

The consequence of this system is that all the towels, napkins and tablecloths of these families, if not expertly ironed, remain with little rabbit ears on two ends.

 On those annual occasions when I must help my next-door neighbor repair the line I’ve tried some propaganda in favor of clothespins and pulleys, but the years go by and the traditional system prevails.

lavatoio, laundry house in Vetralla 

The back story  of this article: the neighboring family who used  this incredibly complicated laundry system came from Vallerano, a small town close to where I now live.

  It was the normal system in their town  40 years ago and they brought it with them when they moved to the big city. 

Other stories about  local   laundry techniques  can be found in the archives of Italian Notebook: 
   this  article from 2007 ...

and this one from 2009 .

Keep them in mind next time you find yourself   rinsing out underwear  in a hotel sink.
   What   laundry  methods  do you have in your town?  Unusual ones  discovered in your travels?

In use since  1851  


No comments:

Post a Comment