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|