Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Laundry, a Treatise
Laundry is such a good socio-economic barometer I am amazed that it hasn't received more attention, an omission I hope to rectify with this little essay. Tell me who does your laundry and where, and your geographic, social, and economic positions are revealed.
Apart from my summer in France, my laundry was always done indoors. That is, the washing part was an indoor affair. The drying was done outdoors during my childhood because, at first, we didn't own a dryer, and later, because my mother believed that sunshine did a better job. She may have also been pleased to have an excuse to visit our back yard, because she was not into gardening. I was allowed to hand her clothespins when I couldn't reach anything else. Even now, in Israel the sun is also used for drying clothes by many middle-class people for economic, ecological or habitual reason. Given the local climate, hanging laundry outdoors certainly makes sense, although some upscale apartment buildings here do prohibit external laundry lines now. Very snobby. The most sensible new buildings confine the laundry lines to off-street windows, barricaded behind "modesty panels."
But hanging laundry to dry does take more time than throwing it into the dryer, and anyone who lived or lives in a "time is money" culture as I did can't imagine life without a dryer. Which is why I brought one with me when I immigrated, thus labeling me forever in the eyes of the natives as a typical spoiled rich American. Never mind that in the interim, many Israeli homes now include a dryer…they didn't so much when I first arrived, another indicator that the Israeli pioneer era is passing.
When I was a girl, Marie came to help my mother clean the house. Marie also did the ironing, but I suspect she wasn't allowed near the washing machine. Machines of any kind were worshipped in my house, and as a family we were dedicated to their proper operation and maintenance. Partly out of respect for my father's profession (he was a tool and die man), partly out of respect for the labor it would save my saintly mother, and partly out of pure esthetics, each new appliance was taken to represent a triumph of modern technology and was accorded a place of honor in our household. I suspect the iron was old-fashioned enough to slip into the status of the vacuum cleaner, the other household machine Marie was allowed to operate.
When I moved into my first apartment, there was a decision to be made. Not what washing machine to buy – the apartment was a studio and there was no place to put one – but whether to do the laundry in the basement, where there were machines for that purpose, or to take it to the Laundromat. The basement was cheaper and more convenient on rainy days, so that's where I went. It wasn't until I moved into a more spacious apartment, married and pregnant, that we acquired our own electric washer. I still used the basement dryer though, and a variety of drying racks in the laundry room. The arrival of child #2 coincided with the purchase of our dryer, completing our entry into the middle class. Or so I thought.
But laundry doesn't automatically sort itself and start washing itself as it becomes soiled. Before that happens there is a period of time when it occupies some space outside the washer: on the floor or out of sight in some kind of laundry container. Aha. That's where I've been heading all along. To laundry bags and laundry hampers.
The house, having been built in the 1930's, had a basement containing double laundry sinks and plumbing from the pre-machine washing era. Next to said sinks became the logical place for the installation of the washer and dryer. The door to the basement stairs became a laundry chute, so the laundry used to live at the foot of the basement stairs until laundry day. No need for laundry hampers or laundry bags, as long as someone remembered to scoop up the dirty clothes and toss them down those stairs. The first laundry bag was acquired, and suitably named-taped, when the first child went to sleepaway camp.
My subsequent "empty-nest" abodes were built in the 1980's, and had marvelous laundry systems upstairs, next to the bedrooms! Once again, the laundry could be hidden away from sight in those handy laundry niches. So luxurious, for a single person to have private laundry facilities. I vowed never to go back to collectivist laundry. Hence my decision to import the machines in when I immigrated in 1988.
However, my Tel Aviv apartment did not have a laundry room. Or even the traditional laundry balcony, although the remnants of one can still be found outside the machsan window. The machines were installed in a convenient niche in the bathroom. This being an older apartment, the bathroom is a separate room from the toilet room; otherwise that bathroom niche could be occupied by a toilet. It really is more convenient to have two rooms for the two different functions, especially when the apartment has more than one occupant.
So where does the dirty laundry live? Until last week, it lived in the laundry bag, one of the very same name-taped ones from the 1970's. No one can accuse me of extravagance, at least not in the laundry department.
But last week, after a few months of vague laundry-discomfort during which I felt I had reached a stage of life that deserved a proper hamper, I found the perfect one! It fit the space available, its capacity was appropriate to the frequency of my washing-machine operation, and the design made exactly the statement I want to make: here lives a solid, practical, and artistic person! Not some insecure nouveau-riche who needs a designer label on every item in her home to prove she exists; not some hippy slob who throws clothes anywhere just to epater les bourgeois; not some long-overgrown camp child; in short, a grandma!
And if that's not enough to satisfy your interest in laundry, you can click on the last two photos and see them in Flickr, where they have notes! I'm really into this subject today!
Technical help request: how do I get the text to flow around the last two photos?