There it is. One fine display of clothes clipped neatly on a sagging line of nylon rope and dangling in the foreground of the elevator in one of our patios interiores. It could be located in any one of a thousand buildings.
I can’t speak for all parts of the States, but in general, in my part of Connecticut, hanging out the wash is not only unseen, it’s quite unsightly. Some people I know get uptight because they seem to think it represents the kind of backwardness only people who shoot alligators in the head will do to their laundry. But in Spain, even to this day, in modern and cosmopolitan Madrid, a clothes dryer is rarer than a coming upon a forest in La Mancha. It’s almost considered extravegant.
There is a certain logic behind this all. Madrid’s climate is generally so arid that it doesn’t take long for the clothes to become stiff dry. One night will do, and in the blistering summer heat, even less. Periods of dampness naturally hamper the process, which is when you have to haul things in and use an indoor rectractable clothesline, because no one wants one hanging around when there is no precipitation. But other than that, the traditional way is both a money and energy saver. In Connecticut in the summer, if you are hit by a prolonged stretch of humid weather, your jeans might never quite free themselves of moisture.
I take pride in this image as it is proof that I have come close to mastering one of the great Spanish chores: hanging out the wash. And for those of you who are looking for further and irrefutable proof, I will gladly introduce you to the neighbor from upstairs, an amiable elderly woman whom I barely know, but who just recently honored me with her approval of how I set my boxers out for drying. Coming from a Spanish señora, that says a lot. They don’t mete out those compliments for free. It’s another milestone.
This morale booster would probably never have been brought to my attention had it not been for the fact that a handkerchief had slipped from her upstairs line and drifted onto mine, an unlikely occurrence, but one that could occur all the same. Clothes drop, but generally not as often as the clothes pins, which have a funny habit of popping off from their grip on the article of clothing they should be securing and plummenting to the bottom of the interior patio. I always wait in silence for the plasticky bounce and in the meantime wonder about the horror of being the object in flight instead. I bet a lot of people do. It seems to take forever.
She rang the doorbell, I thought it was my daughter, and told me of the predicament, and when I opened my window to retrieve the article she had asked for, my daughter did show up and she greeted to woman. The woman asked her if “papá” was going to make lunch, she said yes. Then the woman added, “If it’s just as good as the way he hangs out his wash, I am sure it will be delicious.”
What I didn’t know at the time was that how I positioned my clothes along a stretch of rope was apparently under scrutiny by the female residents of the building, but then again, by this point in my life, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Spanish señoras are sharp observers of how their neighbors conduct their business, and more so of anything that is visible, such as the wash. Up until that point my only concern was the family below on the days that I wash my sheets and they dangle down like huge banners obstructing the view. Of the inside patio, of course. You aren’t allowed to hangout your wash on your balcony, at least in most parts of Madrid. That is certainly unsightly and unseen.
Thanks to the bit of positive reinforcement, I now devote a few extra seconds to perfecting my technique.