Ciao from some faraway place! Check in, see where I am, post a comment....

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Underwear Etiquette

Some of the more colorful aspects of Rome are the things people hang from their windows.

Flowers, of course, pour over wrought iron balconies and hang into space. Ivy-type leaves crawl across the building fronts with profusions of pink and white and yellow blooms. Purple and orange petals twist from flower pots anchored somehow onto tiny shelves beside the windows, while blue and all shades of gold spring from flower boxes that sit closely underneath. Pansies of pink, and mimosas of gold seem to come from nowhere.

Bicycles sometimes dangle from large hooks anchored into the wall. Pots and pans dry in the sun. I once saw what looked like a couch somehow affixed to an apartment wall, as though in the evenings people might sit there, enjoying a glass of wine while kicking their legs out over the street 60 feet below. I did a double take… then the train whooshed me along and I couldn’t go back and check. It might really have been a couch….

And then there’s laundry. The buildings all have white laundry cord strung outside the windows – most people have washing machines, hardly anyone has a dryer – and the cords themselves create patterns against the walls when the lines are empty. But they’re not empty often. Laundry gets hung out to dry in the hot afternoons.

Towels of bright, primary colors hang heavy with moisture. Huge sheets of white, or printed with flowers or stripes, slowly billow, lifted by errant wind currents or just the heat rising from the sidewalks. Blouses of green and blue and orange and white. Pants and shorts – tan, blue, black, white, yellow, red. Socks in every color imaginable. And if there’s a baby in the apartment, the tiny hats and socks and jumpers resemble a box of crayons left in the sun too long and run together, with cartoon characters laughing and bouncing in time to the breeze.

And underwear… uh… wait. Really? Do people really hang their underwear out to dry in public? I’d never noticed it in particular, and one might think I would have if it had been there. In fact, I’d never really thought about this until today while I was hand-washing my own.

So as I wrung the extra water from my light orange and yellow and white underwear, and the ones with the tiny yellow flowers, and my blue and purple and black and white bras, I wondered, what exactly is the etiquette for hanging underwear on a clothes line that can be seen by everyone who chances to look up, or in the case of the apartment I’m staying in, everyone who looks into the courtyard from their own windows as they hang their own laundry or cook their dinner?

I wrung out the last of the water, piled all the items in question into a towel, and headed to the closest window. I looked out, hoping to find a clue in what others had hung that day. There on the right, the lady who cooks dinner in her blue housecoat every night had hung out dish towels with stripes, and a stuffed bunny (yes, really)… but no underwear. There, on the left, the man who smokes cigarettes every morning after lighting them at his stove… he had hung out a series of off-white T-shirts (not sure if they were off-white to start with or had grayed over the years). And there, the woman across the way who listens to opera day and night at various decibels depending on her wine consumption, she had hung out a brilliant vermillion lace shirt and matching pants.

But no one had hung their underwear out. Was that because no one had any underwear to hang that day? Was it all clean already? Or maybe did they do underwear on some special underwear day?

What if underwear isn’t hung outside during the day but only after dark… or what if you’re not even supposed to wash it on Sundays… or what if you can wash it on Sundays but not hang it on Sundays… or what if you’re only supposed to hang your underwear behind other things – the lines are double-layered so it was possible that a tiny pair of lace underwear might be hiding behind the stuffed rabbit across the way….

What is the etiquette of underwear?

This was definitely a conundrum. But, no way around it, I couldn’t let it sit on the floor in a pile any longer so I decided to take my chances. I chose the very colorful plastic clothes-pins provided to me by my landlord over the boring wooden ones, figuring if I was going to break some kind of silent clothes law, I might as well do it brilliantly, and I hung my underwear out to dry in full view and in living color, five stories up and against a yellow wall that highlights it well.

That was two hours ago. I’ve been sneaking looks out my window to see if anyone has noticed. So far it appears that things are quiet in the courtyard.


Post a Comment

<< Home