Monday, January 24, 2011

Daily Life: Laundry

This is my first installment of the promised, "Daily Life" series. I love living here. Well, I will love living day. I can see that in my future. But it is hard, and no one warned me just how hard the adjustment would be. I heard all about the crime, but I'd traveled in Italy before, so I wasn't scared about that. I heard about the traffic, but I didn't plan to actually drive places, so not an issue. The difficulties come with every day chores. Think about your daily life. Now imagine doing all of those things using a cobbled together electrical system, water that may or may not be clean, gas that may or may not actually heat your water, driving on roads marked with lines that all the other drivers follow, going to stores where you know exactly where they are, what their hours are, and what types of things they get the picture. Some days, I don't go to the grocery store because it means I'm going to have to speak Italian to the produce man, and I just don't feel like coming up with the word for "lettuce." Or the checkout lady is going to ask me something, I'm not going to know she says, so I'm going to guess and just say something in Italian back to her that may or may not make sense, thereby completely misrepresenting my entire, fellow countrymen by confirming her opinion that all Americans are crazy. Daily life can be a challenge.

First up...Laundry, previously my favorite household chore, is now the bane of my existence. In America, I did laundry once a day. A quick wash, dry, then queue up a TV show on the DVR (which is the subject of an entirely different "Daily Life" post), and fold/iron. Didn't take much time, thought, or effort.

Fast forward to Italy. First off, many Italian houses don't have electrical systems upgraded to run an American size refrigerator, washer, and dryer. Pick one and use European sizes (itty, bitty) for the other two. Or either pay to upgrade the system yourself (about $400) or rent a house that caters to Americans, in which case, some of the landlords have even installed American, 110-120volt electrical outlets. The base provides us with loaner appliances, which include an American size refrigerator, and either American or European size washers and dryers.  Sadly for us, the American washers/dryers were too big for our house. European ones are what we got.

The washer fits approximately two bath towels and a bunch of hand towels - no exaggeration. When I overstuff the drum, I can fit in both bathmats as well. Just one set of overnight guests means  an entire second load of just towels. Unfortunately, one load takes roughly 3 hours to wash. Again, no exaggeration. I washed two loads of towels this morning. I put one load in at 8:30, pulled it out the very minute it stopped spinning, put in the second, and pulled that one out at 3pm.  Over six hours for two washes! This leads to the next item on the laundry agenda...

The dryer. Now, first off, I'm so thankful I even have a dryer. Most Italian homes do not have one because the electricity to run it is so expensive. We have yet to see an actual electricity bill, so  I took the ostrich approach and spent the last 10 weeks drying every single load, with absolutely no regard for time of day (electricity is cheaper after 7pm), number of loads, length of drying time, etc. I made a conscious decision to not care, at least initially.

We actually still have no idea how much we're going to have to pay for the days upon days of dryer use. The many hours of use are because the dryer, inappropriately named as it turns out, doesn't actually dry your clothes, at least not in a timely, efficient manner. If I press the button that says "Very dry," the clothes come out damp. After lots of experimentation, this button is the only one that even gets me to the damp stage. The other buttons are just completely useless. This first cycle, to get to "damp," takes about 2-3 hours. At that point, I empty a big pan of water from underneath your dryer (which has caused us to ask, where does the water go in American dryers?), clean out the full, lint filter (full every time), and press that little "Molto Asciuto" button one more time. After another 1-2 hours, voila - dry clothes. So this means one load of clothes washed and dryer-dried takes, quite literally, all day long.

We decided that whenever possible, we need to start line drying the clothes. At least until we find out how much it actually costs to run the dryer five hours every day. In addition to an outdoor, marble sink with laundry washing drainboard/scrubber thing over it (which I intend to NEVER use), our house came with the deluxe version laundry line. It's wonderful - three, long, plastic coated lines that run almost the entire length of our roof terrace. Huge! And the view is divine. I love my laundry line...sort of. It's a love-hate relationship. After the long washing process, I load the clothes into the basket, go up to the roof terrace, and spend anywhere from 15-30 minutes actually hanging one, tiny load of laundry. Trying to move faster means nice, clean clothes drop onto the dirty patio one-story below. Also, after the three hour wash cycle, there are only about four hours of daylight left. In order for the clothes to get dry enough, they need to be hung just so. Shirt arms stretched out and pinned. Large items draped over several lines at once to maximize airflow. Delicates go on my lovely, perfect octopus (thank you, Ikea!). It's a science, involving physics, meteorology, and all sorts of other things I haven't studied in approximately 92 years. Despite my meticulous hanging procedure, I've yet to get anything fully dry on the line, save a formerly, blue towel I left up there for a solid week. That was really dry...and sun-bleached to a sickly, off-white color.

Once the hanging bit is over, I pray that a sudden rainstorm doesn't come up, or if it does, that I at least remember I have clothes on the line. Then, once darkness falls, I go back to the rooftop, take everything down, and now transfer it to a humongous drying rack inside the the dining room, to be exact. This rack holds about one-half of one load of laundry. Everything else gets spread out wherever. We currently have a bath mat hanging in the bathroom, another running along the backs of the dining room chairs, a dog bed draped on top of the dog crate...and the rest of today's load...I caved. They're in the dryer. I just couldn't help it. When I took those towels, now stiff and scratchy, off the line, I just couldn't take it. I do not like stiff clothes. And the sun does NOT impart a fresh scent to them - it just fades them. People who say they love line-dried clothing - "Oh, the clothes are so fresh," "Oh, the clothes feel so good" - don't actually have to line dry every single load. Of this, I am sure.

And so, one of my big questions since we've gotten here - "Where are the women?" - is answered. All over Italy, piazzas and coffee bars are populated by groups of men. There are never, never, never (never!) groups of women hanging about. You know why? They're at home doing the laundry.
A more typical drying line in urban Naples - these are the apartments directly behind our house. After I hang out my clothes on our long lines, I turn around and see our neighbors with their poor, pitiful, short lines. I must admit to being embarrassed at my "wealth." In reality, my neighbors are most likely pitying me, the "Silly American," who has no idea how to hang out her clothes. I fully expect one of them to come a'knockin' on the gate soon with instructions.


  1. When I was pregnant with Collin, we went to Leeanne's for a few days, and she didn't have a dryer hook up, so she line-dried clothes. Brick (I guess 3 1/2 at the time) started screaming when we put her clothes on her. She was certain there were ants in them.

    These blogs are very helpful. I guess we'll go buy enough clothes to last 2 weeks so we don't have to wash while we're there.

  2. I promise to use my towel several days at least while there - maybe a week if it doesn't start to "smell" but bringing enough clothes will be a challenge but I will try. Love, Mom

  3. I just dried, in the dryer, two loads of clothes. I break down often and use the dryer. We will not hesitate to wash your clothes as you need while you are here!

  4. Too bad you never met Grandma Ulmer. She was a Jedi Master at outdoor drying.

  5. I'm dying laughing at Katrina's comment because that's the same memory I had when I read the laundry post! Stephanie, I'm loving reading about your adventures and hoping to be one of those "bring enough clothes so we don't need to do laundry while you're here" visitors.