Far from the world of pizzas, pastas, and gelati I’ve been immersed in these last two weeks lies another, dirtier truth. While I’ve managed to shove it as far back into my wardrobe as I could, the truth is starting to smell.
It’s high time I did my laundry, you see, and not only because I’ve been here for over two weeks now but because I’m tired of wearing the same pair of socks three days in a row. That and the fact that my room is starting to smell like I’m ageing a wide variety of exotic cheeses. If I were in France, perhaps this would all be okay, but I’m not. Another complication is caused by the fact that I’m living just down the block from a cheese shop, quite a good one I might add, and I would hate for them to think that I’m trying to infringe upon their business. With these concerns in mind, I stuff the offending clothing into my backpack and make for the train station.
My little town of Polignano has no laundromat so I must make the five-minute ride to neighboring Monopoli. I’m pacing up and down the platform, debating whether or not to validate my ticket when the train grinds to a halt and the doors open, revealing the stern face of the conductor. I smile, quickly inserting my ticket into the machine before jumping on board. He eyes me under raised eyebrows and I respond by handing him my ticket. He punches it and moves down the wagon.
I have become quite good at this. My life of late is apparently so thrill free that I live for those five minutes back and forth everyday spent nervously checking for any sign of the conductor. The relief when the doors open once again and I’m free from inspection lends me an extra bit of motivation and confidence for the day, a temporary sense of immortality that is only suspended when I get back on the train later that evening to return home and spend another jarring five minutes looking back and forth down the length of the wagon to see if I can get away with it again. Yes, I live an exciting life. Further proof of which you’ll find back in my laundry.
As I step inside the little laundromat, swept up for a moment in its bright green and blue interior (and still somewhat lightheaded from the smell oozing from inside my backpack), I’m struck by something. I have never actually stepped foot inside one of these places before. (Yes, I am terribly over privileged) I’ve been aware of their existence of course, from films and other media outlets, but nothing has quite prepared me for the dazzling colors, or the synchronized whirring coming from the machines, or the smell of soap. It’s beautiful in a clean, mechanized sort of way, particularly as accompanied by the pulsating techno radiating from the speakers. It feels like the future, and indeed when faced with the self-service panel full of blinking lights and digitized buttons, I’m at a temporary loss as for what to do.
To delay this confrontation, I first choose an available machine and stuff my clothes inside. A woman seated nearby watching this whole debacle loudly informs me in Italian that I’ve dropped something and I turn to find the familiar boxers adorned with four-leaf clovers on the floor. I thank her and toss them inside to join the others. I’m barefoot at this point as well, my socks having joined the party.
To further escalate the drama, I’m not wearing any underwear. If I could be guaranteed some degree of privacy, I’d be awfully tempted to strip down and put every last thread of clothing into the high powered washer. The draw is unmistakable, and I can’t imagine greater temptation to do so even if I were being fed grapes by SI cover models on a private Brazilian beach. Fortunately, my desire to avoid Italian prison for public indecency is even stronger, so I resist the urge, close the washer and confront at long last my buttoned nemesis. I insert a ten-euro note (doing laundry is expensive!) and push the corresponding number and… nothing. Nothing that is, except the machine takes the money. I don’t even get a receipt! I’m outraged, in a private, too embarrassed to say it kind of way. You fall in love, start dancing, only to realize after she’s gone “to say hi to a friend” that she’s made off with your wallet and your soul.
I look around. The woman who assisted me earlier is sitting next to an older man. I look at the flashing display, to them, to the corrupt machine, and back to them. It’s the distress call of an individual too sheepish to just say the obvious; I need help!
Luckily, the man recognizes the signal and comes over. I explain with small words and grand gestures what’s occurred. It seems to me that despite my lack of knowledge when it comes to the Italian language, I’m far better understood in my few miserably stilted Italian phrases than I ever was while in Ukraine. It may be due to the fact that I’m an overly emotional, animated individual living in a country full of overly emotional, animated individuals but either way, this fellow can read me like a book. He pushes a button with a very serious looking exclamation point on it and seconds later a voice cuts into the techno soundtrack. The man on my end explains the situation and a few minutes later in strides a man with dark stubble and a baseball cap. The theft is explained once again by the old Italian and the newcomer goes over to inspect the machine. He pushes a button and the washer starts up, soapy suds soon running down the machine’s glass face.
Rather than being put off by my idiocy, the Italian launderer smiles and shakes my hand, asking in broken English whether I need anything else. We all share a good laugh after which I thank the two. Concerned once again with my laundry, I find myself fascinated with the way the water cascades over the glass, and I take solace in the knowledge that my clothes are being cleaned for the first time in weeks.
If I hadn’t realized before, standing there barefoot seemingly hypnotized by the washer certainly confirms it. I’m a bit unusual.
An hour later I’m pulling my clothes from the drier, half expecting them to smell of pizza or some other uniquely Italian scent. It isn’t pizza exactly, but they do smell delicious in that “I can’t wait to have you against my body” kind of way.
I pull on a pair of scrumptiously hot dress socks and put on my shoes. The little bell clings as I exit, an honest (and clean) man once again.