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french laundry

Everyone in France seems to have a washing machine.   I’ve seen them in people’s homes.   I even have one with a scary Hannibal Lecter looking latch contraption.  But from what I can tell, nobody has a dryer.   Nobody.

In every village I’ve ever been, laundry is hanging out to dry outside their windows.   Bras, underwear, socks, sheets, you name it.   It’s kind of picturesque.  They remind me of colorful flags fluttering against a 
backdrop of shutters and houses.   They can add a touch of pizazz to a dull wall or facade.  I particularly like the households with babies, because the multitude of tiny socks hanging out to dry resemble the mobiles that are often placed over cribs (without the tinkling music, just an occasional chirping bird).

I’m told that it’s okay to hang out clothes in plain sight if you live in a maison de ville (“downtown”), but if you live in a detached home away from the town center where it wouldn’t be noticeable, it’s actually illegal.   Like so many laws, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  I suppose it varies from town to town.

I often worry that the pigeons who live under the eaves of these homes leave deposits on the clothes and sheets, but apparently nobody else seems to be concerned about it.   Do they have dryers in Paris?   I rarely see clothes hanging out in the street there.   What if it rains for weeks on end?   What do you do if a slug or snail leaves a trail on your clothes?

Rumor has it, clothes that are line dried smell fresher and cleaner than those that are put through the drying cycle.  I suppose they take on the smells in the air, which at this time of year is scented with wisteria, lilacs lavender and jasmine.  One of these days I’ll have to do some laundry and find out for myself.

the hick from manhattan


Even though I come from a thriving, modern, urban metropolis, sometimes I can’t help feeling like a wide-eyed bumpkin here in Auvers.

My New York City apartment, was equipped with some of the most primitive tools available in North America, if not the northern hemisphere.

The laundry machines in the ever-flooded basement had two settings: “sort of clean” and” not so clean” and would probably fit in well at the Museum of Technology (the 50’s display). The electrical wiring has been unchanged in at least 3 decades and the outlets were so ancient, they needed converters. The “new” refrigerator dated back to the 70’s. “New” in landlord-ese means they charge me an extra $12.00 a month to replace the last new refrigerator from the ‘50s they put in 3 years ago. The doorbell and intercom system are just a fancy version of a gong, two cans and a string. And the only thing older than the back door, which is warped, cracked and doesn’t lock or even close properly, was the dishwasher. And that was me.

The funny thing was, I felt fortunate to only be paying a thousand dollars a month for all 500 square feet of that prime property. It reminds me of that syndrome where the hostages start taking the side of their captors

Knowing that I was going to be living in an old house, I certainly didn’t expect an upgrade. So when I found there were actually modern appliances, my first reaction was awe and wonder. Dang, look at this shiny newfangled stove they got here. Look at all these here knobs. You mean if you put something inside this box and turn a knob, it’ll cook? And what’s this big white box doing here in the bathroom? You mean there’s a machine that cleans clothes? I don’t have to take ‘em down to the river? Wheee-dawgie!

ovenBut in no time I realized that enjoying the benefits of technology is a great responsibility. One wrong push of a button and all could be lost.

Knowing that the stove and oven are the things I’d probably use most, I take some time to get to know them. To me the control panel looks like the dashboard of the plane I flew over on. And there are all sorts of settings with icons on them that my primitive mind can’t decifer. I’m told it’s a convection oven. I know that it’s a good thing, but I don’t know why. The word convection might as well be French. I wish it was French because then I could look it up. It took me several days to fire up the oven and I’m still not sure whether I broiled my first lamb chop, or cleaned it. But I didn’t burn the house down and I didn’t break anything, so I’m starting to feel a little more confident.

The dishwasher is still a thing of mystery to me. It took me a week to use it because I kept hand washing all my dishes out of habit. The first time I used it, I felt a little like a dog on an escalator (how did I get here? How do I get off, and please don’t let my tail get caught in the machinery.) It has several slots for different detergent type products that up until now, I’d only heard about in commercials. The only thing I know for sure about this machine is that if I don’t add the water softener tablet, terrible, terrible things will happen. Naturally, this concerned me since I can’t even remember to take my own pills and now I’m responsible for correctly dosing this dishwasher as well. I feared I couldn’t shoulder that much responsibility. Finally I bit the bullet amd did some dishes without incident, even remembering to give both of us our medication beforehand. So far, I’ve used it twice and it’s quite a dandy little invention.

washerBut without a doubt, the scariest, most foreign machine to me was the washing machine. It’s small but has impressive stature. And each of the many knobs offers many more options than my wardrobe does. I was jittery around it—so many things could go wrong. I could break it, it could flood everything , it could break mid-cycle, or it might just eat all my quarters (it took me awhile to realize that it didn’t have slots for quarters).

For the past two weeks, I’ve given it a wide berth.

One night, after a glass of wine, I finally approach the machine and open it, expecting to find an empty drum. Instead I found what looked to be a steel gate, with an incomprehensible looking latch covering what I thought should be the drum. For some reason, the latch reminds me of Hannibel Lechter’s mask. I shut the door, back away and started giving the machine an even wider berth.

hannibal lechterEvery couple of days, I’d tentatively open the washer, see the steel latch grimacing up at me and go search my drawers for just one more pair of clean underwear.

But my time is up. Today’s the day. I’ve got to do some laundry and I don’t feel like schlepping it to the Oise.

It takes me an hour to figure out how to undo the evil latch. Another hour to figure out which bottle in the cupboard is detergent, which is water softner, and what the heck else are all these other bottles for. I load it. So far, both the machine and I seem unharmed.

But now I’m faced with some difficult choices. Arret cuve plein? Quotidien 40? Rinsage et essorage? Soie? Laine?…

After a brisk nap, I decide to keep it at its current setting, since that’s obviously the one they used before and the house is still standing.

I hold my breath, count backwards from three and and push the button. Lift off!

Well, wheeeeeee dawgie, it worked! I didn’t have to wear my waders or nuthin’. I reckon these are the cleanest and most April fresh clothes this side of the Hudson.

Now I just have to figure out what to do with all these quarters.


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