I am currently living in Salamanca, Spain, a small town about two and a half hours from Madrid. Salamanca is home to the second-oldest university in Europe, a cathedral the locals call “new” that was built in the 1500s, at least six churches that I know of (many more stand empty but were once monasteries), and 1800 bars.
I’ve been here about a week. I’ll be here til December, living in a small apartment that takes up half a floor of a building on a block which houses a construction company, a Laundromat, a bank, and a dance school. My Spanish parents are really more like Spanish grandparents. My padre is in his 70s but looks younger, and I think my madre is around the same age. She makes me and my roommate copious amounts of food and then wants us to eat it all. Fortunately, I came here with a little extra room in my average-American sized Sweetheart jeans.
We got here on a Wednesday, so it wasn’t until the following Monday that we encountered Laundry Day. My madre has given us each a black trash bag which serves as a laundry hamper, and announced on Sunday night that the following day she would collect it and wash the contents.
For the most part, Spaniards don’t believe in dryers. Energy, water, and petroleum are in short supply and high demand here because they’re not natural resources. I knew this before I came, but figured that, with everyone living in apartments which are in close proximity to each other, European conservatism would preclude their putting their clothing on display.
When I walked into my room Monday afternoon, I looked out my window to find several clotheslines, all strung up in parallel rows, facing the neighboring building.
On one of the lines nearest my window were my clean white bikini cut Haines, and next to them several cheerfully colored thongs lay drying.
I had several more important things to do. Lunch was ready and a siesta beckoned afterwards. Raising my eyebrows, I decided to contemplate this later and let the sun do its shiny, hopefully eager work. The sooner my underwear was inside, the better.
Monday afternoon I came back from the main plaza, where the social life of the salamantino is centered, to find my blue jeans, neatly folded in half, lying on my comforter. I picked them up, and, to my shock, they stood on their own, almost as stiff as the expressions on the faces of the people I passed in the streets. Fabric softener, like loofahs and whole grains, seems to have been relegated to mythical status.
My underwear remained on the line, proudly flaunting the fact that An American Woman Lives Here, as it decided to extend its tan til Tuesday.
Tuesday afternoon I returned from class to find my underwear neatly folded on my comforter. It was joined during its personal siesta by two pairs of seductive purple thongs.
“I finished your laundry,” my madre said at lunch, “and mostly I can tell whose things are whose, but sometimes I can’t.”
“Really?” I asked, brushing breadcrumbs off my baggy t-shirt and smiling. “Well, I think you did fine.”