Laundry drying on lines between the old buildings of Venice: an irresistible subject for nearly every visitor with a camera who roams even a short way from Piazza San Marco. On some days I've seen people quite literally waiting in line on Riva dei Sette Martiri to snap the particularly picturesque vista of laden clotheslines through the large arch of Calle delle Colonne.
But I wonder: are Jen and I the only people to whom it seems a little odd when undies are hung out? I don't know about visitors from other countries, but I suspect that for at least some other Americans, and probably Brits--with whom the US shares a certain puritanical modesty--such displays reveal a bit too much of our personal life to the eyes of strangers.
Well, now I find out that at least some Venetians feel the same way about the cavalier way in which Americans leave their underwear off to be washed in a laundry. They'd never dream of it. As one Venetian friend recently said, "To leave your dirty underwear to be handled by others? Terrible!"
"They're not really handling it, piece by piece," Jen objected, defending herself and me for having--you guessed it--left our laundry off last November while we were staying in an apartment without a washing machine.
"They have to smooth it out and fold it," our friend responded.
"After it's been washed," Jen pointed out.
But our friend was unmoved: "Beh! Che schifo!" (How disgusting!)
As it turns out, our friend's attitude stems from the professional experiences of her mother who, like many Venetians, works for one of the luxury hotels here.
The fact is this whole conversation began as a discussion of a certain recent movie starring a certain actor whom it seems everyone adores. Everyone except our friend, whose opinion rests not on his acting ability, nor his dreamy looks, but from the extent to which her mother was traumatized by a run-in with an article of his clothing.
"You can't imagine how absolutely terrible he smells!" our friend exclaimed. "My mother was supposed to mend one of his jackets but it was so torn up there was nothing to sew together--and the smell! The smell! It filled the room! It stuck to her clothes!"
In contrast, our friend's mother has a quite favorable opinion of the films of another hugely successful American leading man because all his briefs were impeccable and very expensive, made of black silk--and of a very sheer see-through material.
This last quality didn't bother our friend's mother--who favors tight animal prints herself--but to our friend and us it merely confirmed the questionable personal taste that has dogged even the greatest world-wide successes of this actor.
"So I guess it's not all a nightmare for your mother," Jen teased our friend.
A bad idea. In some company the discussion of intimate apparel is best kept very brief. Especially when your interlocutor is intent on proving how appalling it is that Americans (like Jen and myself, though infinitely more famous) leave their laundry off.
Americans such as "Il Sputinato di Venezia."
This was the Rabelaisian nickname our friend's mother came up with to comically embody the horror, disgust and revulsion inspired by the underpants of an actor who, like the two others already mentioned, is one of the most successful and popular leading men of the last 20-30 years: white cotton boxers (consistent with his retro down-to-earth vibe), voluminous in cut, and, well, let's just say that you really really don't want to read any more description--as I wish I'd never heard it. For those who know Italian, the nickname will be way too suggestive. For those who don't, the mere sound of the nickname will be way too suggestive.
"But," Jen objected, after recovering her composure, "that's unusual, that's extreme. We didn't leave off anything in that condition."
It didn't matter to our friend. She is a woman of unyielding, if not always logical, principles.
"So if you're visiting Venice and you don't have a washing machine, what are you supposed to do with your dirty underwear?" Jen asked.
"Wash them in the sink!" our friend insisted.
Yes. Wash them in the sink. Then, if you happen to be staying in one of the many apartments here with laundry lines running from your window, pin them to the line and wheel them out to the center of the calle or corte or campiello to charm--or appall--countless passers-by instead of one hardworking laundress.