A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

global laundering: adventures in clean clothing

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 29, 2006

One of the less glamorous aspects of world travel is the way it dirties the world traveler’s clothing.

I grew up in a household in which laundry chores were assigned early. My mother hates the constant-ness of laundry: the un-ending cycle from clean to dirty, making Sisyphuses of all laundry-doers.

My sister and I were required to help with the laundry starting when, as my sister reminds us, she was so little that in order to reach the dryer knobs she had to stand on a chair. Laundry was always listed on our Tuesday/Thursday (summer) or Saturday (school year) chores, in a shorthand that never failed to amuse outsiders:”fold and deliver”. We were required to fold clean laundry, sort by owner and deliver the clean, folded piles to the owner’s bedroom. In the case of parental laundry, we also had to put it away, resulting no doubt in some curious choices for non-standard pieces such as slips and ambiguously sized socks.

Thanks to this training, I spent my early adulthood quite cocky about my laundry skills. However, an unfortunate string of washer blowouts and other mechanical rebellions starting in 2003 convinced me otherwise. I documented these in a PTSD-y email written after an inexplicable flooding incident in my Paris apartment in October 2005 (feel free to skip if you are either not at all or particularly sensitive to laundry trauma):

Curse of the Washing Machine

I have often wondered whether I cast some sort of evil spell on technology. Perhaps the emf thrown off by my body interferes with machine functionality … ? My mobile phone seems always to get less reception than all others in the vicinity. My laptop battery seems to last far less time than the manufacturer supposed. Light bulbs often pop, and fuses blow, in my presence. As for washing machines … well, I have frequently suspected that they in particular exhibit a special dislike for me.

There was the washing machine in Budapest, 2003. It looked a torture device and frequently chased me around the kitchen while on some kind of mad turbo spin cycle.

There was the washing machine in Damascus, same year. I believe it had been reconstructed from old Soviet airplane parts. It was such a formidable beast that I gave in immediately and began taking my wash to the local dry cleaners.

Then there was M’s washer, Damascus 2004. It worked fine, until … one day, it stopped draining. Just for me. And then others, including S, innocent victim of what I now believe to be a global washing machine vendetta. Once M returned, the shami washer reverted to its normal state: sweet. innocuous. functioning.

This summer [2005], we (S foolishly signing on for another season of destroyed clothing) again had a washing machine sans spin cycle. Unfortunately this one raised the bar, refusing not only to drain but also refusing to rinse. We had clean, if rather soapy clothing.

One might think that the problem is location: perhaps Damascus has a particularly rich supply of cantankerous washers. However, I assure you that this is only because in New York I take my wash to be done by Toy Chin Laundry. The machines there, industrial beasts that they are, nonetheless submit gently to the professional hands of their masters. They and I remain blissfully unacquainted.

And now to France: two weeks of perfect laundry experiences, followed by what I can only described as a low (3” / 7.5 cm) wall of water coming directly at me as I sat peacefully, if ineptly, cross-stitching on my bed. At first I thought the machine was offering political commentary: I’ll Nouveau Orleans you, silly American. Then I just thought: mop.

Mop. Mop. Mop. Wring. Mop. Mop. Mop. Wring. Incidentally, I don’t have a mop. I was using towels.

Finally I called the concierge, relieved to find my language skills sticking by me in moments of crisis. After several “ah, my pauvre”, Madame Bou S. sent up her husband, who brought my savior: the shop-vac. Or shoppe-vacc, as I suppose it might be in French. (Actually, he called it the “aspirateur”. perfect. I too was ready to be aspirated.)

After much vacuuming, my floors are now cleaner than they will ever (I hope) again be during my stay here. And judging by the amount of well aged food bits and other detritus that floated around on the kitchen floor, cleaner than they have ever been. This is me, looking on the bright side.

On the not-so-bright side, Monsieur Bou S. took a look at the washing machine after all the water had been sucked away. He looked at the hoses (my initial hope: that one had come loose), the clothing receptacle, the machine’s position on the floor, the wash settings, etc. Puzzled, he finally said: but there’s nothing wrong with it.

Happily, my Beirut washer has been a dream. new, clean, functional – we get along beautifully. Perhaps my propitiary offerings and its regal perch in the mudroom have allowed me to break the curse.

Even when my washes were disasters, however, my dry cleaning experiences have been delights. In Damascus, I take my dry cleaning to Sno White. I went there initially because I found the idea of having my clothing cleaned by a fairy tale character … well … enchanting. Now, though, I go because the men who work there are enchanting.

Sno White must be owned by someone very devout, as whichever branch I go to has either Qur’anic recitation playing from the stereo or men praying. At first the men would politely turn it off when I entered (thinking it might offend me?) … then, remembering that on previous visits I had demurred, they would merely raise their eyebrows and gesture towards the stereo … and finally they began to leave the cassette playing. They are delightful, young and old – sweet and courtly, and unfailingly gracious. When I had stitches in my chin after an unfortunate fall at the airport, they carefully advised me on the importance of good plastic surgery. When I … oh … I have lots of Sno White stories – and I have one favorite.

When I travel, I try to choose one color theme – it facilitates mixing and matching, and minimizes my shoe requirements. Last November and December, I went to Damascus with a “brown” theme. One day I went to Sno White with two pairs of (to the undiscerning eye) very, very similar brown trousers. A bit embarrassed to have put myself in such a … haha … brown study, I said ruefully to my favorite Sno White-r:

Oh, I am a bit boring – here I am with two brown trousers.

Oh no, he said (and this is the part that is my favorite). Your trousers are beautiful. Each of your trousers is beautiful, just as you are beautiful.

I thanked him for his care and his very sweet self-esteem building comment, and walked home in a daze. Never, never, never have I received a compliment like that before.



I took this photo in Jerusalem, quite proud of myself for having mastered drop off and pick up with smiles and gestures, at a shop where neither Arabic nor English proved at all helpful:



One Response to “global laundering: adventures in clean clothing”

  1. Intlxpatr said

    It must be a family thing, bint uckti, as your cousins also do laundry well.

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