Clothes hanging on the drying racks of the balconies. Clothes hanging on ropes pulled under the windows or on the terraces. Clothes hung even in the narrow alleys on ropes suspended from one end of a house to the other.

They have been placed there in an accurate and well-studied way: all the laundry must enter that space and the organization of the drying rack (or of the rope!) becomes a true art. It is advisable to hang bulky clothes such as sheets or towels first, for t-shirts it is good to place the clothespins under the sleeves at the seams, if we are in winter (because the clothes hang outdoors even in winter!) it is better to choose days with dry cold etc…

It is not uncommon to hear conversations asking what the weather forecast for the next day is, to decide whether or not to do laundry. Today everything flows faster thanks to technology, but if we do not have a dryer in our home, the only thing to do to dry clothes … is to put them in the sun! And we are not always lucky. The tradition of making laundry has remained the same over the years: of course, we have efficient washing machines comfortably installed in the heat of our homes and we do not go to the fountains like our grandmothers did, but it is also true that to hang our clothes well washed and perfumed we must follow the climate, adapting to the rhythm of the seasons. Sometimes we get extremely nervous about the rainy or humid day, but we can’t do much about it: we will wear something else … because the one hanging from the rope has definitely not dried! It’s not that tragic, come on!

We are very familiar with the image of clothes hanging out to dry in the sun and in the wind, but sometimes I observe foreigners and see them with their noses up: intrigued, they observe and photograph those clothes that colour and “decorate” the facades and the streets of the city. But it’s not just colours. What is behind a laundry? A person’s life. The hanging clothes tell us many stories about those who look out on that balcony: their private lives take a step outside and mingle with many other private lives, sharing the freedom to hang out in the air.

Fun facts! In Italian referring to freshly washed clothes we speak of bucato (punctured). The term seems to derive from the container used when the clothes were still washed by hand. The clothes were boiled in water and ashes and then placed into the container which had a hole (buco) at the bottom closed with a cap. After about an hour the cap was removed from the hole to let the water flow: the clothes were now ready to be rinsed in the fountain.

written by Irene Testi,

tour assistant at Walk About Italy