November 2015

Naples: Living Layers Of Laundry

First impressions last.

What struck me about Naples, the ‘city of dark sun’, in the first few minutes of arriving there – as I was passing through on my way to Ischia this Summer, Thursday 19th July 2012 – was the laundry. Everywhere I looked, layers of clean laundry were flapping in the breeze, rustling against balconies and window boxes, pulsing in the sunlight.

Even though as they hung there drying, the newly washed sheets and shirts and underwear of Naples must have lost some of its cleanness – rubbing against grimy ironwork

and soot stained stone – the visual effect was scintillating and bright. The permanence of those tall tightly packed buildings was enriched and enlivened by this transient layer – layer upon layer – of diaphanous fabric, shimmering in continuous motion.

Was it messy ? no. There was enough of it, and in enough variety, to be beyond messy. It had (to use a developer’s phrase) ‘critical mass’, or perhaps I should say ‘critical density

Why do people in Naples hang laundry out more than in other cities I know such as Rome or Toulouse ? Is it a habit; a tradition ? The people living in the old city are not rich but it feels like more than economics which accounts for this aspect of Naples’ character.

It is ironic that intimate objects such as bed-sheets, bra’s and vests can contribute tothe privacy of a home but in Naples that is what they do.

And it makes sense of course in a hot climate to shade the window with a sheet. As it dries, the air is chilled around the window. As the sheet flaps in the breeze, the room cools.