Saturday, January 08, 2011


I've been reading a book that was given to me before we came, titled How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed, by Slavenka Drakulic (Harper Collins, 1991). Drakulic is a Croatian journalist; in this book she reflects on the transition from communist totalitarianism to free market democracy, particularly for women. Although Croatia was part of Yugoslavia and politically separate from Albania, a lot of the things she describes apply equally well here. I tried to tell Shpresa about the book (she would have been in her early 20s when the transition happened here); she well recalls the food shortages and other problems people experienced in their daily lives.

One passage in particular caught my attention because it still applies here, from the chapter on laundry - Drakulic could have been describing Tirana in 2010:

She lives on the third floor, and because she doesn't have a balcony to hang her clothes on, she has a device that I've seen so many times, on so many windows: two metal tubes fixed either under the window or on the window frame itself, with rows of lines between. The laundry hangs above the sidewalk water dripping on the heads of passers-by.... This, I think, looking down from Blaga's window in Sofia, is what makes our cities so specific, so unique - balcony dryers....

Perhaps you don't notice it at first, in the center of the city and on the main streets. But as soon as you enter the side streets, hanging clothes flutter like flags of another state, announcing that you are entering a different, female territory. Clothes dangle on the wind under the windows, on balconies and terraces, in backyards, in narrow streets stretched between houses, even high up on skyscrapers. Socks, pants, shirts, diapers, dresses, aprons, handkerchiefs, slips - they make a foreign city all of a sudden look intimate, friendly, familiar to me. (pp. 51-52)
It's something I noticed right away here, but that soon began to fade into the background. Whereas in the US there are homeowner's associations that ban line drying clothes in the front yard - or at all - here it's just part of the legacy of privation. People just didn't have dryers, and very few had washing machines. So it's built now as part of how you do your laundry. (Most have washers now so the heavy work at least is done by machine.) What struck me about it here was that even the most posh apartment buildings facing major upscale boulevards have lines of laundry hanging out for all the world to see. I kind of like it.

1 comment:

tara said...

i love outdoor laundry, although A worries about people seeing his unmentionables- i think i noticed this in another pic of yours or in that other blog you mentioned.

i have no sunshine anymore because we have such nice trees so my laundry doesn't dry (in the winter) unless i get it outside before the sunrises.... so perhaps once mort arrives