My Favorite Domestic Friend

Stendino, addio! In America il fastidioso problema di far asciugare la biancheria lavata è stato facilmente risolto da uno degli elettrodomestici più utili: l’asciugatrice. Mentre in Italia bisogna necessariamente appoggiare i panni sui termosifoni in inverno, oppure stendere fuori su fili durante la buona stagione, avere vestiti morbidi, poco stropicciati e pronti in pochi minuti grazie a questa ingegnosa invenzione che semplifica la vita non è cosa da poco!

In October 1984, when I first moved to this foreign land, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the existence of the drying machine. I could not believe that here in the U.S. one could dry laundry in about 45 minutes. Even more so, I was astonished about how incredibly soft, fluffy and wrinkle-free the dry towels and sheets felt to the touch and that little ironing was needed. My first reaction was one of amazement and appreciation for such an incredible apparatus I hadn’t known existed. Coming from a small village comprised of approximately 1,200 souls, I had never seen anything so ingenious before. As far as I knew, back then in Italia, virtually no one possessed a dryer or, at least, I was unaware of anyone who owned one. The asciugatrice or asciugabiancheria, as we call it in Italia, has been my favorite domestic friend ever since.

While growing up in Italy, drying laundry was a year-round nuisance: a home chore strictly subject to the mercy of Mother Nature. Without the asciugatrice, we had to resort to drying our laundry by laying everything on a stendipanni (clotheshorse), securing each item with wooden or plastic pinzette (clothespins). At my home, we usually set the laundry to dry on a double-pulley connected to the railing of our main balcony facing the piazza. 

In the winter months, we waited several days for our laundry to dry: hanging the washing outside during the daytime and transferring the clothes and linens inside at night. If, by chance, we forgot to bring in the laundry, the next morning everything would be covered with a thin layer of crispy frost - like pieces of baccalà (cod fish) stored in the frozen section of a supermarket. When there was snow on the ground, we had no other choice than to dry our garments in the kitchen, surrendering the damp clothes to the heat of the fireplace.

After a furnace was finally installed at home, clothes were draped over radiators located in each of the four bedrooms upstairs. This method, too, took several hours or even days. When time was limited, we had to tediously press the clothes repeatedly with a warm iron until dry as if we were making a Mexican tortilla; iron one side, flip it, press the other side, and continue until our favorite jeans or shirt were thoroughly moisture-free and ready to wear. Occasionally late for school, I even wore lightly damp pants and shirts. Sudden rainstorms, mighty winds and sun exposure all added their own complications to the domestic task.
Drying laundry outside meant no privacy. It was as if every person walking by our balcony would virtually enter our home and take a glimpse at everything we owned. In little towns, such as mine, where gossiping was and still is the villagers’ favorite pastime, it meant that anyone could pass unwanted judgment on our exposed laundry without reservation. It was as if we were taking una passeggiata on the piazza with a transparent dress. Our “dirty” laundry became everyone else’s business.

Before jotting down my final thoughts for this story, I decided to do my laundry. As I continue writing, I can hear the tumbling sound of my asciugabiancheria and the freshly washed clothes somersaulting inside. In less than an hour or so, the final buzzer will announce the end of the drying cycle indicating that everything is ready to be folded and stored away. While taking my washing out of the drum, I will once again feel that familiar sense of amazement that I first sensed some 32 years ago; to have dry, soft and wrinkle-free clothes at my disposal with little time or effort, no matter the weather conditions or the season of the year. From my perspective, considering what a seasonal venture it was to complete this domestic task during my childhood and adolescent years, the asciugatrice will always be the one home appliance for which I will be most grateful, one load after another.