Wednesday, April 18, 2007

¡Don Limpio!

Wednesday in Granada. A day of many small triumphs. I think anyone who has spent more than a few days in a foreign country probably knows what I mean when I say that one of the joys of being abroad is the huge sense of triumph that one can get from accomplishing even the most quotidian of tasks. Something as simple as buying an alarm clock. Or sending a package back to California. Because you are doing it in a foreign country. In a language not your own. You get this absurd sense of accomplishment. At least I do.

The flipside is that you also learn to take a somewhat different view of the normal activities that form the fabric of everyday life at home. The quotidian is no longer something to be taken for granted.

A case in point. Laundry. In Ireland, and in the U.S., there is a natural progression, for males, anyway:

  • Someone else worries about it
  • You bring it home at weekends and someone else worries about it
  • You learn the basics and do it in the nearest shared facility (college dormitory or public laundromat); you start to obsess about having enough quarters
  • You move up to a shared facility that doesn't need quarters (e.g. apartment complex or building)
  • Finally, you graduate to living in a space with an in-home washer-drier, after which you never really think consciously about laundry again.
  • Until the washer-drier goes on the fritz, at which point you are brought to a sharp realization of just how much you have been taking for granted.

Another way of being forced to realize just what you've been taking for granted is to travel or live in a foreign country for a while.

Take Spain, for example. Gentle reader, there is one thing I can state with certainty. You will not find the love of your life sitting in a Spanish laundromat. Not in Seville or Granada. Nor anywhere else in Spain, from what I am given to understand. This is a country without laundromats. The concept simply doesn't exist. How do I know this? As usual, for me, I found out more or less the hard way.

See, when you are traveling, there's a kind of grace period, where you first start to think about laundry in a general abstract "Gee, I really should do something about laundry before I run out of clean socks" kind of way. Eventually, the end of the grace period looms, when you realize that you need to do something about the laundry situation within the next two days, (maximum three if you relax standards slightly on the sock front). So now you walk the streets, consciously keeping your eyes peeled for a laundromat. Things start to seem weird: none of the likely-looking streets pan out.

There is an interesting, and useful, side-effect during this phase. You are forced to pay conscious attention to all the stores that you pass, and so you actually see what kind of stores there are. This gives you an interesting composite of the Granadan character. Clearly these are people who are so busy buying, renting, and selling apartments, visiting the nearest fruit store, bakery or bar, in between visits to the stationery store, peluqueria or salon de estetica that they have little time for such niceties as washing clothes. Results of my (unscientific) sample consisting of the block in which my apartment building is located. It's a rectangular block, each side being a commercial street, with the two short sides being more heavily trafficked than the longer sides; totals are for both sides of the street for each face of the block - got that?

The plain people of Ireland: That's probably a rhombus you're thinking of -'tis a very common mistake to mix up a rhombus and a rectangle. Are you sure those corners are all at 90 degrees?

The management: Oddly enough, peasants, for once your question is not complete rubbish.

The plain people of Ireland: That's Brother Jerome up at Saint Malachy's we can thank for that. A great man for the Euclid.

The management: But I think you mean a quadrilateral, not a rhombus. Not that it matters for the purposes of this story.

The plain people of Ireland: Begob you're right. Fair enough so. We're all ears.

Frequencies for the most common types of business:

  • Inmobiliara (real estate offices) = 6
  • Restaurants/bars = 4
  • Pastry shops/bakeries = 4
  • Hair/beauty salons = 3
  • Fruit stores = 3
  • Stationery stores = 3

Some time on Tuesday, it began to dawn on me that maybe the reason I wasn't stumbling across any laundromats on my travels was because there weren't any out there. A quick check of the yellow pages and an online search served only to confirm this suspicion.

So I asked the teacher. Unfortunately, I chose to ask María (names changed to protect the innocent), not - as it turned out - the most empathetic of respondents. Her initial reaction was to make me repeat the question twice, as she subjected me to the kind of pitying gaze one might cast upon someone with Tourette's. Finally, acknowledgement that perhaps my question might have some legitimate basis. But then, in the most dismissively condescending tone imaginable:

"But why would anyone need to use public washing machines. Every home in Spain comes with a washing machine", shuffling her papers to move on from a topic which was clearly of no concern to her washing-machine-containing-home-loving self.

Somewhat taken aback by this complete lack of empathy, I pointed out that, indeed my current temporary lodging contained a washing machine (though no visible drier), but that it also came equipped with seven other boarding students and a dragon lady whose very first sentences to me had been about the need to conserve water in Granada.

This conversation led nowhere fast. Fortunately, my compatriot Cathal came to the rescue this morning, by directing me to one of two known places in Granada (if you aren't staying in a hotel) where one can drop off laundry for later pick-up. At 16:30, as they reopened after siesta, I was there with my bulging bag full of 3 weeks' of accumulated dirty laundry.

And, gentle readers, you will be relieved to know that a mere 4 hours later, I was marching home to Señora Rosa's, with enough clean clothes to last me at least to Madrid. For tonight, at least, I am the Spanish equivalent of "Mr Clean".

Your faithful correspondent,

Don Limpio de Granada.

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