A laundry day filled with wonder, who would have thought . . .
I have been dreading seeking out a laundromat in Aix, and so have not done my laundry since I arrived 11 days ago. With an upcoming excursion with my students to the even warmer city of Nice, it was clear to me that my autumn attire of flannels and sweaters —the only clean clothes left in my wardrobe— just wouldn’t cut it. So, today, I knew that it was laundry day, and because it was going to be my first one, that it would probably take up a good portion of it.
For once, I planned ahead and cleared my schedule: no seminar, no lunch dates, no meetings, no trips up to campus.
I admittedly started a bit later in the day than I had hoped as a result of my overindulgence in rosé the night before. These things happen, especially when you get a few American women together talking about relationships, on a veranda, on a beautiful fall evening. As much as I enjoy heady discussion about politics and philosophy and art, at heart I am a girl’s-girl and I like relationship talk even more. A night filled with stories, complaints, confessions, advice, and consolations usually marks the beginning of a beautiful friendship, in my book.
The experience was worth the hangover, which I will take any day over a lame-over, like my sister recently admitted to having in the company of an annoying young man who talked about himself the entire evening, the narcissistic monologues interjected only with strange opinions about pizza. Those are the nights that you keep drinking because you think that it will make the experience less lame, but it never works, hence the lame-over.
But I am getting off track.
This morning I fortified myself with Earl Grey tea, for the headache, and a bowl of corn flakes, for the queasiness, and packed up all of my laundry, two bags worth, to hit the streets in search of a lavarie automatique. I am not going to lie to you, I did not expect this to go well. I worried about understanding the directions on the machines. I knew that I was going to have to walk along a main road with many outdoor cafes with lots of dirty laundry, I did not know if the mat would take bills, or sell soap and did not want to make the exceptionally public walk down the Cours Mirabeau with the giant bags slung over my shoulder like a homeless woman to get to the Monoprix to buy the soap. I didn’t want to make two trips. Isn’t this an interesting post? Stick with it; I promise it gets better, like a hangover, as the day goes on.
Then I had the common sense to use the world wide web to locate a laundromat before wandering through town with my giant bags of laundry, in the heat, in my flannel. You wouldn’t know that I teach at the college level would you? What can I say? Rosé depletes my inductive, or is it deductive, reasoning.
I found one only a few blocks away: a couple of turns, one busy street, one quiet street to Au Bonheur du Linge. Knowing my condition, I scribbled down some directions.
And from this point on, the day just kept getting better and better. Magically, actually.
Oh my word, I thought as I turned that last corner, the Laverie is located in a beautiful but tranquil square. Bonne chance!
I read the French directions posted on the wall very carefully and figured out that the only difference between this mat and the ones back home (which I have spent my fair share of time in which you can read about here and here) is that you pay at a central pay machine. It is tres facile. The machine took bills. I had found enough soap from the previous tenant to do the two loads that I needed. Et voila! Free.
So I popped over to the café for some much needed coffee. I had brought along my kindle for this exact reason.
I got talked into some cakes to go with my coffee, which I probably didn’t need, but was predisposed to say yes to everything on this particular morning.
I ended up ordering a second cafe at the bar, because some mornings, you just need two. The cafe owner was very funny and amused by my braids. He spoke no English so he pulled another bartender over to translate for him: She said, He thinks that you look like Sacajawea. I tried to say, in French, that I am from Seattle, which is why I wear flannels and put my hair in braids (because no other part of Washington State would register) but for him not even Seattle did, he responded in French that he loves the United States, even though he has never been, he still has a wonderful image of it.
Then I switched over my laundry, and left it in the care of the statuesque of Mary, while I walked back to my apartment.
On the way, I stopped into the local florist near my apartment and bought the sunflowers that I have had my eye on for a while. The florist was very kind and spoke no English, so I tried to explain the best that I could in French, that I will be in his shop quite a bit this fall, because I love flowers, and live just around the corner. He seemed to understand and smiled, instructing me not to tip the flowers upside down because they were not tied tightly.
When I got back to my apartment, I opened up all of the windows to let in the early afternoon breeze, arranged the flowers in a vase, and placed the vase upon the mantle.
When I got back up to the laundry mat, my laundry was far from dry because tres chaud means different things in different countries. I popped in a few more Euros and sat down on the step outside the lavarie with the Provence newspaper. Because I cannot read French, I mostly just looked at the pictures and the headlines. I figured out that there had been a fire in a town not far away, a staged crisis in a movie theater to help the EMTs practice rescuing victims, and a small girl had drowned in a local pool and the mother (or caregiver or lifeguard) was being charged with involuntary manslaughter. Also a festival was happening somewhere, with traditional dresses and dancing.
An Iranian restaurant caught my eye as I was sitting on the step, which made me realize that I was sort of in the mood for something besides French food for dinner.
Then I checked my laundry again and it still wasn’t dry, so I pulled out all of the shirts and left only the jeans and towels and popped in a few more Euro and left the jeans in the care of Mary again (I owe her a solid) and walked back to my apartment with a bag of wet shirts.
On my walk back, I noticed that the sky was a deep blue and that the buildings with their ochre and sienna palettes contrasted beautifully against it. I though about the fact that I have not had the luxury of spending an entire day just doing the laundry since I was a teenager, watching endless loads of lice-ridden blankets tumble in the machines at the worn laundromat with a tiny television, and dirty plastic toys in the corner. Even carrying a bag full of wet shirts down Rue D’Italie, dodging mopeds, and dog shit, I saw clearly how the day was so beautiful, and filled with so much time, with everyone enjoying it that I remarked to myself, how long has it been that you felt this restful about completing your errands.
When I got back to the apartment, I hung all of my wash on the broken drying rack, propped between the sofa and the chair, and positioned it in front of the window for the optimal breezes.
Then I looked up at the ceiling and noticed that the paint was cracking away in pieces, and remarked to myself that it was beautiful. This flaking must have taken a while, I thought to myself, which demonstrates that time, in some contexts, moves slowly.
Having left Mary long enough in the care of my wears, I recovered my jeans from the dryer, still damp. Oh well, I thought, at least it is a beautiful day and I can hang them from the chairs around my apartment. They will surely be dry tomorrow. No need to fret.
On the way back to the apartment, I realized that the incredible smell on Rue La Cepede was a crepe shop, so I stopped and bought one with ham and cheese. The woman was kind and seeing that I was carrying bags, wrapped it up tightly in tinfoil.
After laying out the rest of my clothing all over the apartment, underwear on the bed, sweater on the chair, jeans anywhere and everywhere, I took my crepe down to the stoop to enjoy the afternoon sun, which warms the light in ways that brought painters from afar to this special place.
I ate my buckwheat crepe avec fromage et jambon and looked at the church. It is fortified, so it is an edifice of both war and religion. It easy for me to imagine this church on its own, standing alone outside of the protected city walls, guarded by a few brave souls.
While I was sitting there eating my crepe, a fat cat climbed through the grill of the basement window into another on the main floor and looked me for a moment as it passed. A few tourists with cameras came out of the museum across the plaza. A couple of street cleaners took a cigarette break under the oak tree by the fountain. Voices rose from the church that I had not yet entered, for no real reason. But today the voices were too compelling and drew me in.
Inside the church, a man with a microphone coached a senior choir. The men were on one side, the women on the other. They sang and they stopped, they sang and they stopped. The man provided coaching in a tender and funny way that I could only tell by his tone and the laughing. It is all timing.
Ecoutez moi, he said into his mic after he sang the notes, ecoutez moi.
And I responded in a quiet way, only to myself, leaning against the cool stone wall at the back of the church.
I am listening.