Friday, March 18, 2011

Laverie Automatique

In 2002, Will and I were in Paris for five days.

It was my first trip "abroad" - the first five days of a month-long trip that would encompass seven countries, five flights, a two-day "cruise" and miles and miles (er, kilometers and kilometers) on our EuroRail passes, but after only four days of the Louvre and Orsay, brasseries and patisseries, and a day trip to Versailles, we were filthy.

We had already worn everything in our backpacks and I hadn't yet learned that washing my underwear in the sink wouldn't kill me. And, if the "one-day transportation strike" ended on schedule, our flight for Athens would leave the next day.

So we wandered over to the "laverie automatique" just across the street from our hotel - chocolate bars, paperbacks, and bottles of Vitel in tow. Look out, punks - here come two dirty Americans with their laundry.

It was mostly uneventful. We figured out what coins needed to go where and how to purchase detergent, and settled in for a quiet morning. We chatted briefly with two Americans from Seattle, discussing the relative merits of one Rick Steves.

And then, the most spectacular thing happened: Two Parisians got into a heated argument over their laundry.

It was the same sort of argument that happens in American laundromats every day, I'm sure. Someone, impatiently waiting for a dryer, removes another person's clothing from the dryer before said clothing is actually dry. Or wet clothing is heaped on a counter while the waiting person nabs a washer that has barely stopped spinning. But it was impossible to tell exactly what the situation was here, because it was all in rapid-fire French, and my fingers couldn't have spun quickly enough through my French-English dictionary to catch even one word in twenty.

But I didn't really care what they were saying. The translation itself was beside the point, and may have detracted from the real drama of the scene. How exciting can words like laundry, wet, dry, mine, I was here first, etc., really be?

For Will and I, chugging our Vittel and nibbling gleefully on our chocolate bars, this was entertainment at its best. For the last five days the most exciting exchange we'd had was with the hotel maid, who came into our room while we were napping to remove - mysteriously - the quilts from our bed. This fight - between a man and a woman - raged all over the laundromat and involved his clothes and hers in various stages of cleanness. Their voices had fabulous range - from dramatic whispers to raspy screams to strident demands. At one point, a woman holding a toddler by one hand and a laundry bag by another, poked her head in and immediately walked out.

I would have loved to stay all day, but at some point our meager load was finished, our backpacks were repacked with clean clothes, and the rest of Paris was waiting. I wondered how long they stayed there, engaged in a verbal duel. I wondered, all day, who won.

It's a funny thing when I think about it now. I remember walking along the Seine at night, and our picnic of bread and wine at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. I remember the Monets and Manets, the extravagences of the Louises, the graffiti as seen from my window seat on the RER. But nothing says Paris to me like a passionate argument in the laverie automatique.

1 comment:

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