Postcard from Porto: The artistry of clean clothes

Americans. So puritanical.

Not only is airing our dirty laundry frowned upon, we also seem opposed to airing our clean laundry. We banish the entire function to closeted quarters hidden from guests.

Dryers further protect our privacy, as though naked underthings are far too revealing. Forget preserving our resources by relying on wind-power instead of electricity. We’d never think of hanging wet clothes out to dry on the front porch. Subdivisions often forbid even backyard clotheslines.

As a result, we are fascinated by the flagrant displays of clean clothes hung in full view in other countries. I try to refrain from framing photos of colorful wardrobes flapping in the breeze, but sometimes I slip into this silly form of voyeurism transforming the appearance of even drab building facades into changing kaleidoscopes of color on a daily basis.

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Laundry hangs everywhere in Porto – over the heads of diners on a narrow street, flapping amidst festival flags on another, constant reminders that everyone puts their pants on the same way.

My favorites on morning walks along the banks of the Douro River are those artistically arranged for the entertainment of others – a mannequin for drying underwear or a pair of black undies pinned next to a tile saint.

Portenos are proud of their cleanliness. Only Americans treat laundry as though it were a dirty little secret.

Update Added on May 8, 2014: Oh, that we could add to the display, but, alas, we cannot. We took all our darks and loaded up the machine using the product with the pile of fluffy towels on the label, distinguishing it from the one with the stack of dishes on the label. Vocabulary Lesson 101: Lixivia means bleach. Hint: The towels on the label are white. Add to to-do list: Shop for black and navy tops.

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