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TRAVEL IS SO NARROWING
August 16, 2008
 
I am not understanding my Italian washing machine. It is tiny, of course, compared to mine at home, and its mechanism does not involve a fierce central agitator that pits the clothes vigorously against one another until they all come clean in self defense. Instead, they tumble reluctantly around for three or four seconds in a cup or two of unsudsy water, and then stop a while to think. After that they tumble in the other direction for a few seconds, as if unable to decide which way they really want to go. They emerge from all this ambivalence in more or less the same condition they were in when I began. And that's how it is when I can figure out how to turn it on -- it has strange lines and triangles and circles that are supposed to tell me what is "on" and what is "off." But I can't read the lines and circles, and the Italian directions assume that I know what they mean. I grope a bit, and sometimes it starts and then -- well, see above. But mostly it does not. I am about to run out and buy a washboard.

I give up and haul the bed sheets upstairs to wash them in the bathtub, cursing under my breath as I do so. But when I walk out to the sunny garden, two pink water lilies are blooming in the little stone pool, with three tiny fish swimming beneath them. The little stone putto in the middle of the pool smiles broadly at my grim face. The geraniums are full of blossoms, as is the oleander, and a butterfly is hard at work on the lavender. The garden across the street from us contains a grotto where Macchiavelli and his friends used to gather.

I suppose I could have stayed in New Jersey, with my excellent washing machine.

We don't travel the world in order to have everything just the way we left it at home. If you have to have all that, then you need to stay right where you are. You travel somewhere else in order to live in some other way. Travel is said to be broadening, but some people are narrowed by it instead: I have known people who, upon returning from somewhere amazing -- India, Croatia, Africa, China, France -- could talk only of how different the bathrooms were there from the ones at home. How was Machu Picchu? Angkor Wat? The Taj Mahal? The Louvre? Nothing -- just the bathrooms. How sad is that?

And how easily I fell into precisely that narrowness this morning when I couldn't manage the laundry project to my liking. Italians are very particular about their appearance, and they all seem to have clean clothes. There really isn't anything wrong with Italian washing machines. I just don't understand how they work yet.

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Will the lady whose husband is in the cat litter business and wants to know about the fabulous stuff Ben is using here in Florence please get in touch again? I lost your address.
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