Friday, January 10, 2014

Venice 2007: Doing the Washing

For a holiday respite, my Friday posts through December and into January have been devoted to recounting a trip I took to Venice in 2007. Using photos and notes from the trip, I’m highlighting the urbanist issues of day-to-day life in what may be the most famous car-free city in the world.

Last week, I wrote about the difficulty of finding services in Venice, absent the land-use configurations and visual clues to which we’re accustomed in the U.S.

But I set aside until this post the subject of doing laundry in Venice.  Not only is laundry a particular challenge, but I made it even more difficult.

Before I left for Venice seven years ago, I checked the internet for laundry options.  There were none.  Absolutely none.  I packed laundry detergent and hand-washed in my apartment.

Seven years later, there’s been little change.  The website offers the following information, “Finding a laundromat in Venice isn't easy, but a handful of Venetian self-service laundries do exist.  … We'll tell you about three modern and easy-to-use launderettes -- one near the Piazza San Marco, another near the Venice railroad station, and a third below the Frari Church.  … We've created a separate page for each laundromat, with photos and walking directions so you won't need to wander aimlessly with a suitcase or backpack full of dirty clothes.”

Three laundromats for a city of 60,000 residents plus a number of visitors that may be nearly as large.  My decision to hand-wash still looks reasonable.

Nor was I the only one in Venice making that decision.  The first photo above is of my apartment.  The shirt hanging from the top window is mine.  And three floors below is the laundry of someone whose taste in shirts seems similar to mine.

Nor was my building the only one to be flying laundry.  As I walked about Venice, drying laundry was a frequent accoutrement, acting as a string of colored banners flapping above the water or the flagstones.

Not only did I devote several mornings of my time in Venice to the domestic task of laundry, but I made the task more difficult than it needed to be.

I wrote earlier about my munchkin apartment.  The apartment is the former attic of the building, which should have been evident from the photos in the earlier post.  Furthermore, the water service wasn’t suited for delivery to my aerie.  I’m guessing that the static pressure in the Venetian water system isn’t very high and that the upper units of every tall building have the same problems I did.

In an email that I sent from Venice, I wrote, “I may have the slowest filling bathtub ever.  …  I start the water, and then wander away for five minutes while two inches of water accumulate.  Read a book, write an email, whatever.  Just occupy myself while the inadequate plumbing struggles along.  The tub has an overflow, but I’m sure it’s only because the plumbing code required it.  Evaporation could keep pace with the fill rate.”

And of course doing hand-washing was equally time-consuming, taking more time away from exploring than I would have wished.

Which is ironic because there was a switch tucked in a corner of the bathroom with a hand-written note taped below it reading “Pompa”.  It wasn’t until my last full day in Venice that I became curious and tried the switch.

I’m sure that all readers have jumped ahead of me.  As should have been blindingly evident to anyone, particular someone with a Masters degree in water resources, “pompa” is Italian for “pump”.   With the switch on, the water flowed quickly into the tub.  Nuts.

Nor was that my only mishap with Venetian plumbing.  There was a dishwasher in my kitchen.  At least I assumed it was a dishwasher.  After all, it was in the kitchen next to the sink.  But I had no reason to use a dishwasher.  I ate all of my bigger meals in restaurants.  On the rare occasion when I ate in the apartment, it was a sandwich from the Rialto market for which I only needed a napkin.  It wasn’t until the end of my trip that I used a dish which I wanted to put in the dishwasher for the maid who would tidy up after I left.

It wasn’t a dishwasher.  It was a washing machine.  A washing machine that have probably worked great when the “pompa” was turned on.  Double nuts.

From a distance of almost seven years, I can poke fun at myself.  I deserve it.  But in at least one way, I don’t mind having been outwitted by Venetian plumbing.

Venice has never been an easy place to live.  It became the longest-lived republic in history through the life-force honed by living in a city of stone buildings constructed on soupy foundations in the middle of a malarial coastal lagoon.

Nor is Venice an easy place to live today. Life is more difficult when groceries must hauled home on foot along convoluted pedestrian routes over innumerable foot bridges, when getting about the city requires squeezing onto nearly-filled vaporetto, and when water pressure is a daily challenge.

To overcome just a few of those difficulties, even if self-created, made me feel that I experienced a bit of the true Venice.  Which was fine.  Besides, happiness more often comes from overcoming hurdles rather than from having every convenience met.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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