Local colour. We love it. Washing lines suspended from distressed peeling-paint window frames, or stretched across characterful ancient narrow streets oozing character and Instagram appeal. But life moves on. Families get rehoused into concrete-and-brick tower blocks. But Monday is still washing day. Exchange the battered wooden windows for ones made from metal and pvc, and atmospheric Old Town alleyways for Le Corbusier’s vertical cities – then stick the washing out anyway.
Those builders hard at work just beyond my hotel room in Pondicherry weren’t the only slice of life I saw through my window there. The featured photo shows the view I had just after midnight every night (I told you I didn’t sleep), My camera – or the way I handled it anyway – wasn’t good at night-time vision, but I like the dream-like quality of this scene.
Can you see a group of five women – four of them in blue, seated in the road? Until just before I took this shot, they’d been busily sweeping all the streets round and about, equipped only with short brooms of the kind that witches in western fairy tales normally use . They made cheerful conversation, calling to each other so they could hear and be heard. Now though, it was time for a break, and the women simply sat down and rested in the road, their voices falling to a rippling murmur of chatter and laughter.
This intimate moment, sharing something with these women who were certainly unaware they were being observed, remains one of my treasured memories of India. These women, I’m sure, had little enough, and yet their easy relaxed movements suggested contentment with what their lives gave them. And above them is a washing line. All that day’s washing was blue, apparently.
Here are the windows through which I observed the scene.
About three years ago, we were in Sants, Barcelona. The flat where Emily and Miquel then lived was too small to accommodate us for too prolonged a stay, so an apartment in Sants it was – a part of the city we didn’t knw at all, but came to like a lot.
Once a village, by the nineteenth century it was industrialised – the textile industry – and home to Barcelona’s biggest textile factory. Now it’s home to Barcelona’s biggest station and travel interchange.
For us though, it was simply a busy working community, full of independent shops, a market, housing old and new. Let’s go and walk the streets for a while, and admire the often elegant windows. And as the feature photo shows, there’s washing. There’s always washing to hang out.
It’s an assertively independista part of the city: hence the Catalan flags and yellow ribbons. And they don’t welcome the destruction of their community by tourists that come and go. So we did our best to spend in neighbourhood shops bars and restaurants, and also hoped that, since we’re all-but Catalan in-laws now (and now, even Spanish grandparents), we might pass muster.
Monday Window – mañana
Monday Washing Line – mañana
What’s this? Some dirty dusters? Or some rather dingy dishcloths? No. Despite appearances to the contrary, this isn’t washing hanging out to dry. It’s sheets of latex, recently tapped from nearby rubber trees and poured into moulds and yes, now hanging out to dry.
I was in in India, in Kerala, at Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary. Nearby was a village, where every household was growing some kind of cash crop: tea, coffee, bitter gourds, bananas … and maybe rubber trees. One household certainly was. They’d harvested the latex as shown in the second photos. They’d have collected about a cupful from each tree, every few days, before pouring it into trays in a thin layer to set, And now it was hanging out to dry properly before being sent away for further processing
In Kerala, while I as there, the monsoon had not long finished, and I rather like the evidence spotted through an open window back in Gurukula itself that had we been there then, it might have been just a little – wet.
This time two years ago, we were in Barcelona. One of our ports of call was the first house Antoni Gaudí ever designed, Casa Vicens. Once a spacious site beyond the city limits, it’s now squashed into narrow city streets, some of its garden space sold off. But it’s definitely worth a visit, and you can have a virtual look round here.
What the official site won’t show you is the views from the windows, and one thing I enjoyed, as I always do, was the sight of the Monday washing drying on the balconies of nearby flats.