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Clothes lines: Performance art under the sun

Clothes lines: Performance art under the sun

Throughout the country, clothes lines dominate the domestic scenery.  Simple contraptions, often homemade, are as diverse and unique as this island’s citizens. On rooftops, balconies, inner courtyards or back gardens, clothes lines are strung with a Caribbean recklessness that holds everything from kitchen rags that have seen better days to undergarments of every shape, color and size.  And all of them are exposed unashamedly too often over public streets, attracting the attention and even photographs of tourists below. 

A clothes line invites passersby to participate in the lives of the users.  Who lives here?  What do they like?  Just look up.  The clothes line tells all.  In Havana, and in Cuba more generally, one article stands out on clothes lines: bedsheets.  From crib size to king size, bedclothes billow in the wind. And Cubans have clear preferences for flapping white sheets that dazzle in the sun’s rays. Okay, there may be a Mickey Mouse bedsheet or two, but it is the flapping white bedsheets that Cuban poets and troubadours have in their poems and songs as symbols of hope and freedom. 

Hanging out the washing is an art. Which end of a piece of clothing should be hung?  Should it be hung dripping wet?  Which colors should not be exposed to sunlight and which demand it?  For Cubans, even the notion of a ban on using outdoor clothes lines or acts to prevent prohibitions on the use of clothes lines is inconceivable.  How bizarre would this be in a country that is flooded with sunlight most of the year?

Next time you walk the streets of Havana, look up and be dazzled…or at least be entertained.  If the sight of underwear exposed outdoors appalls your sensibilities, then consider the financial and environmental benefits of clothes lines.  And let’s not forget the fresh smell and soft touch of sun-kissed laundry.

July 2013

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