Thursday, August 10, 2006

All posts were moved (11/2006) to http://mexfiles.wordpress.com

Sheets to the Wind….

Some people live to tour the zocalos or the museums. I live to tour the old colonial hotels. A favorite is the big Colonial Hotel in Puebla. It used to be a Jesuit monastery and as such it has a labyrinth of hallways and several staircases. The main staircase is impressive with its grand statues on the landings between the floors. But there’s another less conspicuous one which is used by the staff. During a three day stay at the hotel, I watched as the maids carried big bundles of dirty sheets up those stairs. Trip after trip. During some down time, my husband and I decided to ask (at the front desk) if there was a place where we could do our laundry. We were directed to take our clothes up those steps to the fourth floor. Keep in mind that the typical floors in these old hotels are 12 to 16 feet high. Armed with our laundry bags, we headed onward and upward. It was a real effort to navigate the narrow and steep stairs. The switchbacks at the top were killer. By the time we made it to the top floor, we were out of breath. All we found was a lone washing machine off in the corner. We had our soap, our dirty clothes …. but were short of the right coins. We looked at each other like “Will you go get the coins?” “No.” “Will you go get the coins?” “No”. Neither of us wanted to go all the way down and come back up again. One of us gave in. While we waited for the water to trickle (like bird piss) into the tub (of the washer), we explored the awesome adjoining rooftop. There were glass enclosed classrooms, and a large concrete rooftop area with benches, old pots, broken statuaries, views of the city, and stuff…. lots of stuff. I paused to think about how grueling and tedious it must be for the maids (old and young/tiny and large) to go about this daily task. How many sheets, pillow cases, towels and table linens must they carry up here every day? I can only hope that they have many more machines to use than this lone one in the corner.

Throughout all of Mexico, you’ll see hundreds of thousands of white sheets flapping in the wind on the rooftops of budget hotels. Everyday they greet the sun. I can only imagine that they are relishing their few hours of freedom before being stretched out tightly over mattresses and held down by blankets and bedspreads. Think of their abuse…. being crushed by backpacks, and big butts….having dirty feet and sweaty bods resting on top of them. Yet every afternoon, they get to proudly soar in the breeze soaking up the sun’s rays like so many other Mexican flags. One night I was staying at the Canada Hotel in Mexico City. I couldn’t sleep very well, so I went to the window. The room was tiny, like a sleeper car on a train, actually. The window was up high and I had to stand on my bed to see out. The street was dark and only a few people were walking about. I watched as four men (small in stature) walked down the sidewalk each carrying two huge bundles of sheets. The dirty sheets had been thrown into the center of an outstretched sheet which was joined at the corners and knotted. I have no idea how much each bundle weighed, but it appeared to be a lot. The men were struggling as they turned down a darkened alley and made their way to an overnight laundry. There wouldn’t be any sunshine for these sheets. Pretty sad, I thought….for the bundles and for the men who carried them. The luckiest sheets of all (in Mexico) must be the ones the ones I’ve seen from the buses in rural Mexico. Sometimes when you’re passing over a bridge, you’ll catch a view of women doing their laundry in a river. Often groups of mothers will gather together with their children in tow. They will spread their sheets over the top of the water. The sheets flow in a serpentine motion, moving gently back and forth in concert with the current. The woman will pull the sheets toward them (inches at a time) and soap them, unfurl them again into the water before violently wringing them out with their muscled hands. The lucky ones will be hung from semi-permanent wooden frames which stand in the middle of the river. Others (perhaps the old ones) will be placed over prickly bushes along the river’s edge. Oh, the joy of bathing in a river and of flying high in the air while you dry. There must be hundreds of thousands of white sheets flapping in the wind over Mexico everyday, yet I’ve never seen so much as one photo of the scene in any ones collection. Don’t they deserve some recognition?

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