French Laundry

French Laundry
  I wouldn’t call Paris a particularly clean city. Beautiful, yes, but definitely not clean. Last week I watched a man in a navy-blue windbreaker pee behind a Selecta machine at Concord métro station while waiting for Line 1 (direction: La Défense) . And yesterday, while I was waiting to cross the street from the Odéon station to the Danton café, the man to my left in the black business suit with the red tie began picking his nose. He picked his nose the entire walk across the street until he reached the café where, using his nostril-picking tool, he greeted the man in jeans and the brown leather bomber jacket. Shocked and disgusted I frantically searched through my bag until I found my purse-size bottle of Purrell hand sanitizer and immediately began rubbing the solution into the palms of my hands. Each night on my walk home to my small studio in the 16th arrondissement I am greeted by the smiling faces of the chef with the long blond hair who wears an orange and white checkered long-sleeved button-down collared shirt with a pair of black slacks, the convenience store owner wearing tan chinos and a red knit sweater, the old man in the green plaid hat and caramel trench coat who drags an oxygen tank behind him, and the woman in the purple Pashmina walking her small black dog who wears a pink silk scarf. Each night the same smiling faces in the same stale outfits. This explains the stink of body odor that permeates the métro and the distinct perfume Parisian women wear to mask it. But why the same outfits day in and day out? Why not change it up a little? For a city that is considered the fashion capital of the world this is a serious faux pas. As I recently moved to Paris from Los Angeles, this foreign sense of fashion comes as quite a shock to me. In L.A., one wouldn’t be caught dead walking down 3rd street Saturday night wearing Thursday night’s outfit, let alone Friday’s. That is, unless of course you have spent the night out somewhere unexpectedly, and even this the next morning is known as “The Walk of Shame.” In Paris, an apartment equipped with a washer and dryer is considered a luxury. In Los Angeles, however, even if you don’t have your own washer and dryer your apartment complex is most likely equipped with several machines located just down the hall for your convenience. Some buildings will even send out your laundry for you. Having lived the last four years in LA, I am naturally accustomed to wearing clean clothes on a daily basis, and though the old saying goes “When in Rome…” I set off down my seven flights of stairs struggling with an enormous brown duffel bag filled with dirty clothes, in search of a laundro-mat. My friend Laura, who is kind enough to act as my personal French tour guide and translator, told me of a laundro-mat just a couple blocks over from my building. Six blocks later, my right hand is so swollen from the weight of the bag I can barely fee my fingers, I curse her. Two blocks of profanity and I arrive at the laundro-mat. The small room lined with white tiles is packed tight with two rows of washers and five enormous red dryers. There are two women with long black hair sitting in the chairs in the back right corner, giggling. They play some sort of card game, and have formed a sort of “card table” using two additional chairs to their own. This leaves one chair vacant, and I pray that I can load my laundry into the washer fast enough so that I can grab it. There is a narrow aisle housing six washers with windows like portholes of a ship. I claim two that are facing one another. I load my darks into the right washer and my linens and whites into the left. Not so different from the States…I close both of the doors. At the bottom of the bag I find the two sachets of laundry detergent that the previous inhabitant of my studio had abandoned under the sink in the bathroom, saving me 6 Euros. Mmmmmm…there appears to be two possible containers in which to deposit the soap. I concentrate closely on my two options. There is a small picture next to each open container that appears to indicate what goes where. Given my previous history following pictorial signs in Paris, like when I ordered my groceries online and was delivered 10 pounds of baby food and two cases of Evian bottles with nipples on them, I am somewhat nervous about this choice I must make. At the risk of ridicule I approach the giggling girls and ask them if they speak English; they speak enough, and certainly more English than I do French. The shorter one, with the baby blue hair scrunchy, is very sweet–she explains that this is also her first time doing laundry in Paris, that she is from Germany and is here studying law. She points to the container on the right and I begin to empty the sachet of detergent into it. I do the same to the other washer and then she takes me over to the machine where I am to deposit my money. In Los Angeles one complete load of laundry, wash and dry, will cost you approximately $2.50. In Paris this same load will cost you six euros and the process takes twice as long. No wonder the French rarely wash their clothes. These two loads set me back 12 euros: rather, four café crèmes. I groan as I push my coins into the slot one by one. I grab the French Cosmo I threw in my duffel bag. Thought I’d practice my French through reading Cosmo’s expert’s latest take on the Kama Sutra. I sit down across from the two girls with the long black hair, who are no longer giggling over their card game but glued to their cell phones playing the newest version of Tetris. Fifteen minutes later I have turned the magazine in every which direction trying to make sense of the positions of the naked stick figures Again, the French puzzle me with their diagrams…good thing these weren’t available for order on the online supermarket–a knock…
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