Saturday 2 November 2013

Contemplating the Spin Cycle

This week's guest post is by fantasy author Narrelle M Harris...

One of the pleasures about packing light is that the traveller must make time once a week to wash.

Yes, I said ‘pleasures’ rather than ‘problems’. I don’t refer simply to how nice it is to have a bag replete once more with clean socks ‘n’ jocks.  I mean that this simple little chore has attractions all of its own.

When I’m travelling, I like grand panoramas. I love seeing the great landscapes, the beautiful buildings, and the highlights featured in the guidebooks.

But I also love seeing the small details of life for locals.

I enjoy wandering through regular neighbourhoods, observing how suburban architecture and front yards reflect a different way of life, or puzzling the impact of light industry bumping up against ordinary shopping strips and residential streets.

Laundromats, bless their soap-scented air, are primarily located in the suburbs. A walk to a laundromat in a foreign city is also a stroll through the social life of a place.

It’s a glimpse into everyday lives and details that are odd to an outsider. As a writer, that kind of detail is invaluable; as a person curious about other people, it poses questions of how others experience the world. 

The way residential architecture can be so different from city to city; the types of plants in gardens; the toys and tools by doors; the stickers on letterboxes; the graffiti on walls; whether people in their yards smile hello – all these elements of a town add texture and depth to your understanding of it.

One of the other simple pleasures of wash day is the little bubble of quiet the chore creates. This can be especially valuable if two or more of you are travelling together.

You spend each day sharing your experiences, which is brilliant, but it’s also nice to split up for a bit and reunite with unshared observations. And no matter how well you get on, or how much you love each other, you occasionally need a little ‘me’ time.

Being on the road is tremendously stimulating and exciting, but it’s also exhausting.

It can be good to take a break from it, to let the dust settle. Perhaps to consolidate some of that experience by writing about it: in a journal or a blog, or in postcards to distant friends.

A week into our trip to Canada, some days of which were spent in the north-western wilderness looking for bears, it was time to freshen up. Time for time out from the rush of travel with its tiny/terrifying plane rides and bone-rattling buses, and this urban girl’s startling proximity to capital-N Nature.

As much as I loved the Great Bear Lodge, it was extraordinarily pleasant to find a laundromat in a pretty back street of Victoria, British Columbia beyond the populous tourist harbour; to be surrounded by houses and shops, to talk to a kindly local to work out how to use the coin machines, to chat about the weather and seek a recommendation for coffee.

The laundromat I visited in Edmonton offered similar simple pleasures, as I conversed with the owners about our trip, and used the washing time to write about it too.

Laundromats are, I find, little oases on journeys.

Surrounded by the hum and rattle of washing machines, kept warm by the heat generated by the mesmerising turn of a dryer, I write postcards and blog about my adventures, all the better to consolidate my observations and emotions.

I read a little, I contemplate the world, and at the end of my two hours of retreat – I have clean underwear.

That, people, is a little bit magical.

When not hanging around foreign laundromats, Narrelle M Harris writes awesome fiction such as her latest cross-media project, the rock and roll fantasy Kitty and Cadaver. Check out the Kitty and Cadaver website to read the first six chapters for free, or to download them for your mobile devices.

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