When I saw the cloudless sky this morning, I knew it was time. Time to wash the curtains.
After nearly half a century on this planet, this was something I had never done before. This is mostly because I’m not a big fan of curtains, and have a thing for natural light.
Galicians, on the other hand, seem fond of everything associated with blocking out the light, especially shutters. Usually these are of the roll-down kind, raised in increments, if at all, depending on the time of day.
I’m not the only one who has made this observation. An El País article examines this phenomenon, noting, “While the use of shutters in Europe is only anecdotal, here in Spain they are part of popular culture – and almost always kept down.”
My first experience inside a shuttered house was on a day just like today. Mercedes invited me over for coffee and cookies. As she led me from the front door to the kitchen, it took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. The mauve-coloured walls didn’t help.
When I asked to see her back yard, Mercedes rolled up the shutters and opened the door. Light flooded in, illuminating her pristine white kitchen. Outside, the warmth of terra- cotta tiles and planters filled with flowers cast their own kind of glow. Sunlight filtered through the branches of a cherry tree. Mercedes smiled, proud of her creation. Then we went back inside, and she closed the shutters.
While trying to fit into Galician society, I’ve tried doing the shutter thing. I admit there’s a satisfying sound, just like in the movies, when the shutters roll down and hit the stone window ledge with a dramatic thud. Suddenly it feels like anything is possible in your dark cocoon.
Unfortunately, I am just too boring to take full advantage of this.
As a compromise, in the bedroom, and only at night, I pull closed the cream-coloured curtains. As these are not my curtains, as nothing in this house, originally an Airbnb rental, belongs to me, I take my responsibility for their upkeep seriously. This has not been easy while fostering kittens who are attracted, as any kitten worth their salt would be, to the voluminous sway of medium-weight cotton, to the delightful folds encasing hiding spots, to the sheer possibility of climbing to the heavens.
And so today I washed the curtains I’ve fought so hard to protect, hanging them to dry in the brilliant Galician sunshine.
But once I removed the house’s three sets of curtains – a painstaking task I hope to never repeat again of removing dozens of plastic hooks I suspect had never been removed before – I noticed the windows needed to be cleaned. Once I cleaned the windows, I noticed the couch needed to be vacuumed. Once I vacuumed the couch, I noticed the floor under the couch needed to be mopped. Once I mopped the floor under the couch, I noticed the walls were dirty.
On some lockdown days, one chore begets another, and another. Maybe you perform these tasks as though your life depends on them, attacking stains on the wall with such vigour your arm aches. You catch yourself, sponge in hand, heart racing. This is when it’s time to stop and ask – What am I doing?
I struggle at times to answer that question, but does it really matter? Especially now? You can’t go wrong with cleaning, my mother taught me. It’s free. There’s a before and after. Results are tangible.
I look at my results – a pile of white plastic hooks waiting to be re-inserted. What comes down must go up.