Circle the earth in imagination for a few moments. Walk down the streets of Hong Kong and look up at the apartment houses crowded with more people living in one room than you would think possible. What strikes you as you look from the outside? Lines strung from window to window, or sticks protruding from a window, hung with shirts, socks, dresses, underwear. Washed clothing, drying.

Make your way through Bombay streets by lurching taxi, avoiding the cows, goats, and heavy man-drawn carts. See people living on the sidewalks in a little pile of rags, or under a few makeshift bits of cardboard or tin. What strikes you? Even with water so scarce that there is a line of hundreds waiting at one outdoor watertap, yet saris are being washed in buckets right on the street. Slosh, slosh—dirt is coming off, and soon this sari will join the splash of colors over the rails separating the sidewalk from the railroad line, or any bit of available fence, where those without four walls to make a home still dry their washed garments.

Look out of train windows as you speed along through Switzerland, Germany, Holland, and whether you are passing poor sections or wealthier ones, the view often consists of lines of clothing from window to window, on rooftops, above little railroad stations from the station-master’s apartment windows—five blue shirts, six sizes of children’s pajamas, babies’ diapers, sheets, socks.

Come to the impressive art museum in Florence, The Academia, and walk away from Michelangelo’s David down a wing to look out a window the guard has left open. The next-door neighbor of the art museum has the family’s weekly wash flapping in a slight breeze, to be seen in one glance with the ancient art works. And as you marvel over the ...

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