For the occasion of the Nouzerines Fête, someone did a wonderful job cleaning the lavoir in the village.
This is right next to St Clair’s spring, which allegedly has miraculous properties where eyesight is concerned.
The lavoir was sparkly clean for the special event. A mere two weeks later it is all green and scummy again, sadly.
You come across lavoirs in every town and village in rural France, and sometimes seemingly in the middle of nowhere. There were the places where women used to do the washing in the past. They were places to meet friends and have a chat while doing the backbreaking work of handwashing everything from handkerchiefs to sheets. There was a bit of competition attached too – everyone would be watching out to see how many of a certain item their neighbours had, and what sort of quality it was.
The women came to the lavoir in the second stage of the washing. They would already have soaked and scrubbed the laundry, and boiled it in a cauldron with cinders, caustic soda and, unlikely as it might sound, lard. Then they would heave the wet, heavy washing down to the lavoir, or river, in wicker baskets on their back to rinse it. Most lavoirs have wide edges to them, where the women could spread out their laundry, and kneel, often on a wooden sort of step they brought with them which had straw in to give some padding for their knees, to carry on with their labour.
After rinsing, the women would batter the wet washing with a wooden battoir, a sort of small paddle, to get the water out. They would either carry these back in their wicker baskets or, if they had a great deal of laundry, in a wheelbarrow. Then it would need to be hung up to dry somewhere, either indoors or outdoors, depending on the weather, and finally it would need to be ironed.
It was incredibly hard work. The women had to carry heavy, wet washing to and from the lavoir, rinse, wring and bash it, their hands permanently cold and wet and their backs bent all the time. And in all elements. I for one never cease to be grateful for my washing machine. It comes in as number 12 in the Tesco Mobile list of greatest inventions ever (4000 people polled) list is herehttp://thevibe.socialvibe.com/index.php/2010/05/21/list-of-100-most-important-inventions-of-all-time-includes-email-ibuprofen-sliced-bread/. I think it merits a much higher placing, but it’s something we take so much for granted these days that it easily gets overlooked, particularly by the younger generation.
So next time you come across a lavoir in your travels in France, do stop for a moment and think about the women who used to use it.