314.Laundry in CaunesJust kidding! This is to remind yourselves to thank your lucky stars that you didn’t live….50 or 60 years ago.

Caunes lavoirBack in the day, women had to haul the dirty clothes to a lavoir, a spot with water and basins for doing laundry. It wasn’t until relatively recently (the 1970s) that villages around here got running water in their homes.

Actually, the clothes were washed by hand at home, because that didn’t require much water, and then taken to the lavoir for rinsing. That’s even more back-breaking, because wet clothes are heavy.

Caunes lavoir in use
In use! The sign says “no bathing.”

OK, so it looks pretty awesome, but remember, there was no wifi then. And think of doing it in winter!

I already had a shot of one of the prettier lavoirs, at Caunes-Minervois, but I decided to go back for another. A woman was walking just ahead of me, and she veered into the lavoir. I figured it was to take a photo. But no–she proceeded to take rubber gloves out of her bag, then her washing. Well, that’s what it’s for. Cars on the road stop when they see me taking a photo (yes!), but she was not concerned about being in this shot.

Another time that I passed by there, somebody had washed a room-sized oriental carpet, and it was left, unsupervised, to drip-dry over the rail. Which is what one does–we wash all of ours every summer, but in our yard. Over here, wall-to-wall carpet is considered not very hygenic. When I see what is under our rugs, which get swept over and under regularly plus washed every year, I can’t help but agree.

Actually Caunes has two lavoirs. Other villages have them as well, sometimes with water, and sometimes not. Another slice of traditional life that is no more.

villarzel lavoir 1
An unused lavoir in another village, Villarzel
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23 thoughts on “Dirty Laundry

  1. Your lavoir is posh! Most of them here require you to kneel down to use them. I imagine it was a huge social change when reticulated town water arrived and it is amazing to think that it is within living memory. Women may well have ended up very isolated once they got to do their washing at home alone. Most of the shelters over lavoirs these days are not original. Apparently there was a rash of state funding to restore lavoirs in the 80s, when people realised they were disappearing through lack of use.

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  2. I wash all my rugs too. The French find it perfectly normal, the English look at me strangely!! Incidentally I have a big rug to wash this year (12 x 8 feet) , how do you do it? just lay it out in the courtyard and scrub?

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  3. Yes, thank goodness for washing machines now. I vacuum my carpet several times a week and when the old carpet of 20 years was taken up a couple months ago for the new carpet it really wasn’t bad underneath at all. Glad my vacuum works well. 🙂

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  4. This is fascinating…we have been photographing each one we see…but never saw anyone using them. I never thought to wash my carpets. I do turn them over and vacuum the underside frequently…

    As usual thanks for interesting subjects.

    Ali

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  5. Agreed on carpeting. The stuff is a filth magnet.
    And I, too, wash my smaller rugs. It’s how they’re made, so I figure anything I do isn’t going to hurt them. The bigger ones go to a specialty cleaner for washing because of the weight.

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  6. I had no idea. I guess it’s more sanitary than a creek or a river, which must be what my great-grandmother would have used. I know that my grandmothers had hand-turned washing machines on their front porches.

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  7. Believe me, I do thank all the stars that we do not have to do this anymore. I carry my dirty laundry downstairs to wash them, and I get pretty tired. I cannot imagine how these ladies had the strength and endurance to carry wet clothes!

    xx | http://www.recavi.com

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  8. I just had the most fascinating conversation with my neighbor about this last night! She has lived in this town by the Gardon river her whole life. They don’t have a lavoir in this town, because…well…the river! They would haul everything down to the river and wash it, then haul it home to dry. Such strength these women had!!

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    1. This is still life for the vast majority of the planet. Even my village didn’t connect the oldest houses to running water until the 1970s. Can you imagine? I’ve had to haul water myself (Peace Corps!) and it wasn’t easy. Plus all the nice stuff that lives in the river, like schistosomiasis. Been there, done that.

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