lavoir (c) Kristin Espinasse

lavoir (laah-vwar)noun, masculine

    wash house, washing place

Audio File & Example Sentence
Listen to my daughter's dear friend, Sonia, pronounce these French words:
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On lave son linge sale au lavoir.
We wash our clothes at the (community) wash basin

Improve your French pronunciation with the Exercises in French phonetics book. Click here. 

A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse

At the old stone lavoir* in Saint-Maurice-sur-Eygues a man is doing the washing.  There is a plastic bucket beside him and box of sugar in his hand. He is sprinkling the white powder over the linge sale,* which drips from the centuries-old stone below. When the laundry begins to froth at the surface, I realize that not sugar--but laundry detergent--is responsible for this sudsy chemical reaction.  Turns out our washer man has recycled the plastic box of sugar into a soap recipient, so as not to carry a much bigger box to the launderette each time.

lavoir (c) Kristin Espinasse

I study the ancient wash room from across the street, where I have finished a photographic journey around the Provençal village. I am headed back to my car, content with the images I have captured, only, the man at the lavoir is the most precious picture of all! As a rule, I do not point my lens at the locals. It seems intrusive--if not exploitative. However, just as with French grammar, there is an exception to every rule and, in this case friends are that exception.

After all, the man and I had established some sort of rapport* (you might say we were des connaissances*) back at the fountain when first I arrived to the village. Seated on some steps, he had been feeding the birds... and I had been setting out, from the municipal parking lot, to discover the village. 

Locking my car door, I had paused to witness the scene across the way:  the joy on a stranger's face, the happiness that only a dance with Dame Nature* can bring. The dance, in this instance, was no more than the doting relationship between man and wild animal: Monsieur was feeding the pigeons.

How his face lit up with delight, bite after bite, on feeding the feathered friends to his right! When one of the pigeons flew up--to land at the top of the fountain--a friendship was born: that's when I pointed my lens at the pigeon and snapped the photo. Monsieur smiled at me, as if I had photographed a member of his very own family. He pointed to his bag of bird feed (a small sack of rice, premier prix*). I nodded in affirmation. Hunger is hunger, black, white, or feathered, and he who gives to the poor is priceless.

...Priceless as the scene before me of a lone man washing a lone shirt in a lonely French town. Of the many remarkable scenes I had viewed from the other end of a camera lens, none were so picturesque as this. But how to proceed? It occurred to me that I might simply ask Monsieur's permission for his photo.

Lavoir (c) Kristin Espinasse

Permission granted, I watched as Monsieur thoughtfully rearranged the bucket and the box of soap before returning to his chore. I could now see his working hands, as they kneaded and scrubbed, and I now had a better view of the soapy subject:
"Ma chemise,"* Monsieur explained, and his accent was as foreign as my own.

"Je suis marocain,"* the washer man offered.
"And I am American," I offered back.

But what to say next--apart from "do you come here often?" And so it was that I asked the clumsy question:

"Do people actually use these old washbasins?"
"Vous savez,"* Monsieur said simply, unassumingly, "on n'est pas tous les riches."*

I set my costly camera aside... and wanted to crawl under the stone lavoir and hide. I had an urge to become small, petit as the pigeon back at the fountain--and with an appetite as all-consuming as its own: an appetite for amour* and approval from the man sans machine.

*   *   *

Thank you for your comments & feedback.

Lavoirs: Washhouses of Rural France ~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~

le lavoir (m) = wash basin; le linge (m) sale = dirty laundry; le rapport (m) = connection, relationship; la connaissance (f) = acquaintance; la Dame Nature (f) = Mother Nature; le premier prix (m) = first (bargain) price; ma chemise (f) = my shirt; je suis marocain = I am Moroccan; vous savez = you know; on n'est pas tous les riches = we are not (all of us) rich; l'amour (m) = love

Book (photo above): Lavoirs: Washhouses of Rural France

lavoir (c) Kristin Espinasse
Postnote: Monsieur, sensing my malaise, offered a kind conclusion to our conversation:
"Besides," he said, "Je n'ai pas de femme," I don't have a wife... and not alot of clothes to wash.... Je n'ai pas besoin d'une machine à laver.

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