Monday, June 29, 2009
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:
Download MP3 sound file
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.
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.
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.
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
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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May I call you by your name ?
Just a short note to say that your post is a joy to read, not once but many times over!
I am enchanted by practically every post I read here!
This latest post is really great! What a lovely way of seeing the joys and everyday pleasures and also of mundane tasks that need to be done in daily life in France.
Emilia De Martino
Posted by: Emilia | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 01:19 PM
This is a lovely essay, Kristin, and once again it is a pleasure to read your experiences of everyday French life. How interesting to hear about le lavoir.
I find this story touches me deeply but I am not sure why. In part, I think I am reminded of the richness of simplicity that has been lost from a majority of our lives. But it is also the encounter between you two,and the opportunity I have to witness it in your photos and writing. Little moments in time. Little moments between two people. They can be full of unanticipated meaning. I realize it is the connection between us that matters and how often we miss the opportunity to have these "little moments" that can add so richly to our lives. I am reminded to keep my eyes and ears and mostly my heart open to receive the gift of the people I see today, knowing that the gift may not necessarily come wrapped in a "pretty package." I am also reminded how unceasingly my critical self is allowed to run wild and fancy free. Quel challenge.
Posted by: Pat Cargill | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 02:24 PM
Kristin, I've never heard of these before!! You've sparked another google/research journey for me. I'm anxious to learn more and then seek them out when I return to France. These are great places for photo studies too, and you've captured some very pleasing shots. With the water, light, architecture and especially with the added touch of Monsieur (thanks for putting yourself on the line for the human side of the story) .... it's simply beautiful - this country continues to amaze me.
Posted by: karen | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 02:30 PM
Si belle histoire, vraiment. Les volets de lavande, de peinture et de couleurs chaudes des murs nous captiver, mais rien comme la beauté d'une âme chaleureuse.
Posted by: Bob Burgess | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 03:05 PM
Your story brings back a lovely memory of your old village "Les Arcs" where I spent two years healing from my accident in the jungle of Mexico.
I had laid in my bedroom, a room with open windows (no glass) which looked over the bay of Yelapa for 14 days...my hip was fractured in three places...I was now slipping into a zone where there was no more pain. Suddenly my room was filled with over 20 people, I was in the mist of the most glorious rescues immaginable. One young man ran to his house and stripped the mattress off of his daughters bed, cut it up and placed the foam onto a lawnchair, they ripped my sheets into strips, placed my screaming body onto the lawn chair and continued to wrap my body into the chair with the torn sheets. Six strong Mexican men carried my makeshift stretcher through the village out to the little pier and placed me on the ponga (little boat) to make the 45 minute trip to the next village where a ambulance awaited my arrival.
Six weeks in the hopital in Puerto Vallarta - Jean-Marc calling from France saying "MOM, I want you in France, we will take care of you".
Three months later (a story worth telling one of these days) I wandered down the path in front of my new studio (a gift from someone who lived in the village to start my life again) and before me this vision which remains with me as fresh as the moment I first viewed this scene...
Below the old clock tower in this ancient village I came upon my first old stone lavoir. Braced over the edge of the pool of water - scrubbing an esquisite 8x10 ft. rug was my soon to be first Marocain (I think this should be spellled ' Mooroccan ' Kristi, but who knows? Anyway --
This was my moment of magic - this woman became one of my dearest friends, along with her family they watched over me as I learned to walk again without my cane, sent her daughters to my studio to care for me as I fought my battle with cancer two months later. The girls would appear with sweet cakes and clean my surroundings as I grew strong in their love.
Thanks for your story Kristi, you always seem to trigger memories - so many stories from France to comfort me as I rebuild my life each day.
Posted by: Jules Greer | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 03:13 PM
If you can, would you please call me sometime today...I love you.
Posted by: Jules Greer | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 03:18 PM
Bob Burgess: "mais rien comme la beauté d'une âme chaleureuse"
Yes, Mr. B, that is exactly what touches me so deeply! (A quick trip to Babel fish for the translation) "une âme chaleureuse" - repetez, repetez beaucoups de fois aujourd''hui!
Posted by: Pat Cargill | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 03:30 PM
A most beautiful and evocative post. It was a gift, more than anything, to your readers. Thank you.
Posted by: Diane | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 03:31 PM
Your story makes me remember the public “lavoir” (“lavaderos” in Spanish) in the small towns in Mexico where usually all the women gather together around it and have time to talk about the local news, the family and to “chismear” (gossip)... turning the time to wash clothes into an important community and social event.
Actually, in all Mexican houses we still have a small stone or cement “lavadero” in the laundry room... because there is always some pieces of clothing that need to be washed by hand in a stronger way.
I have to say is one of the things I have missed a lot since I moved to the USA... sinks does not work in the same way!
Love the picture but loved more the simplicity of this Moroccan man washing his own shirts.
Posted by: Andrea | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 04:00 PM
Beautiful post! BTW, I checked out Soar-Dream-France and I adore her blog and beautiful photos. Thanks for 'tuning me in' to another great expat on the blogoshpere
Posted by: Nancy L. | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 04:01 PM
I just love how you find the beauty in everything and always share it with us.
Posted by: Kristine | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 04:26 PM
A neighbor and I were sharing our woes this morning. Not sleeping well due to worry. Bills going up, home repairs, family, friends. I commented that all of us are going through some very tough times now. Our concerns seem so small and pithy in comparison to the FrancoMoroccan man, humbly washing his laundry in the public square.
p.s. call your Mom :-)
Posted by: martina | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 04:34 PM
I'm reminded of a "treasure" found in Antibes in Sept. My son, Andy, and I were walking back to the main part of old town from the Picasso villa. We stopped to take photos of the old church - which seemed quite out of the way in the old winding streets. We heard water running and followed the sound and it brought us to the ancient "lavoir". What a joy to come across this - a reminder that long before this part of France became known as the "Riviera" (or "Cote d'Azur") it was and remains a remarkable small village which retains the charming symbols of it's past. I love when these moments appear. It makes travel - and life! - so perfect. Merci, Kristin, for showing us the beauty in the simplicities of life. The French say it best - "joie de vivre!"
Posted by: Candy | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 05:03 PM
Posted by: Diane | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 06:00 PM
What a wonderful man you met! What a story! This early morning I had a sack of crumbled bread that I had taken down the street for the street birds, and as fast as I dispersed them my chubser of a cat was eating them. I had to smile just as your old man did at his pigeons. Something about animals and their unpretentiousness (?) is priceless.
Posted by: Mona | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 06:04 PM
What a great story. I especially appreciated the postnote you added, of the man saying besides he didn't have a wife and not much laundry, so . . .
He sounds like such an interesting person -- not rich, but maybe not interested in doing all the work to become materially more wealthy, because he feels wealthy with his life as it is. My 4 year old is panting for me to take him to the library ("Kevin, just give me two seconds to type!"), so no more time to write. But also, I love that your mom writes you on this site too. We have such a vivid introduction to her through yoru site. Hi Kristin's mom!
Posted by: Monica | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 06:42 PM
Jules post caught my eye. Low vitamin D is thought to promote brittle bones because it helps regulate bone mineralization. Low Vitamin D is also linked to breast cancer risk. The stress of the bad hip fracture and recovery may have catalyzed cancer onset, because provitamin D is converted to its active form, D3, by a hormone called ACTH that is responsive to biological stress. I'm quite familiar with the enzyme, called Cytochrome P-450scc that does this important conversion of vitamin D to it's most active form. Environmental and genetic factors (including cellular methylation pool status) are responsible for this change in D3 and calcium status.
It is a 'good thing' that you are in France, Kristin.
Not surprising that a elderly Moroccan would be familiar with community wash basins, as they are still in common use in rural Morocco.
Posted by: Intuit | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 07:31 PM
As a quasi photographer, I enjoy your photos as much as your stories. I have found that the simplest of photos are the best and seem to tell a story. Europe has so many to tell....merci
Posted by: joie | Monday, June 29, 2009 at 10:31 PM
I hope that the Moroccan gentleman wasn't really feeding the pigeons rice-rice is dangerous for birds to eat. Perhaps he had just recycled the rice bag to use for bird seed as he did with the sugar.
Posted by: Genevieve Saffren | Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 01:03 AM
I felt how you felt when he first replied to you:)
Sometimes.. we just say things and then oops..
I am certain he found you as charming as we do..and I am certain you brightened his day.
He's a handsome man:)I think his clothes must smell bien lavés..avec soin ..:)
I made your Leek Soup:) Delish~
Posted by: Monique | Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 03:21 AM
I used the (zooming in) little trick you mentioned the other day in "Cinéma Vérité" and pressed on [Ctlr +]. I clicked 8 times and the result was absolutely perfect for me! I greatly enjoyed the full size of the blues and greens from sky and foliage outside, reflected in the water of “le lavoir”. Superb! Thank you.
I saw a few renovated lavoirs in “La Touraine” region (slate roof redone, beams repaired) … though I never saw anyone using them! I have some happy memories of the charming ”lavoir du Hameau de Vaujours” (the wash-house in the hamlet of Vaujours), 3 km from Château-la-Vallière, near the ruins of “le Château de Vaujours”...
Wonderful to read your newsletter today and see a fully functional “lavoir” linked to a lovely story which made me … think, beyond the word “lovely”, I can assure you! Fascinating to come across 2 different experiences -your Mum's, and yours-, with French “lavoirs” and Moroccan people using these wash-houses! Thanks to both of you for sharing.
In your newsletters, you always throw some hints on what you're preparing for us in your "Cinéma Vérité", so... I am already looking forward to a slice of "Cinéma Vérité" showing us the set of photos you took in Saint Maurice-sur-Eygues! And who knows?..., one day, in "Cinéma Vérité", we might have the great pleasure to get a whole set of pictures on “Les lavoirs de la Provence”?
Posted by: Newforest | Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 04:09 PM
- To the readers having in mind to travel through the Loire Valley,
- to those in love with the French “Patrimoine” (= the French 'Heritage'),
- and to those who are simply curious:
Here is a link I found on “les lavoirs de Touraine” .
You'll find the photos of 167 lavoirs and name of places where to find them
There are also a few other photos:
-> photo of the washerwomen's tools.
-> and some (typically) French plates, with white letters on navy blue enamelled background, all connected with the word “lavoir”.
PS → les “lavandières” = the washerwomen. I read that, in the 19th century (and early 20th), they used "les lavoirs" for rinsing, in large quantity of clear water, the clothes first soaked and "boiled" at home.
Posted by: Newforest | Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 04:54 PM
how did they carry the laundry from home to the wash-house - and back again?
in "paniers" (baskets), in "baquets" (small wooden vats) put on a wooden wheelbarrow or on a wooden cart.
I've started to read some incredibly interesting info on "lavoirs et lavandières" in France in the XIXth century. Laundry wasn't done more than twice a year and lasted 3 or 4 days! What a job it was! I feel so full of admiration and respect for the "lavandières" and their very hard physical work!
Here is a link on "lavoirs & lavandières" in those days in some villages in the "Picardie" region.
Posted by: Newforest | Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 09:46 PM
I too was enchanted by your photo essay. I am lucky enough to have a house in France, in a village in the Aude-Villamoustaussou-a mouthful to be sure but a great place. On our last visit in March a group of workers were painstakingly restoring the Lavoir which is situated almost in the centre of the village, next to the school-and bears a striking resemblance to your photographs. Can't wait to see the finished product in August-and so wish that we could have been there throughout the renovation. Thank you for your wonderful 'french word a day' It's the first thing I look for in my 'in box'.
Posted by: Lynne Holmes - Bermuda | Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 11:02 PM
Loved this photo essay! What a wonderful, chance meeting with the Moroccan. Our modern-day laundromats could never compare to this amazing feature of France. Certainly not in their beauty or simplicity.
Posted by: Jennifer in OR | Wednesday, July 01, 2009 at 02:46 AM
I also think this is a lovely post! I have had a quick look through other french "lavoirs" shown in Newforest's link and have decided that your "Monsieur" has probably chosen the cleanest and purest venue and as well as the most conveniently designed in that you can stand up to do your washing as the "basin" has been set at waist height!
PS Your "Monsieur" may also have a few proposals after this post! ;)
Posted by: Gretel | Wednesday, July 01, 2009 at 11:34 AM
The Old Stone Lavoir!
Thank you for once again for opening the gates to endless memories! I now need to go to Saint-Maurice-sur-Eygues! I have to see this with my eyes, I need to touch this and yes, even wash my shirt too.
Many times I have tried over and over to explain to people around me of things I see and feel. When I went to visit the town of ma copine... (Avignon) I saw for the first time the Palais des Papes... (inside of me, I have seen this building before) I then touched the walls and closed my eyes... and I could hear sounds of people in the square walking, talking and going about their daily activites. I could hear the clicking sounds from horses that stroll through as well. And while I was standing in front of the gate... Oh the amount of people who has walked through those doors were too much and too many... they were poor people, old people, people who had to serve for their crimes, merchants and peddlers, solders, nuns, priest, bishops, cardnials, kings and others from royal courts, and above all the popes. There is alot of history... both good and bad there.
Then ma copine took me to Fontaine de Vaucluse. (very romantic too) I was sent back into time... it was wonderful, so beautiful, I was walking with history! And the paper mill "Vallis Clausa Moulin a papier.... oh so breathless!
Please Kristin, tell me you have been here.. and if no, then please go and take beautiful pictures and capture as you do the history, the color, the magic of time for all of us to see!
Posted by: Chris | Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 03:13 PM
You were so lucky the lavoir was still clean and fit to be used. I enjoy your photos (being French, I hope I have enough vocabulary ;-D) but this particular blog is one of my favorites. I like the simpleness of this man just acknowledging the fact about a washing-machine.
Posted by: Aggie | Friday, July 31, 2009 at 12:31 PM
I am so glad that I have found your blog. I want to go to France so badly and fear it may never happen! But I can "visit" through your wonderful posts. I love reading about the every day life. Like you, no matter how mundane, I find it fascinating!
Posted by: Tina Hall - Indiana US | Monday, February 27, 2012 at 06:00 PM