🌿Bein’ green: respecting the environment, keeping it clean, and free of trash
In the summer of 1995, I participated in an international volunteer project. I went to Hérisson, a charming commune with about 600 residents, located in the Allier department in central France. We were tasked with simple landscaping projects, like clearing brush from the castle’s garden. One of my group’s other project sites was the Châteloy lavoir.
What’s a lavoir?
Starting in the 17th century, many towns in rural areas built communal wash-houses, or lavoirs, for the purpose of improving hygiene. The washing would be done exclusively by women. The three-part process called the “big wash” would take place only a few times a year.
First, linens and clothing would be soaked in a wooden tub in the home. Then they would be laid flat and covered with ash. Next, hot water would be poured over the layer of ash. After this process, the washerwomen would bring the linens and clothing to the lavoir for rinsing, beating, rinsing again, and then brought back home to dry on a clothesline. To protect their knees, the washerwomen would kneel in a box that was open on one side. The lavoir became a social gathering place as it provided women the opportunity to visit with their friends.
Lavoirs can be found in countries, like Italy, Spain, Finland, Portugal, Switzerland, Costa Rica, India, Côte d’Ivoire, Laos, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.
With the invention of washing machines, lavoirs were eventually abandoned. Some were vandalized or destroyed. However, many places in France still have the structures intact, like the one in Châteloy (pictured below).
🌿Bein’ green: to be of the color between yellow and blue; color of grass, plants, duckweed
While we did not touch the lavoir itself, we cleared the lavoir area of weeds and we trimmed the grass. We also painted the rusted gate a dark shade of green.
Châteloy lavoir gate “Before” we began work (1995):
Signs welcoming us and describing our work plan were posted around Hérisson:
“After” we finished working at Châteloy lavoir (1995):
Fast-forward 25 years ⏩
In January 2020, French public television channel, France 3, filmed a segment on Hérisson for their Hors Sentiers series.
Host Stéphanie Vinot and tour guide Chrystelle Blanchard went on a short hike (8 km/ 5 miles) through the picturesque medieval Bourbonnais village.
They featured the 10th century château and its towers and dungeons, as well as l’Aumance, the river that runs through Hérisson.
Before proceeding to the Église St-Pierre in Châteloy, they made a quick stop at the Châteloy lavoir.
As the lavoir appeared on my screen, it was instantly familiar: a rectangular cement structure in the ground filled with stagnant water covered in bright green duckweed.
The statue of the Madonna and Child (installed in the late 1970s) was still standing protectively over it.
Even the gate we painted makes a brief appearance in the video:
🌿Bein’ green: to be gullible, naive
Perhaps other volunteer groups have come to repaint the gate over the years. But if you told me that right there is my group’s original green paint on the gate, I’d believe you!
I couldn’t help but get misty-eyed and gush: The gate is still there! And it’s still green! How it warmed my heart to see it. Sentimental me.
Take a virtual tour
For a less sentimental and more practical view of Hérisson in 2020, watch the video by France 3 TV ▶️
(Video) Randonnée : dans l’Allier, à la découverte du sentier de l’Aumance | © France 3 TV | All rights reserved.
For more information:
- Visit Lavoir Communal de la Cave
- Read the France 3 article (in French): Randonnée : dans l’Allier, à la découverte du sentier de l’Aumance
- Read about other lavoirs in the area: Lavoirs de l’Allier
- Find out what’s new « quoi de neuf » and visit Mairie de Hérisson
🌿 🦔 Hérisson means hedgehog!