Unsettled June

After so many years here, we are used to the intensity of the thunderstorms following a period of hot weather. We batten down the hatches, secure anything that might sail away and put under cover plants that might be shredded by the hail that often accompanies a storm.

Last Thursday, though, it caught us unawares. A menacing black cloud arrived almost without warning, and the storm triggered off forceful gusts of wind. The walnut tree opposite our kitchen door writhed about madly, and a mini-tornado lifted up a pot of geraniums and neatly flipped it upside down. Garden chairs went bowling off down the path. And the power gave out for five hours.

Large branch from an ash tree

The following morning, I spent about an hour collecting sticks and leaves that the wind had ripped off the trees. No other damage, fortunately.    

Doing the washing, vintage style

At first, we thought the serial power cuts on Friday morning were the sequel to the more major one. Actually, the culprit was our washing machine tripping the circuit in its death throes.

The wet, soapy clothes stalled in mid-programme had to be removed and dumped in the bathtub for serial rinsing and then wrung out by hand. I gained an inkling of how women in the not-so-distant past felt when they had to do the washing by hand at the village lavoir (wash house).

Lavoir in Varaire, a rather fine example

Of course, it wasn’t so difficult for me as it was for them. First, at home they had to soak the linen in powdered ash and hot water in a stone or wooden tub known around here as a bugadier. The tub had a drainage hole at the bottom. We have one in the corner of our kitchen.

Bugadier, old-style washtub

Then the women loaded the washing into a barrow or basket and took it to the lavoir, which could be downhill and some distance away. There, they rinsed it in the clear water, slapped it against the stones provided for the purpose, rinsed it again and then wrung it by hand. After all that, they had to transport it home and lay it out on bushes in the sun to dry. No wonder they only did the main wash a few times a year.

Après l’effort, le reconfort

Luckily, the weather had improved in time for our work day at Teysseroles on Saturday, the local chapel that is currently being restored. We have postponed the usual June fête to September, but an open-air mass will take place at the site next Sunday, weather permitting.

The team is no longer allowed to touch the chapel itself, since specialist artisans are carrying out the work under the supervision of Bâtiments de France. But there is plenty to do in the churchyard and the surrounding area, not least tidying up after last week’s storm. We were pleased to see that the bell tower has now been completely restored.

Restoration work progressing
Bell tower, complete with weather vane

Fourteen people (10 French, three Brits and a Swede) turned up, armed with brush cutters, chainsaws, loppers, rakes and a variety of other murderous implements. They must have heard us several kilometres distant. Within three hours, we had the place looking immaculate.

Immaculate dining area

Just as my back thought it couldn’t take any more, it was time for lunch. French people are always very good at putting on an impromptu meal. Someone had brought a grill and some sausages, the rest of us contributed salads, pâtés, cheese and cakes. Naturally, there was an apéritif (made from walnut catkins – a new one on me), wine with the meal and coffee afterwards. All in moderation, of course.

Bonfire of the detritus, soon to become our lunch barbecue

This was something of a departure for us, not having attended any kind of social event with more than six people for well over a year, and then only on very rare occasions. However, we were outside and more or less respected social distancing with separate tables.

It was good to be with other people again. There was surprisingly little talk about Covid, that subject perhaps having been exhausted by now. Among other things, we heard from Philippe the best places to find girolles mushrooms in the area, how there used to be “mushroom wars” between hamlets in the past when they contributed to people’s income and how Philippe and his father were shot at by an over-zealous proprietor on one occasion. Our good-natured lunch, punctuated by lots of laughs, continued for two hours.

The government ended the compulsory wearing of masks outside last week, but they are still obligatory in shops and other closed public environments. I hope this isn’t premature. The curfew ended yesterday. Fingers crossed that people don’t go mad again this summer, otherwise we will be back in lockdown in the autumn.

On a lighter note, next Sunday I’ll be continuing my occasional series of interviews, Ma Vie Française, this time with a lady who leads a double life. Tune in next week to find out more.

In the meantime, stay safe.

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12 comments

  1. The Bugadier is very much like the washing tub in Tuscany, although the Tuscan one is made of heavy terracotta, which is placed in the same sort of curve in the wall. The mix of ash and boiling water to wash the sheets is much the same … there used to be a Siena Blue, made from wood ash and it was this delicate blue that made the sheets so wonderfully white. It was also mixed in limewash to paint on the outside surrounds of windows to keep the flies away.

    I also used to go to the communal washing place in the nearby village in the early 80s, since there was no possibility for a washing machine where we lived at the time. It sounds awful, but it was wonderfully merry with the older ladies giving me the latest gossip, the classic hilarious Tuscan jokes (barzeletti) and helping me with my Italian to learn pure Tuscan and one of the ladies gave me a present of fluffy-lined rubber gloves for the cold days of winter!

    Liked by 1 person

    • How interesting! I’m sure the process was pretty much the same in most rural areas, with a few local adaptations. I remember someone telling us they were careful not to use the ash from sweet chestnut wood, since the tannin would stain the whites.

      The lavoir was also a meeting place in France and a place for social exchanges. One lady I spoke to said it was rather a shame that this doesn’t exist any longer. The lined rubber gloves sound excellent. I could do with those!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s a nice idea. Your thought got me running to the internet to find out. As it happens, it’s a coincidence. The ash tree’s name derives from the Old English aesc, which was also used for the name of the tree, but also meant a spear shaft made of ash wood, which was apparently prized for its straightness and ease of whittling.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. ‘Lady who leads a double life’…intriguing! So glad you are getting back to some sort of normality…though I have felt a dirt of ‘reverse shock’, returning to company!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nothing untoward involved, I assure you! We still have to be very careful. On Saturday, we were outside, although not masked, so hopefully that was okay. Going out quasi-normally does make one feel agoraphobic.

      Like

  3. Oh, I am so jealous of your sink! What a piece of history to have chez toi.
    We had a fierce storm yesterday around 7pm and another today just before midday…we are using a website called lightning maps to monitor when they may hit. Fingers crossed our homes and gardens survive their onslaughts. I’ve learnt a new word ‘bourrasque’, squall. which described the rainfall precisely. Bon courage…

    Liked by 1 person

    • We are fortunate to have a number of original features in our house. I’m not sure the wash tub is in its original location. I suspect a previous owner put it there to display it. We also have no less than four separate éviers.

      Only the odd rumble of thunder here since last Thursday. The sky did get very black yesterday morning, but it skirted us and obviously made its way further north to you.

      Yet more storms forecast today and possibly the next couple of days. It really is very unsettled for the end of June.

      Like

  4. Hi Vanessa.
    Fascinating to see your little washing sink. As we do all our washing by hand I notice these things with more than a passing interest!
    Very envious of your social day working in the church – sounds a lot of fun!
    MJ

    Liked by 1 person

    • You have my full admiration for doing your washing by hand. Doing small stuff is no hardship, but I was so glad we hadn’t put a sheet or duvet cover into the moribund machine!

      It was hard work yesterday, but a lot of fun. Nice to be involved in a local endeavour like that.

      Like

  5. Hi Vanessa – reading this makes our purchase of a stone house in Domme (whilst we are here in South Africa unable still not to travel) seem all the more exciting – we could not resist the small stone beauty. Your words are inspiring and that you are hands on with the restoration of the church -I have deep admiration for you. Sounds like a tough yet gratifying undertaking. Enjoy the summer. Keep safe. (We here in South Africa are hoping that we can travel to France around October – hands to heart this will be so. Warm wishes

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds like an adventure! We were last in Domme about 30 years ago, a few years before we moved to France. I have fond memories of the place, mainly because I started to feel better there after a glass of lemonade that I craved following the most frightful stomach upset I’ve ever had (my husband had it too, but a bit before me). But don’t let that put you off! I hope you’ll be able to get to your house this year and thoroughly enjoy it when you do. The weather is usually good in October, but it can turn chilly towards the end. Autumn is a good time to see France, once the tourist hordes have gone home but before winter sets in.

      Like

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