Tangled up in Blue
Spurred on by the opportunity to learn indigo with Maura Grace Ambrose of Folk Fibers at an indigo dying atelier with the wonderful SCAD alumni Fiber artists a few weeks ago - I knew I had to offer our French Muse guests the opportunity to get the indigo bug. If they were anything like me they would become instant indigo addicts.
It seemed only natural to me to bring our ladies to the ancient village lavoir in Lacoste. Once a meeting point for villagers to do their laundry - it has been restored but is rarely used nowadays for laundry.
I noticed an elderly villager drive past us four or five times taking in our activity, as we dipped our white linens in and submerged them in the indigo then hung them to dry on the lines.
My imagination went into overdrive, would we be reported to the Mairie? it was hard to read his expression.
On the fifth turn, he slowed and pulled in. He stepped out of his car smiling. His eyes took in our indigo-tinged hands & feet and the lines of drying linen. He half whispered to us, voice choking with emotion, saying it was the most beautiful thing he had seen in many years.
As he motioned to the drying linens, he did his best to hold back tears as he described how our activity was transporting him back 60 years to when he was first married. He spoke of how his wife would come to do her laundry at the lavoir, expressing both sadness (at the memory) but also happiness in seeing this corner of Lacoste be brought to life once again.
I couldn't have hoped for a better reaction from my neighbours and am so thankful to have been able to participate in this special moment.
"The use of the lavoir was prohibited on certain days, such as the week between Christmas and New Years day, the Holy week, and the 'octave of the dead' on November 2, because of the believed presence of souls on Earth on those days. Souls were thought to purify themselves on open bodies of water functioning as purgatories."*
A Lavandiere - the village laundress:
"Lavandieres were said to "read" clothes, underwear, and sheets, compiling information as their main fortune. Known for their uncensored gossip and feared for their knowledge of the townspeoples intimate lives, these women held considerable power among the local populace. Even though they did not have the respect of the bourgeoisie, the lavandieres enjoyed a deep sense of community. When needed, they would hasten to one another's side, and they knew when discretion was necessary. For a young woman in trouble, the lavoir was the first place to go in quest of solidarity, advice, and moral support since laundresses knew social marginality."*
"Life at the lavoir was bustling with activity and noise. The loudness of the often-vaulted space, saturated in the white noise of flowing water and punctuated by the beating of laundry, led to high volume conversations. The space of the lavoir has been compared to a womans version of the cafe, where men engaged in animated discussions on local politics and village life."*
"The lavoir represented a uniquely feminine space of relative emancipation. "*
"Fortune tellers interrupted laundry days, reading the oracle in the flotation patterns of linens."*
"Such a unified community of women was often alarming to the men of the town. It was suspected that decisions were first envisioned at the lavoir, then brought to the privacy of each household where they were infiltrated into the collection consciousness of the voting gender."*
The adjoining fountain provides 'eau potable' - fresh drinking water for the village. In summer I often see cars stopping here and families file out to fill their empty galon water bottles.
**Note - wonderful quotations from the book 'Lavoirs: Washhouses of Rural France' By Mireille Roddier
We dyed on a grassy hill just beside the lavoir - so as not to permanently dye the 500 year old cobble stones blue. I didnt get a chance to take photographs as I was elbow deep in a bucket of indigo but if you are tempted to see photos of the dying-rinsing-dying-rinsing process then go on over to Coreys blog Tongue In Cheek for a behind the scenes look at todays indigo fun!