Our Life in Burgundy

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The Blog: Our life in Burgundy

August 31, 2014

The Fête des Lavoirs


It seems that around here you can have a fête for just about anything and this weekend the society Cortambert, notre patrimoine held the Fête des Lavoirs, an event all about lavoirs, rivers and water.

The lavoir at Cortambert


Inside the lavoir

Cortambert has two hamlets, Varanges to the south and half of Toury to the north, Toury being divided between Cortambert and Bray. In the 1850s their lavoirs were built by the same architect. Hence they are all pretty similar. It’s interesting to note that Toury Bray would not contribute to the cost of a lavoir but Cortambert built it on Bray’s side of the road.

Until the 1950s these communal washhouses were as much a part of a woman’s life as the town market. It was their space and men were not welcome anywhere near. Men sat and talked at the café while the women discussed local politics and made the important decisions at the lavoir. They ‘read’ clothes as one would tarot cards, compiling information about people. A case of clean clothes and soiled reputations.

The fountain at Cortambert

At each of the lavoirs there is a fountain into which the water runs first. From these the household water was collected in buckets. Then the water flowed through a horse trough so the animals could drink. Then into the lavoir. Each woman had her place at the lavoir according to status, the dominant women being at the end where the water came in and was therefore the cleanest. After leaving the lavoir the water flowed down into the Grosne. We learned a lot about our local rivers and water supply from an excellent exhibition at the foyer rural. 

At Toury Claire gave us a demonstration about the properties of water

Throughout the weekend there was plenty of entertainment on the theme of water. We had extracts from the works of the local philosopher Pierre Boudot read by Mme Boudot, and members of the Cluny amateur theatre group recited poems.  We heard some Georges Brassens songs, all about rain. 

Songs and recitals in Varanges


The lavoir at Cortambert was decorated by our local scuptor, Guy Forge. With the light reflecting off the water it was an excellent setting for his works.

Guy Forge

Maryse Labaune and Gilles Dury, as Dame Ninon la lavandière and M. Le Garde, entertained us with ‘La Lessive’ a lighthearted look at the roles of men and women in the age of the lavoir.

Mme Ninon arriving with her washing

We had fun guessing who in the village the clothes in the washing basket belonged to.

Saturday evening was rounded off with a buvette and a concert by Christal’fragil from Lyon.

A good crowd of spectators at Cortambert


Sunday’s highlight was a déambulation with la Compagnie Marie Braun and Thomas Casey. Not knowing what a déambulation was we saw the parade rather than took part in it.  Marie led them down with her flute like the Pied Piper, and Thomas danced ahead. At the lavoir they danced on the wall above the horse trough and we waited to see if they would fall in.

Marie and Thomas dancing above the horsetrough


And Marie is still playing the flute!


Afterwards the children were taken for a ride in the calèche.

So thanks to Raymond and Pascale and Claire, and everyone else that joined in, we enjoyed a very educative and sociable weekend that included all three lavoirs of  the commune, now monuments to a bygone age.


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