04 August 2006

Du nouveau à Saint-Aignan

This blog started out as a way for me to describe life in Saint-Aignan, a pretty typical small town (château on a hill, big church, outdoor market, etc.) in the Loire Valley. Then it turned into an extensive travelogue. That's because I ended up taking on a temporary assignment as a tour guide and chauffeur for the many American visitors we've had over the past five months.

Now I'm on vacation, like most of France in August. But we are still busy, gardening, cooking, and cleaning up.

It has been great, though. And never fear, the travelogue will continue. I have quite a backlog of text and photos from June and July. So many châteaux, so many churches...

Another reason I have been writing less about life in Saint-Aignan is because I don't want to overstep the bounds by writing too much about the people I've grown close to here. I want to respect their privacy (leur vie privée). So there are a lot of happenings and interactions I have to keep to myself. Besides, what with all the touring around, I'm basically out of the loop (hors du coup) when it comes to local life.

OK, here's what's new in Saint-Aignan: a laundromat! TA-DA! Une laverie en libre service! We are jumping feet-first into the middle of the Twentieth Century. This and le tout-à-l'égout (a sewer connection) all in one summer... incroyable.

This flyer announcing the grand opening of our new laundromat
came in the mail a few days ago.

It's not as if we, personally, need a laundromat these days. But I remember when we arrived in Saint-Aignan in June 2003 and could have used one. We had been traveling for a couple of weeks and we were waiting for appliances to be installed in our house.

One day I was buying bread at a boulangerie in town and I thought the woman behind the counter, la boulangère, might know where I could do some washing. « Pouvez-vous me dire s'il y a une laverie automatique à Saint-Aignan? », I asked her.

« Oui, monsieur. Vous en avez une au supermarché SuperU à la sortie de la ville. » I had been to the SuperU store and hadn't seen any laundromat up there. « Pour laver mon linge? », I asked. « Non, pour laver votre voiture, bien sûr. » She thought I wanted to wash my car. When I insisted it was laundry I needed to do, she said there was no laundromat in Saint-Aignan. She thought there might be one in Blois, though. That's a 90-minute drive from here, round-trip.

This was one of my first clues that we had landed in a very small town.

I ended up washing clothes by hand in the big laundry sink in our utility room. I didn't even have a washboard (but I know what one is, because my mother sometimes used one to scrub out clothes in the bathtub when I was growing up). Our washing machine, a front-loading Whirlpool model, was delivered a hooked up about a week later.

According to the flyer we got in the mail, the new laverie libre-service in Saint-Aignan is equipped with front-loading Míele washing machines. Thinking about that made me remember laundromats in Paris where I used to wash clothes back in the 1970s.

I lived in Asnières, a transitional suburb outside Paris, for a couple of years back then. My apartment didn't have a washing machine — hell, it didn't even have a refrigerator. There was a laundromat up the street, though, and it was equipped with big top-loading Speed Queen machines, the kind we are used to in the U.S., with an agitator.

When I took my dirty clothes there, there were almost always several older woman in the laundromat doing their wash. These were not your chic Parisiennes, by any means. They wore sensible shoes, long skirts covered by aprons, and headscarves.

A lot of them would come to the laundromat carrying not just their dirty laundry but also a sawed-off broomstick. They would use the broomstick to stir the laundry around in the tub as it was being sloshed about by the agitator. I don't think they trusted the washing machine to get things clean, in other words. I guess they didn't want to stick their hands in there — far too dangerous — hence the broomstick.

I haven't stopped by to inspect the new laundromat in Saint-Aignan yet. I may soon do so, because another new business is opening at the same time: Laservidéo 24H — DVD rentals. Another first. My head is spinning.


  1. when I first lived in Paris in 1951 I lived on the third floor and the ice man came round and we lowered a rope with a bucket into which he put a block of ice that we hauled up to put into the fridge to keep things cold until next day.

    how we washed our clothes I think involved a stick with a big plug on the end, like a megaphone - or like the plunger for a blocked up sink only bigger. we pushed it up and down in a zinc tub half full of soapy (no detergent then)water until tired, then hauled the wet clothes out to rinse and mangle. remember mangle?
    you take me back.

  2. I remember washing machines with wringers, if that's what you mean. I remember getting my hand caught in the wringers and having my arm pulled through by them.

    I wish I had had an ice box and and ice man when I lived in Asnières. As it was, I could keep some dairy products in a plastic bag on the kitchen window sill for about half the year, when the weather was chilly.


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