It’s interesting contrasting paintings and photos of women doing the laundry in Abruzzo, seeing old black and white photos that hide the cheery glow of toil!
I had a triple whammy this summer of my car and washing machine going down and a stomach bug. I can’t imagine the dread illness must have bought to the mind of each mother or sister as they envisaged handwashing a sheet not just once but multiple times as a bug swept through a family that was considerably larger than today’s nuclear ones. Now try imagining doing that if you lived in a hilltop village like Calascio. Not not only did your house have no running water, but neither did the village, it was dry until the 20th century.
There are some modern-day thinkers who believe that the ‘chatter’ and communal spirit outweighed the hard work, it’s not a remark I have heard that from any of the elderly ladies during my time in Abruzzo. There was no pilgrimage down to our village’s cement lavatoi, I am not sure what was there before this early 20th-century installation, rather the washroom was left alone, neglected, and torn down to make way for a communal pagoda when it was damaged in the earthquake, a place to sit in the shade.
Lavatoi in their most ancient forms do remain, with stunning fountain heads like L’Aquila’s 99 Canelle with its 99 carved fountain heads. At some like in Scanno, you will discover the spout you used was determined by which class you were in! Hopefully, as we look at them and admire those fountain heads and troughs under or next to them we can equally admire and wonder at the strength and resilience of the women that used them.
Read our article about the history of soap in Abruzzo, with recipes on how to make olive oil soap at home, and details of Antonella Marinelli’s workshops with whom you can make felt soap at the medieval lavatoi and fountain in Fontecchio.
Thanks to Peter Austin for his collation of Abruzzesi lavatoi, read his article on the 20th-century photography legends that explored Abruzzo.