27th April, 2012
I am sheltering while a persistent April rain falls on this corner of Asturias. The tiled roof above me covers a village lavandería basin, with Año 1919 inscribed on its stone cistern. The sound of water is everywhere: the steady input from an iron pipe, the constant pitter-patter of drips from the eaves, the rustle from a small stream twenty yards away. Overhanging trees gather the rainfall into loud, plummeting drops.
The laundry is set into a wooded limestone slope overlooking a small valley. I have climbed a lane beside hedges, apple trees and a sloping meadow with two grey horses and a foal. The sky is weeping over this hilly, wooded landscape that reminds me of Somerset or Powys; trees are lichenous, the ground is mossy and floral. Small farmsteads are dotted here and there, many showing signs of careful but unfussy management: trees are coppiced and pollarded, hedges trimmed, drystone walls maintained. The stream is neatly culverted where it flows under the lane. The natural wealth in this damp corner of Spain needs constant attention, and I'm glad to see that people still provide it.
But what of the laundry - does anyone come here to wash their clothes? A white plastic bottle labelled Mistol Original stands next to a pillar, and a scrubbing brush and an orange plastic mug sit near the cistern. These are signs of laundry life. But the crystal-clear water flows over a sunken drift of dead, black leaves, and stirring it brings up clouds of silt. The lip of the basin is smoothed from years of use, but now patinated with moss and dirt. The paved floor has sprouting weeds. This laundry needs a thorough cleaning out.
Use and disuse: this place is telling me of a vanishing culture pattern. I imagine women's stories were exchanged here for generations, but their voices have now faded to silence; a part of Franco's world of peasant Spain.
I am telling a story of my own about this laundry, created from a bottle, a brush and a cup. An elderly woman still visits from time to time, and she vividly remembers the scenes and sounds of social life that that used to go on here. But now she only hears - like me - the voice of her own thoughts, and the stories told by fallen leaves and water flowing over stone.