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Wash day blues..?

The Marina Douro is situated perfectly. It is about a 20 minute stroll along the river to the main attractions of Oporto and Porto itself, but it is actually in the little fishing village of São Pedro da Afurada.

Here the many of the houses are so medieval that they lack any outdoor space or balconies, so the women bring their washing to the river where a purpose built wash house where the natural mountain stream is channeled via stone basins and stone washboards are used. Clothes are then hung out in the communal drying area. I have seen similar “lavoirs” in France. I couldn’t think of a worse job and once again it is the women that are doing all the hard labour. After drying, they then carry the clothes in baskets on their heads, up the narrow, cobbled and extremely steep streets back to their homes.


In my view the wash house could only have been designed by a man.

I could just picture the meeting of the “Urban Renewal – Clothes Washing Sub-Committee”. Several complaints had been made by a group of powerful developers, the marina development company, the harbour authority, the inshore rescue service to the effect that “…women had been bashing their clothes on the rocks by the mountain spring where it emerges from the cliff by the riverside. This was both an eyesore for the yacht owners using the new marina, a matter of health and safety for the women, and had made tourists passing by on the guided river boat trips burst into tears. Something had to be done!” ….After several years of deliberation a plan was agreed. A local artist would make basins out of the same granite that formed the rocks by the river; the water company would build a £3m euro diversion of the mountain spring so that it did not emerge next to the marina; and the health and safety executive would build a concrete wash house to hide this embarrassing and medieval activity  from the sensitive eyes of tourists passing by on the river. A resounding success that could be sold to the local women as a municipal gift of largess to the valued and respected community of Gaia.


I wrote the conjecture in the paragraph above before I spoke to the receptionist at the Marina, and happened to ask about the wash house.

It turns out that she had been born in the village and her mother still lived there. She told me that while it is true that some of the women are very poor and don’t have any facilities at home, some however, are like her Mother who has a washing machine, but prefers to bring at least some of her wash to the wash house so that she can meet other women, gossip and have fun. Note-to-self – never jump to conclusions about what you may regard as a sign of poverty, but may in fact turn out to be an important part of life and happiness.

4 comments to Wash day blues..?

  • Desiree Harper

    Local artist – what artistic flair was used to build this wash house?
    Reminded again of the importance of community and relationship for human beings …what a big heart this lovely woman has.

  • David Altendorff

    “Brought tourists to tears” haha

  • Gary

    And never underestimate womens capacity to make men think they’re working when really they’re just nattering about British bake off or Portugese equivalent!

  • Stuart

    €3 million of other people’s money. It was perfectly ok before. Typical of the EU. It would be nicer to see the women having a good time than a concrete block house.

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