Lounging in France 11: Water Supply

Consider your kitchen or bathroom. Does it have a tap? We take running hot and cold water for granted. I have always had it, although I have lived in places where the water that came out of that tap wasn’t safe to drink, and had to be boiled and filtered.

But there are still plenty of places where you can see the infrastructure for water-carrying. In France there were villages like this well into the 1960s! This is a picture of a public water tap. It stands on a street in Pouzols-Minervois, a very small village. I am certain the village has running water and sewer. But this thing is still here. You can still set your bucket at the base and fill her up, although according to the sign the water’s not potable.

Another popular possibility is public fountains. This one on the central massif is also not for drinking, but you can see the grate where you set the bucket and the running water fills it. I’m certain that the sign was put up by lawyers worried about municipal liability. The citizens probably drank from this fountain for several hundred years.

Here’s a larger example, from the medieval city of Sarlat-la-Canéda. This fountain has surely been heavily restored, just like the rest of this highly-picturesque town center. The fence is surely very recent, put in to keep the kids from falling in. But as you can see it offers four-spigot service. The larger arched space behind shelters the pool that feeds the four spouts. This must have been the most popular place for gossip and socializing in the 14th century.


Finally, here’s a picture of a public tap that is indeed potable. It’s in Hautpoul, a town on a crag that’s popular with tourists. This tap has been set up for the convenience of bicyclists and hikers. No grate for buckets here, this thing is for water bottles and canteens.




Lounging in France 11: Water Supply — 8 Comments

  1. Where we used to go on holiday, high in the Swiss alps, every village had at least one watering trough set along the main street, mostly built from stone, with a constantly running spigot pouring in water from at least an armslength above, so you could fill a bottle or a bucket without touching the drinking water for the cows. A lot of them still have a grate under the spigot’s flow, to put a bucket on, but not always as that takes up space from the drinking livestock.
    The pipes for those flows collected their water from the cleanest nearby mountain stream, so after the initial installation of the pipes the water is free.

    For 37 years we always rented the same house, in a summer village of 7 houses and three alp farms. The old lady who owned it died a few years ago at the age of 104, and had a lot of stories about how things had changed during her lifetime, from the general poverty of her youth to present-day comfortable middle class life for most people, mostly due to the development of a railway connection and the advent of tourism. She and her kids started growing strawberries and selling them in the larger, richer town via the railway, which got them out of poverty, as life before that was mostly subsistence farming in the short summers and deprivation in the long cold winters up in the high mountains.

    Back to the public water supply.
    She remembered in her younger years, everybody in the tiny village clubbing together to build a concrete cistern fed by the nearby clean mountain stream (which didn’t have an alpfarm upstream from which the cows could pollute it), and laying the pipes to provide the houses with cold water indoors.

    Before that, and in the alpfarm meadows you still see the same thing, they had open wooden pipes, mostly built of 3 planks held together in a U-shape, running downhill & sideways from the nearest stream, to pour the water into big wooden drinking troughs for the cows.

    The old lady remained indignant about the way the area’s town council forced them to switch from the free cistern water to paid centrally provided water, and to connect to the sewer network, about 20 years ago. She maintained the cistern water was cleaner than that provided by the waterworks, as those were located farther downstream and thus the “council water” had to be treated before being used.
    The cistern is still there, and feeds the village watering trough. It still fulfills a useful function. The water is lovely cold icemelt, and tastes great; hikers fill their water bottles and cool their faces, the cows and dogs drink there when moving pastures, and we used to dip buckets there to water the garden on hot days.

    • I’m convinced that these public fountains are perfectly safe, and it’s just the worries of lawyers. But imagine, having to carry every drop up to your house in a bucket. Washing day must have been brutal.

      • A book from the region, going into details about what life was like there in the 19th century, said they only did one big (days-long) laundry twice a year, before and after winter – all winter they couldn’t get the laundry dry, anyway, in those crowded cabins with the animals on the lower level.

        In summer everybody would bring a casserole (slow-cooker style) oven dish to the baker before going out to the fields in the morning, and pick it up from him when they got home for dinner for a penny. That way only the baker’s ovens needed to be heated, and those were hot already for baking the village bread, saving on firewood.

        That bread was a very dense, heavy, rye and walnut flour halfdome which could be kept for a long time, as long as it was kept dry. It needed to be soaked in the casserole or soup, or one’s tea, to be able to gnaw off pieces, as we found out in the early years, before they started making some more and lighter varieties of bread.

  2. Having lived with water rationing in my childhood in Hong Kong, I still wince over dripping taps and cringe over profligate lawn irrigation systems. The water was turned on for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. We would have an inch of water in the bath tub for emergencies. And we couldn’t drink the tap water anyway. We had bottles of distilled water in the bathroom for drinking and tooth brushing.

  3. I love these old water taps you see everywhere in Europe. (I think are called “vapas” in Italy.) During a heat wave in Rome, Thor was about to get heat stroke until I made him dunk his head in one of the basins. We also drank from the taps with no ill effects. On another note, I’ve lived in several places without running water during my rambling life, and you do needs muscles for toting water and doing hand/foot-stomping laundry!