Travel responsibly and sustainably

The Clothesline, the Barometer of the Landscape


When your neighbour—who is more of an early bird than you are—already filled her clothesline to maximum capacity, you know it will be a nice day.

I'm writing these lines on a Sunday. Then sun is out, and there is not a single cloud in sight. At noon, while looking around briefly and without setting foot out the door, I count nine fully loaded clotheslines dancing around. I smile. A very simple, old system got through the years and still comes in handy. Or at least it does where I live. Both in winter and summer. I am trying to understand why it remained popular at home, and I am guessing it has a whole lot to do with the wind.

Around here, the air smell good...

The clothesline brings beauty and movement to the landscape, on top of being a delight for the nose. A wash drying outside turns into an indefinable bouquet, as it captures the whole of the air on any given day: freshly cut hay, fruits bearing in the grass, sea perfumes and even a hint of smoked herring if you are lucky...

The perfume of a garment which spent the day playing around with the elements adds a delicate and subtle touch to the laundry soap. You need to stick your nose to it to smell it for real. Among all the things drying outside, bedding is an absolute favourite. Everybody says it sleeps better at night under sheets which spent the day outside.

Setting up your clotheslines so it doesn't "look like hell"

One day, my mom gives me a basket and pins for me to hang a wash on the clothesline but forgets the instruction manual. As I am hanging up my fourth item, my aunt comes out running and laughing out loud.

—What do you say I show you how to set up a "nice" line?

That day, I learned to sort the clothes by size and colour to fit a family worth of clothing on a single line. We may wash our dirty laundry privately, but we need to know how to let it dry publicly.


Clothesline pins


Passer la nuit sur la corde à linge

Meaning: "spending the night on the clothesline." This expression has nothing to do with the actual chore. We can ask someone if he "spent the night on the clothesline" when he comes back at odd hours after a sleepless night. It can also mean that it was a restless night or that we are sick/tired. It can be used to talk about insomnia or sleepless nights.



Je ne le mettrais pas pour aller à la corde à linge

Meaning: "I wouldn't even wear that to get to the clothesline." It refers to an old garment like a shirt or a coat that we don't want to wear outside the house.

Je mettrais bien mon linge sur sa corde...

Meaning: "I wouldn't mind hanging my clothes on his/her clothesline..." It refers to someone with whom we would like to put our clothes in the same washing machine—or even the same drawer... 

French synonyms for clothesline (aka "corde à linge"): ligne or ligne à butin.

Par Suzanne Richard

Suzanne Richard is an author, a speaker and a musician. She published a collection of short stories entitled La mer, trois kilomètres à gauche. Her conference — Les mots et la mer — is about maritime words and expressions commonly used in the French language.

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