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Entries from July 2011

Cigogne

A Stork in Alsace (c) Kristin Espinasse 
Storks... and other reminders of the cycle of life... in today's story. The photo above was taken earlier this month, in Alsace, where you'll see fake storks on every corner. (Here, down south, you'll even see the real ones--where cigognes muster on steeples and soar over the grape fields!)

la cigogne (sih gohnh) noun, feminine

    : stork

Listen: Download Cigognes

Les cigognes (Ciconia) sont des oiseaux... migrateurs. Ces échassiers se nourrissent de grenouilles, d'oisillons, de lézards, de petits rongeurs, d'écrevisses, etc. -Wikipedia

Storks are migrating birds. These wading birds nourish themselves with frogs, young birds [fledglings], lizards, little rodents, crayfish, etc...

Correct Your French Blunders

Correct Your French Blunders: How to Avoid 99% of the Common Mistakes Made by Learners of French. Speak and write French as if it were your native tongue! Order here.

 

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

In Pursuit of Summertime

Summer is halfway over and at this rate it will soon disappear altogether! A series of rendezvous have punctuated the weeks, and the calendar is full, pulling us swiftly forth to the harvest, as we lurch towards autumn and beyond. 

I try to slow the days by grasping at the travelling clouds and other artful images which soar on the periphery of my vision: wet dogs returning from the ruisseau--shake-shake-shake, hollyhocks gone to seed, their dry stalks waving in the wind, scattering unborn flowers; threadbare socks swirling on the clothesline...

...and there are those birds that fly south each day, in huge barking flocks. Into a basket I drop the stiff socks and the cardboard shirts gathered from the laundry line. I push flighty tendrils out of my face, as my hair is caressed by the wind (...or is it the collected whoosh of birds' wings?) I look up to the sky--Regarde! Regarde! don't miss this moment! Ecoute! Listen to the migrators -- such sweet, gurgling voices! Like a baby's! Are they martinets? hirondelles? Their strange shouts remind me of newborn puppies, eyes still closed and searching plaintively for their mother's milk.

And are those storks, or cigognes, flying over the canal, below?! I dash for my camera... but it's too late. I will have to play back the poetic flight in my memory. Don't worry... Ça y est! I can see it now... Thank God for memory--and for recording... only, recording the moving images won't make summertime stay put...

"These are not fleeting moments," Nature whispers, having offered so many clever examples of timelessness and unending life. Up to me to recognize the cues....

Yes... I remember now! The stork... the gurgling baby voices... the unborn flowers!

"When it looks as if all is passing..." Nature hints, "...when the birds fly south and the flowers have gone to seed... trust in the wind and in new beginnings!"

I think about all those seeds that the Mistral (with the help of the birds' wings...) is currently scattering. Before long there will be seedlings...! 

"You'll all be back very soon!" I call out. "Yes, you aren't simply passing by... and you won't be gone for long.... I'm no longer rushing after you... but waiting for your return."

 

 Le Coin Commentaires

Do you find yourself clinging to the coattails of summertime? Your thoughts are welcome in the comments box.

***

P.S. I finished The Summer of Katya and will read it again in the future -- for the language, for the exotic glimpses of Basque life, for writing inspiration. Order it here!

Meantime, I've ordered another book by Trevanian: The Crazy Ladies of Pearl Street -- as well as a recommendation from Jeannette Walls (whose Glass Castle I loved), who loves the memoir This Boy's Life, by Tobias Wolff. Looking forward to reading these. Please share your favorite, must-read books, in the comments box.

French Vocabulary

le rendezvous = appointment

le ruisseau = stream, gutter

regarde! (regarder) = look!

écoute! (écouter) = listen!

le martinet = swift (bird)

une hirondelle = swallow

la cigogne = stork

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More pictures of Alsace in the next Cinéma Vérité edition, which goes out next week to contributing members.

***

Do you have a minute for a short short story? I had planned on posting this one, written 5 years ago, titled "French Girls Don't Steal"... read it here.

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"Your blog has added much richness to my days for many years. High time to acknowledge your generosity toward your readers, by offering some small support."
--Candy T., California


rendre service

Life in Colmar (c) Kristin Espinasse

Whatever you do today, venture out just a bit... un tout petit peu... from your comfort zone. If you're not up to venturing out, then cuddle up with this book (I'm in love with it!... but I fear being let down by the ending... zut! that's the last time I'll read book reviews.) Order "The Summer of Katya" here.

rendre service (rahndr sair veese)

    : to help out

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc (check back to the blog...):

Je travaille encore pour leur rendre service. I continue to work in order to help them out. 

 

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

One cannot organize an adventure any more than one can rehearse spontaneity. 
                                                                         --Trevanian

I am hopping up and down beside a pile of clothes, hurrying to get into a pair of faded jeans. I have removed my gypsy skirt and my camisole (hand-me-overs from the Dirt Divas), never mind how exotic or "novel" they make me feel; I will not be writing this morning....

....I'm heading out to a nearby field to photograph a venerable vigneron! Now to build up some courage. The flouncy skirt and sleeveless top suddenly make me feel more bare than bold. Besides, alone out there on a country road I wouldn't want to be taken for a promiscuous poule (though it wouldn't be the first time.... In all fairness, it isn't difficult to be taken for a loosey-goosey here, in the land of love, home of Pépé Le Pew. Frenchmen! Better stop here... or the lead in to this story will mislead the reader from the wholesome histoire that follows). 

Poule or no poule, floozy or no floozy, I won't be found loitering beyond our front gate without a little maquillage. Quickly, I cover my blotchy cheeks with fond de teint and put on some rimmel.

Even with the wardrobe pause (strategically designed to buy time... for I am still doubtful about my mission) it takes no more than ten minutes from the moment my husband calls to alert me to the photo opportunity--for me to seize the occasion. En verité, my first reaction was to reject Jean-Marc's suggestion ("You know I'm very uncomfortable taking photos of people!" I objected. "Alors, tant pis. It would have been a great picture!" My husband was disappointed).

(And isn't that just his way: to pressure his wife into doing what is best for her! It works everytime and, illico presto!, I find myself grabbing my keys, my pocket camera, and hurrying out to the car before I can talk myself out of the adventure.)

I am now motoring up the country road flanked by vines and roof-bare stone cabanons. When the leafy field begins to rise up into the horizon, I begin searching for the elderly farmer. I make a concentrated effort to quit drawing up in my mind the scene that I will soon wander into. Besides, I always get it wrong and things are never as I imagine them to be (in this case, a crew of farmers pointing fingers, laughing).

When I see an old remorque parked alongside a ditch, I feel a slight soulagement. He must have driven off, leaving the equipment behind for his afternoon round. I'll catch up with him another time, I lie to myself.

Just as I am about to turn around, I glimpse a tractor heading down the leafy path to my left. Squinting my eyes I can't make out if it is the man that Jean-Marc saw earlier. Does he look ancient? No, he is younger than my husband made him out to be!

I get out of my car and cross the road beside the flower-lined ditch. Inside, the wild teasel, or cardère, is turning whisper purple this time of year. Standing there admiring the elegant flowers, I become aware of my own appearance: in jeans and a sweatshirt, my hair is tied back. I am wearing my new glasses, the ones I picked out last week, not minding the salesgirl who warned I had selected frames from the menswear display. I saw myself as the unsuspecting farmer might: and I could no longer be confused with a poule, or hussy, though I might now be mistaken for male farmhand.

Too late now the farmer has seen me and I sense that I am not unwelcome. I decide to walk up the vine row. I begin with a timid coucou/wave of the hand. I'll ask his permission for a picture and then have time to run to the end of the row and take an action photo....

Halfway up the rangée I greet the vigneron who stops his tractor, leaving the motor running. I approach, so close now that I can put my hand on the machine for balance (I am standing in the newly turned ground, the uneven earth beneath my feet).

I smile. "Je vous embête? I'm bugging you?," I question, having heard it said before by the French.
He smiles warmly, shakes his head, "Non".

"Je voulais savoir... Would you mind if I take your photo?" One hesitation of mine had been the risk of mocking the farmer. After all, what sort of novel attraction had drawn out this curious tourist to his field? He must wonder just what it is about him that makes him prey to my camera. Could it be his age? I did not want him to feel old. I decided to cut to the point.

"How old are you?"

"Quatre-Vingt cinq ans," he smiled.

"Eighty five... Shouldn't you be retired?" I smiled back, resting my arm on the tractor.

"But then what would I do? I don't play boules or cartes." The farmer's eyes became half-moons, so great was his grin.

"Do you enjoy your work?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "It's all I know...."

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"What is the hardest part about farming. Is it the Mistral?"

"Without the Mistral there would be no vines. Without the wind, there would be no way to dry the grapes and keep them from becoming diseased." Monsieur, who went by André, punctuated every thought with a smile.

I learned that the hardest part about farming is driving a tractor with limited vision (André has sight in only one eye). 

"I am very fortunate to have the other eye," he added, with another of his punctuated sourires.

"Vous êtes très positif, vous savez?" I informed him, "You are so positive, you know?"

(Smiles)

P1040046

And when I feared I was taking up too much of his time, I listened as the motor went silent. André had shut it off, and in so doing, made it clear that I was no bother.

Without all the engine racket I was free to listen to the lovely accent of the Provençal who sat in his tractor politely answering my questions. "I'm so sorry," I said, more than once, "I'm not the best interviewer! Thank you for the practice!"

I learned that the venerable vigneron quit school at 14 to work in the fields. Work at that time consisted of the same job, plowing the earth -- only back then it was horses and not tractors that were steered down the leafy vine paths.

"With the horses, it took eight passages," André explained, his hands waving up and down the vinerows. With the tractor, he only makes one run to upend the weeds.

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                      All photos taken with this handy pocket camera.

As André spoke I relished his rich Provençal accent. I had to lend my oreille on more than one occasion, signaling with my hand behind my ear, inviting him to repeat a word each time I did not grasp it. I noticed André spoke with a slight bégaiement, or stutter. And I had remarked his resemblance to another villager... That's when it hit me:

"You are not, by chance, the brother of..."

Yes, indeed, he was le frère of The Plant Whisperer! I looked back to the ditch full of wild teasel. It was thanks to the plant man that I could identify the prickly cardère. 

André shared with me that his brother was suffering in his legs, but that did not keep the younger man (at 83, he was two years André's junior) from riding that rickety old bicycle to town each day. I told him that I enjoyed a recent article in the local paper written by the unofficial doctor of plants. "Yes, he still writes on the subject," he said, championing his younger brother, who might have helped with the family vineyard--but chose to follow his own passion of botany, instead.

Each moment that passed I was aware of the risk of holding up the busy grape farmer until finally, despite his inviting nature, I let him get back to his field work.  

He was such a dear, unassuming man. I found myself inching closer and closer to the light of his pure presence. If only I had wings, I might have flown up and landed on the hub of the tractor to be nearer....

Poule indeed! It's no wonder, now, how we wandering women are sometimes mistaken by as "hens"!

                                                                  *** 

  P1040052

André says he continues to work to rendre service or "help out" his daughter and son-in-law, who now run the farm).

Le Coin Commentaires/Comments Corner

Share a story of your own, or leave a message here, in the comments box.

And check out Les Grands Bois - André's family vineyard, here in our village

 

 Related Stories

"Love in a Cage" - a special friendship with The Plant Whisperer

"The Last Peasant": about asking permission to photograph another French native -- and getting much more than a picture in return.

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 Close-up of André. Forever young at 85. Is it his positive attitude? or his humble gratitude? Comment on what keeps a person young at heart.

French Vocabulary

un vigneron = wine farmer

une poule = hen (synonym, in French, for prostitute)

une histoire = story

le fond de teint = base makeup

le rimmel = mascara

alors, tant pis = well then, too bad

illico presto = right away

la remorque = trailor (to tow a tractor)

le soulagement = relief

cardère sauvage = wild teasel (see it here!)

Je vous embete! = I'm bugging you, perhaps?

le sourire = smile

une oreille = ear

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Those seductive French plants! Oh so coquette in their polka-dotted casseroles!

French shopping bag I Heart Paris Shopper: made of recycled material. 1-Percent of the sale of this bag will support the conservation work of the nature conservancy. Order the I Heart Paris bag here.

Easy French Reader: A fun and easy new way to quickly acquire or enhance basic reading skills

 

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"Your blog has added much richness to my days for many years. High time to acknowledge your generosity toward your readers, by offering some small support."
--Candy T., California


en berne

Teddy Bears (c) Kristin Espinasse

Here at our farm we have no flags to put at half-mast. Hoping these French teddy bears will offer comfort. Meantime, hearts going out, all over the world, to the Norwegian victim's families.

en berne (ahn bairn)

    : at half-mast

Audio FileDownload MP3 or Wav file

Les drapeaux norvègiens sont en berne. Norwegian flags are at half-mast.

 Improve your French pronunciation withExercises in French Phonics Exercises in French Phonics 

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A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Avoir le Moral en Berne = To Be Dispirited

Last night I lie in bed reading a brilliant work of fiction. I might have read throughout the evening, only I could not keep my mind on the poetic words of the story. And when I found myself looking out the window, staring dully at the mulberry tree, or gazing up at the same familiar patterns in the wooden plafond, I gave up and closed the book.

I tied on my peignoir and walked down the hall, to my son's room. Lightly rapping on the door, I opened it to find our sixteen-year-old in a high speed chase over a freeway bridge, about to pass beneath a semi-truck. It was a relief to catch him playing a jeu de course. But, given the horrific news from Norway, I was here to talk to him about the other games he was playing.

"Max... On peut parler?" 

Seated on our son's messy bed, I searched for words to aborder a delicate topic. I knew that in bringing up the subject of "les jeux de stratégie" (read: "war games"), I'd be tempted to bring up the abominable example of what can happen to a person who becomes obsessed with les jeux de guerre.

But would it not be taboo or superstitious, or just plain creepy--even unethical--to tell my son that the result of so much game playing could lead innocents such as himself to such a macabre end? 

No, I dared not say it. It would be something like trahison to infer or insinuate... to even imagine that my child could turn into a monster! I could not risk introducing a foreboding facet to his sparkling vision of life... or his innocent self in relation to it.

Oh baloney!, my no-nonsense conscience kicked in. Quit skirting your parental duty. Tell your son what the very real risks are of playing these "jeux de stratégie de guerre". And certainly don't spare him the abominable example!

Without further soul-searching I blurted it out. "Max, did you hear what happened in Norway this weekend? Over 90 people, mostly adolescents, were gunned down and killed. Authorities listed the gunman's pasttime as 'war game enthusiast'!"

Right or wrong I had said it. Up to Max to make of it what he would. I only hope I did not offend him or, worse, cause him to believe that he could be anything other than the good-hearted boy that he is. 

Sitting there feeling like a traitor, I searched for words. "To what good do these games lead?"

"But all of my friends play them!" Max objected. Next, he grasped for some far-out figure. "Sixteen hundred... thousand...million... kids play these games. Mom! They are not all going to end up mass murderers!"

I could not argue with Max's statistical logic. And yet... there is no using logic to answer the heart-renching question that haunts us in regards to innocent lives lost: Why? We ask. In the face of such disheartening news, how are we to react?

All we can do is make a fumbling first step to pick up the pieces in our own untidy front yard of the heart, and hope, in the process, not to overpolish, or dull the shiny brightness of an innocent soul.  

***

Post-note: In all fairness, and in a sloppy attempt to redeem myself, I admitted to Max that les jeux video were not the only pastime of the gunman's. "Christianity" was another avid interest. Max looked at me sympathetically, and I knew he would never again tease me for my avid scripture-reading.

 

Le Coin Commentaires

Share your thoughts about the news. Were you further shell-shocked by the death of Amy Winehouse? Any other news that is affecting you? Messages welcome here, in the comments box.

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French Vocabulary
(Vocab section is under construction. Check back here, for the updated section.)

le plafond = ceiling

le peignoir = bathrobe

le jeu de course = race car game

Max, on peut parler = Max, can we talk?

aborder = to broach

le jeu de stratégie = game of strategy

le jeu de guerre = war game

la trahison = betrayal, treachery, treason

le jeu video = video game

P.S.: here is the book I mentioned, in the opening paragraph. It is too early to rate the novel, but I already want to lend my copy to all of the Francophiles and Writerphiles that I know! 

 

Capture plein écran 11072011 093235

The Summer of Katya: A Novel

In the golden summer of 1914, Jean-Marc Montjean, recently graduated from medical school, comes to the small French village of Salies to assist the village physician. His first assignment is to treat the brother of a beautiful woman named Katya Treville. As he and her family become friendly, he realizes they are haunted by an old, dark secret . . . but he can’t help falling deeply in love with Katya. Read customer reviews and buy the book here.

 

  Window of Fancy (c) Kristin Espinasse

"Dog at half-mast" Photos (c) Kristin Espinasse

 

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"Your blog has added much richness to my days for many years. High time to acknowledge your generosity toward your readers, by offering some small support."
--Candy T., California


paysan

Le Paysan (C) Kristin Espinasse
Read about "the last peasant" -- in today's story column, then forward to a friend.

le paysan (pay ee zahn)

    : farmer, peasant

la paysanne = woman peasant
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 Audio File & Example SentenceDownload MP3 or Wav File

Un paysan est une personne tirant des ressources de la nature proche de son habitat. Il peut adopter ou subir une économie de subsistance. A paysan is a person who makes a living from the natural resources near his dwelling. He can adopt or suffer an economy of subsistence. -from Wikipedia

  Exercises in French Phonics Exercises in French Phonics is... 
" a great book for learning French pronunciation"
"useful and practical"
"high quality material, good value for your money" --from Amazon customer reviews. Order your copy here.

 

 A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

"The Last Peasant": Endangered People, Endangered Values

Walking through the town of Buis-les-Baronnies, I experienced what long-distance runners feel: that endorphin high that comes from steady exertion. It didn't take a marathon for the feel-good chemicals to kick in: the rush came from picking up my camera again.

Salon de The (c) Kristin Espinasse

Sabot (c) Kristin Espinasse

(see the full picture of this window, here)

Wheelbarrow (c) Kristin Espinasse

How long had it been--six months? one year?--since I set out to capture the endangered beauty of a village and the timeless character of its people?

Ah yes, its people. This last detail explains the recent bout of camera shyness from which I have suffered. I had had a few run-ins with the French -- only two, to be exact (once while photographing a pot of geraniums and once while zooming in on an old wooden shop sign. I hadn't seen the woman seated deep in a leafy courtyard, behind the potted flowers... and I hadn't seen the grand-mère in the window above the artful wooden shop sign. I didn't see them because my lens was not trained on others, but on objects. I knew better than to point my camera's objectif at a person, but I couldn't help what transpired when all my attention focused in on an object, blurring every detail around it. It wasn't until the blurry "detail" began jumping and wagging an angry finger (in the periphery of my lens!) that I noticed the angry, accidental models!

In the town of Buis, I re-experienced the drug of photography. Holding a heavy appareil photo felt so good: curling one's fingers around the body, pulling the unit up to one's eye, peering through the viewfinder... seeing life through the narrow lens helps one focus on the intricate details that are so often missed. I love the feel of my hands twisting the zoom lens... my finger pushing down on the release button. Finally, there's nothing like the sound, or déclic, of a capture! The comforting click that records Here and Now, while Father Time spins his heels beyond the lens.

Zigzagging along the streets of the mountain community, I lowered my lens each time I was eyed by a curious citoyen or shopkeeper. There was that feeling that at any moment I'd be caught. But it isn't illegal to take pictures! I reminded myself, pressing forward in my photo journey. I remained discreet, snapping pictures quickly.

Rounding a bend I ran into a living monument. That Frenchman who encompasses the past--its traditions, its romanticism... while living and breathing in the present! 

I knew I had to have a picture of this man (with his neck-scarf and beret... his débardeur and cane!), but the angry women's voices (from behind the geranium pot and, again, from above the wooden sign) came back to haunt me, "Pas de photo! PAS DE PHOTO!"

I stalled at the corner, eyeing le monsieur. He was as charming as any potted geranium, with as much character as any chipped and peeling shop sign. I would have traded any photo in my camera's archive -- all of them!... pour lui....

I thought about stealing away with his photo! I could do the ol' "snap-n-run" technique... or the "pretend to be photographing the horizon" scheme (only to zoom in on the subject). But I did not have the energy for deceit, and so I quit plotting. 

I began to turn on my heels, when something inside said: Just ask his permission, Dummy! And, fast as that, I beelined it over to the bench!

"Pardonnez-moi, Monsieur.... Would you mind if I took your photo?" And then, not wanting him to feel like the object of some elder scam, I introduced myself. "I live nearby... I am just on my way home from the horse camp, where I left my daughter for the week".

The man recognized the name of the centre équestre and, voilà, we had a contact in common. I told Monsieur that I loved to take photos of France, especially because it is changing so quickly. "Sometimes," I explained, "I return to a village, only to find fresh paint over a perfectly charming publicité -- the old painted advertisement gone forever."

Monsieur shook his head. "Everything's changing." With these words, he introduced himself: "Je suis le dernier paysan".

"I am the last peasant." His words struck me as I sat listening to his story. In the old days, he walked eight kilometers to the field and back. Work, as a child, consisted of harvesting gladiolas, "un travail d'esclave"...  As a teenager, he would work in the olive orchards, in the verger (picking abricots), and he would harvest grapes ("pour la maison").

His brothers and his sisters worked just as hard, lest his mother remind them of their standing. "Elle ne nous a pas gardés pour notre haleine!" he explained.

"She didn't keep you for your breath"? I had never heard such an expression but it didn't take a dictionary of idioms to understand the harsh reality behind it: the mother had mouths to feed! All members of the household were required to be industrious. She wasn't keeping the kids "for their breath", or for her amusement. She had work to do!

I thanked Monsieur for his story and for his photo. It was time to move on (besides, I noticed a shopkeeper, up the way, who seemed to have a protective eye on the venerable villager). I didn't want to cause anyone concern. And so our conversation came to a close.

But Monsieur seemed so alone... I wished I would have asked him what became of his siblings, the ones that worked as hard as he did as a child. I only learned that, after he retired, rest would not be his reward. He left the fields to begin caring for his mother. "It is the hardest job of all to take care of another," Monsieur admitted. His words had me thinking about the old Eastern values concerning caring for our parents. A friend once reminded me:

We care for our parents until they cannot walk anymore, at which point we carry them over our shoulder. We don't question it. More than our duty it is our honor to care for the elderly.


But the mental and physical testing of our strength often blurs our vision and our very values. Monsieur and I sat side by side in the silence, lost in thought. Only a deep, long sigh reminded me of Monsieur's presence.

I thought about the sad irony. Monsieur's mother did not have the luxury of keeping her son "for his breath". But he did keep her... until her very last.

*** 

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Post note: I was surprised that Monsieur called himself a "paysan" as I have heard that the term can be pejorative. Not only did Monsieur refer to himself as a paysan, but he said, more than once, will all sincerity, that he was no more than "un petit paysan".

Le Coin Commentaires

Comment on this edition or answer the following question: What are some endangered things that you'll regret one day no longer seeing (in architecture... in local characters... wildlife? Endangered traditions or valtues?) Click here to leave a comment.


Related stories:

"Tricoter" (To Knit): Meet the woman who was keeping a protective eye on "the last peasant". Click here to read or review the story and to see the photos.

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An an all-time favorite book--one I highly recommend! I hope you'll order a copy of The Life of a Simple Man and enjoy it this summer! Click here to read the reviews

 

Thank you for visiting our sponsors!

LES PORTES TORDUES (The Twisted Doors): The Scariest Way in the World to Learn and Listen to French! Check it out (if you dare). 

 

French Vocabulary

la grand-mère = grandmother

un objectif = camera lens

un appareil photo = camera

le déclic = click

le citoyen (la citoyenne) = citizen

le débardeur = sleeveless T-shirt, tank top (sometimes called "un Marcel")

pour lui = for him

le centre équestre = riding school

le verger = orchard

un travail = work

esclave (m/f) = slave

l'abricot (m) = apricot


Trenet One way I learned French was by listening to the classics (check out songs by Charles Trenet). Or you might prefer something more modern, like  Tour de Charme by Patricia Kaas

 

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 I Heart French mailboxes... and French Script! Photo taken in Buis-les-Baronnies. Never miss a picture, sign up yourself--or a friend--for the free emailed version of French Word-A-Day.

 

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
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se moquer de quelqu'un

Sabot in the Window (c) Kristin Espinasse

An old sabot along Rue du Planet in the village of Buis-les-Baronnies (where I learned to knit the other week). Notice all the elements of a French window: painted shutters, lace curtains, tiles on window sill, wooden lintel, whimsical object (here, and old sabot... and did you see that spider web trailing out of the shoe?! ) Anything missing from this cozy, homey, fenêtre

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se moquer de quelqu'un (seuh moh kay deuh kel kuhn)

    : to poke fun at somebody, to tease, to pull somebody's leg

 

Audio file & Example Sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file

Tu te moques de moi? Are you making fun of me? 

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  French shopping bag I Heart Paris Shopper: made of recycled material. 1-Percent of the sale of this bag will support the conservation work of the nature conservancy. Order the I Heart Paris bag here.


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A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Vexé Comme Un Pou (Mad as a louse -- or Hopping Mad!)


Dear Mr. Chief Grape,

Tant pis pour toi! Too bad for you! Because of an ill-chosen word (a "term of endearment" you argue?)... you will not have le privilège of sporting my very first knitting experiment... 
. 

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...but Smokey will!!!

No. These are not garment goggles...
The headband that I had been working on for you (to keep your precious locks out of your eyes when pulling all those weeds out from between the grapevines)... that work-in-progress bandeau took a swift deviation when my knitting needles froze, midair, on hearing your flippant commentaire.

Alors -- Next time you stride into the room and notice your wife, her hands twisted like a pretzel, clutching a pair of slippery knitting needles, or aiguilles, yes, next time you see her eyes croisés in concentration, her fingers foaming from frustration... 

Resist! 

Resist such cheeky commentary as this: "Ça va, Mamie?"--or lose your right to wear an original, artisinal, (hysterical?) "yarn headpiece". My first!  

Voila, Mr. Chief Grape, Ça t'apprendra! Yes, that ought to teach you to hold your tongue so as to avoid doozies such as "How's it goin', Granny?" 

So now, let's be clear as cataracts: I AM NOT YOUR MAMIE!

Got that? Tu pige? Meantime, your loss is Smokey's gain! Ol' Smok-A-Roo seems pleased with his  fashion accessory, which he deems "a little bit rock-n-roll, a little bit litterary" (he hears David Bowie started the trend, after James Joyce... in fact, after a long loopy STRING! of elegant men.

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Quelle allure! Yarn + fur! Smokey is a fashion victime in the true sense of the word!

 

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Furthermore, Smokey appreciates that "rough edge", that air de mystère that the hand-knit head garment affords him.... (now if he could only afford a pair of scissors to release him from it...)

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So, Mr. Chief Grape, it is bye-bye bandau! Your would-be headband now belongs to this glam ham! Smokey is so pleased with his accoutrement that he has even put in an order for another merveille ... knit from no other than "mémé"!

(He would humbly like to request a knitted sling, or une écharpe-langue for that droopy tongue of his (the aftermath, or les séquelles, of a horrible accident from his puppyhood).

Hey Mr. Chief Grape -- maybe you, too, could benefit from a homemade tongue-sling? It might hold that loose tongue of yours in place!

Bisous,

"Mamie"

 

Le Coin Commentaires / Comments Corner

Comments, corrections, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box. Thanks in advance!

 

Related Blog Posts (click on the titles to read them)

"Learning to Knit". A shopkeeper takes the time to teach.

"Wounded": Our dog Smokey's accident.

 Related Books:

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Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter. Since the upsurge in knitting began in the early '90s, the number of women under 45 who knit has doubled. Knitting is no longer a hobby for just grandmothers-women and men of all ages are embracing this art. Describing its allure is best left to Stephanie who explains: "It is a well-known fact that knitting is a sparkling form of entertainment, as spiritual as yoga, as relaxing as a massage, and as funny as Erma Bombeck trapped in a PTA meeting." Order the "Yarn Harlot" book.

 

 

Selected French Vocabulary
(feel free to add more terms to the comments box!) 

tant pis pour toi! = too bad for you!

le privilège = privilege

le bandeau = headband

le commentaire = comment

alors = so then

croisé = crossed

une aiguille = needle (sewing)

une aiguille à tricoter = knitting needle

ça va, mamie? = how's it going, granny?

la mémé = granny

tu piges? (piger) = get it?

une merveille = marvel, wonder

bisous = kisses (love)


Reverse dictionary

to hold one's tongue = tenir sa langue

 

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Behind the scenes... see the poised and finished photo here.

Correct Your French Blunders Correct Your French Blunders: How to Avoid 99% of the Common Mistakes Made by Learners of French. Speak and write French as if it were your native tongue! Order here.

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Check out the latest prices for Kindle, click here and consider ordering today! Your purchase helps support this free language journal. Merci beaucoup!

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Further Reading:
Check out Lee's story about her visit to Domaine Rouge-Bleu!

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"Your blog has added much richness to my days for many years. High time to acknowledge your generosity toward your readers, by offering some small support."
--Candy T., California


larguer les amarres

Colmar (c) Kristin Espinasse
Last week we cast on in the learning to knit post... this week we cast off to sea in today's larguer edition. Photo taken a few weeks ago, in Colmar, Alsace. (Today's story takes place 8 hours south, on the Mediterranean coast, in the town of Fos-sur-Mer.)


larguer les amarres (lar gay layz amar)

     : to cast off, to slip the mooring ropes

( larguer = to loose, to release)

Audio File & Example SentenceDownload MP3 

Pour quitter le port, le capitaine Cyril nous a demandé de larguer les amarres. To leave the port, Captain Cyril asked us to cast off the ropes.

 

Correct Your French Blunders Correct Your French Blunders: How to Avoid 99% of the Common Mistakes Made by Learners of French. Speak and write French as if it were your native tongue! Order here.

 

 

 A Day in a French Life.... by Kristin Espinasse

An Unexpected Excursion

My hands are clamped to the seat beneath me as I sit doubtful about boat security. I don't know anything about floating vessels... and fear the seat-belt question might seem absurd to the thrill-seekers beside me. Instead, I straighten up and inquire as any self-respecting 6-year-old would: how much longer?

My friend Rachel responds sympathetically: est-ce que ça va?
I assure her that tout va bien, but it is my husband that I am concerned about. Jean-Marc is standing a little too close to the side of the boat's bow, his hands holding onto its flimsy rails. His grip does not stop him from becoming airborne each time we hit a wake, or houache. Our little boat is surrounded by huge industrial ships, off in the distance. The ripples they send our way seem as big as surfer waves! 

As is my habit when flying through turbulence, I look over at the crew: no worried look on Captain Cyril's face and no worried look on First Mate Rachel's face.... (so then we must be safe...). 

First Mate turns to me: "We'll be there very soon," Rachel assures me, pointing to a speck on the horizon. Next, she tries capturing my attention by drawing my eyes to the designs on the surface of the water. "Look at the foam! J'adore la mousse!," she laughs, pointing to the intricate "V" design left by the boat's passage. I glance over my shoulder to view the bubbles, forcing an enthusiastic look across my face... but I won't turn around for fear of losing my balance!

"I am sorry about cette horreur!" Rachel apologizes, her eyes trailing over the industrial coastline of Fos-sur-Mer, where steel industries, and gas and chemical stations litter the air with pollution. From our perspective, this far out to sea, the coastline is a great ashtray and the buildings are cigarettes, each with a thick ribbon of smoke rising into the air.

There is a certain futuristic intrigue that keeps the scene from looking entirely foreboding. "Don't worry," I assure Rachel, not wanting my friend to feel she has to make excuses for her hometown, where she is rearing three young boys while caring for her mother, who is battling cancer. 

"We eat organic food," Rachel winks, "to make up for all the pollution!" Soon I am smiling again, remembering the organic sunscreen my friend slathered onto my shoulders. The pasty "bio" coating is currently providing a good laugh, but the comic relief is short-lived... when the speedboat turns sharply on its side!

"Ça y est!" I fret. "The boat's going to capsize!"

Just when I am about to shriek, Rachel grabs onto me. "Ne t'inquiète pas!" But it's too late: I am now sutured to the seat as Cyril swings the speedboat around in a tight circle. When will it stop? I begin to wonder whether our captain isn't just showing off--in which case I strongly object: "Ça suffit!"

Very soon I am ashamed for such a hasty judgment. Cyril cuts the engine and reaches for a long bar with a hook at the end... in time to fish my sun hat out of the water. Cyril was not turning in circles for amusement -- he was kindly going back to retrieve my casquette, which had flown off! 

Back on track and that little speck on the horizon soon becomes an eyeful of pristine sand. No trees or buildings... only the soft undulating surface, where endangered dunes rise like a whisper in the night. We have arrived at the presqu'île. Fifty or so meters from land and Cyril anchors the bateau à moteur. I look around, wondering about the raft that will take us to shore... just where is it? 

"You did wear your maillots de bain, didn't you?"

First Mate Rachel and I look at each other inquisitively. Next Rachel's eyes sparkle like a bride's before the threshold: "And miss the chance to be carried over to shore by such strong men?"

I send a wink of appreciation over to our ingenious first mate, as we take turns dipping our toes into the water during the men's long walk to shore....

 ***

Post note: Later on I discovered these photos on my camera, thanks to First Mate Rachel, who had snapped a few souvenir images. That's I and Chief Grape... who got back at me, several times, by dipping my backside into the cold water....  

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Click to enlarge photo, taken by Rachel Fabre (that's her hubby, Cyril, to the right, and below left).

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Captain Cyril and First Mate Rachel, long-time friends and fun hosts! 

Le Coin Commentaires
Are you adventurous? For some that might mean venturing out on a speedboat... (for others it might be bungee jumping from the Eiffel Tower!). Share a tale of your own, here in the comments box.

 

French Vocabulary

est-ce que ça va? = is everything OK?

tout va bien = everything's fine

j'adore la mousse! = I love foam!

une horreur = eyesore

ça y est! = that's it!

ne t'inquiète pas = don't worry

ça suffit = that's enough!

une casquette = baseball cap

une houache = wake of a ship

une presqu'île = peninsula

le bateau à moteur = speedboat

le maillot de bain = bathing suit

 

 

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Chief Grape, Capitain Cyril, and First Mate Rachel enjoyed some Domaine Rouge-Bleu Rosé. For our California readers, if you are near Healdsburg, stop by Spoon Bar, where our rosé is poured by the glassful!



Sara midda's South of France: a sketchbook Sara Midda's South of France is a place of ripening lemons and worn espadrilles, ochre walls and olive groves, and everything born of the sun. It lies between the Mediterranean and the Maritime Alps, and most of all in the artist's eye and passion. Read the glowing reviews, click here.

 

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Narrow Dog to Carcassonne

"We could bore ourselves to death, drink ourselves to death, or have a bit of an adventure..." It was absurd. It was foolhardy. And it was glorious. When they retired, Terry Darlington and his somewhat saner wife Monica—together with their dog, a whippet named Jim—chucked their earthbound life and set out in an utterly unseaworthy sixty-foot canal narrowboat across the notoriously treacherous English Channel and down to the South of France. 

 

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Have a minute for another story? This one is about The Writing Life -- it was posted one year ago... It might offer inspiration for anyone struggling to fill "la page blanche" or to face a blank canvas. Read it here. (Picture of Smokey taken one year ago).

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"Your blog has added much richness to my days for many years. High time to acknowledge your generosity toward your readers, by offering some small support."
--Candy T., California


tricoter

Accordian Artist (c) Kristin Espinasse
"The Life of Art." An accordion, a tattered chair, and the colors of a revolution. Will you celebrate Bastille Day? Where and how? Click here to share your plans. Photo taken last week in Burgundy.

Note: the next post goes out on Monday.
 

Bedroom

Paris apartment for rent. St Sulpice

215 euros per night (min.  3-nights rental)
                       Click here for more photos!

tricoter (tree koh tay) verb

    : to knit

tricotée à la main = hand-knitted
tricoter des jambes = to run like mad
tricoteur (tricoteuse) = a knitter

Reverse dictionary 
to knit one's brows = froncer les sourcils
knit one purl two = une maille à l'endroit, deux mailles à l'envers
a close-knitted friendship = liés d'une étroite amitié 

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A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

A Newbie Knitter

On the way back from horse camp, where I left our daughter for the week, I drove through the town of Buis-les-Baronnies. It is one of those grips-you-as-you-go-through places, in which the art of French life reaches down from the open windows, with their flowering sills, and whispers: pull aside! 

I had not been out to take photos in ages and, though I was eager to get home and prepare for the student winetasting, I decided to go with the moment instead.

The village of Buis-les-Baronnies seems to attract hippies, or les baba cool. I noticed a lot of art, and there was a shop selling hookah pipes in which to smoke shisha, or flavored tobacco. I remembered a recent talk with my daughter:

Me: Please don't ever smoke, Jackie.
Jackie: OK. But I want to try shisha....
Me: What's shisha?
Jackie: (some sort of French explanation...)
Me: But that's smoking

I had never heard of the term "shisha" before, though it seemed to be a Moroccan thing. Apparently it was a baba cool thing, too. In addition to artists and baba cools, I added "shisha smokers" to my preliminary impressions list. 

At a quiet outdoor café, I sipped une noisette, enjoying the bucolic scene a few tables ahead of me: a mother bottle-feeding her baby, the family dog looking on in concern -- as if it were the family nurse. 

I asked the waiter for l'addition before setting off for my photo périple. Right away I experienced a few feel-good "photographer endorphins", which coursed through my body as my camera's shutter began to click.  

At the end of the main drag, I saw him. The last peasant, or le dernier paysan, as he would introduce himself when I walked up to ask for his photo. After taking a few shots of "Valentin", I sat down on the bench beside the man in the béret. It would have felt like thievery to rush off with his image in my camera. What about the soul behind this photo?

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                   Read about Valentin and see a close-up photo, here.

Chatting with Valentin I noticed a shopkeeper, farther on, keeping her eye on me.... I decided hers was a protective glance. After all, what must it look like?: a stranger with a camera interrogating the elderly villager.  I said Au revoir and Merci to the last peasant (more about him later...) and walked over to the poterie-tissage shop.

"Bonjour," I said, introducing myself. I wanted the shopkeeper (Valentin's accidental guardian angel) to know that I was no threat. I was simply a homemaker with a hobby and... by chance... might I take a photo of her shopfront?

  Vanessa's shop (c) Kristin Espinasse

Permission granted, I snapped a picture. Next, I listened to Intuition, which whispered: You might return the favor... why don't you step into her shop and see what she is selling?

Wandering into the tiny boutique I saw poterie and many examples of handloom weaving. I thought about buying a small "tidy" tray, or un vide-poches... when it occurred to me to ask the shopkeeper-artisan whether she herself had made these things. That is when I learned that Vanessa, as she is called, is the weaver (her partner is the potter). My eyes travelled next to a wall of yarn.

"Vous tricotez?" I asked.  With Vanessa's positive response I knew what I had to buy: a pair of knitting needles--my first! But where to begin? There were so many different sizes!

Apparently yarn came in sizes, too! "Depending on the thickness of the yarn... we'll pick out a corresponding pair of aiguilles." As for color, we ruled out dark tones, especially le noir: "Difficult to learn to knit with black yarn... too hard to see the loops," Vanessa explained.

I decided to go for a bright color.... Turquoise? Lavender? Orange! I'd make something for Jean-Marc, who loves his orange T-shirts! Yes, Chief Grape seemed like a fair victim for a beginning knitter!

But what would I make him? Were socks the easiest project for a beginner? No, they were  not, Vanessa enlightened me. "Why not make a headband?" she suggested. Yes! I had seen Chief Grape wear a bandeau while working in the field--the headband helped to keep his hair out of his eyes. But would he wear a sloppily knitted version? We'd worry about that later....  

Next, I stood before a small display of bamboo aiguilles, each with a colorful balled tip. Here again, color was a priority (anything to arouse the sensual pleasure of a newbie knitter--brightness counted!) ... I chose the bamboo needles with the bright turquoise-blue tips.

Bon, alright now, all that was left to do was to learn how to knit (!!!). Given that the shop was empty, Vanessa offered a lesson....

Holding those ultra-thin needles felt as awkward as writing with the opposite hand (by the way, was there a left-handed method for knitting? I would need one! Never mind, I would learn whichever way that Vanessa was prepared to teach!).

My fingers curled clumsily around the thin bamboo "needles", which looked more like "sticks" to me. Perhaps I needed a thicker pair? No, Vanessa assured, and I realized I was only putting off the next step. 

"Je vais monter les mailles,"my teacher explained, taking the needles from me. Monter les mailles? Knitting vocabulary was as foreign as the practice itself, I thought, watching as Vanessa "casted on". But wait -- I hadn't seen how she did that? How did she get those first few "mailles" to line up along the needle?

Vanessa explained that she preferred I didn't mimick her cast-on method -- a technique she learned from her Russian grandmother. There were, apparently, many techniques for tying on the first knot -- meantime, we needed to get going with the first row so that I could practice with the second.

I took the noodle-like needles (as slippery as angel hair!), inserting one of them beneath a loop at the end of the row that Vanessa had just made. But which way to poke the needle: from behind the loop... or just before it? Vanessa pointed to the starting place and, just like threading a needle, I watched as the bamboo stick hit... and missed its target. I tried again... and again. By the time I got the slippery needle through the catchy yarn I had a new dilemma: the needle tips being side by side, which direction to cross the second needle (in front or in back of the first)?

I crossed the needles according to Vanessa's gesturing and faced the next conundrum: looping the ball end of the string around the needle (but which way: across the front or the back?...). In trying to lasso the yarn around the needle I must have loosened my grip. I watched as the aiguilles and the carefully cast first row tumbled to the ground--along with a fountain of orange yarn. "I'm so sorry!" I said, quickly stooping to pick-up the needles and yarn. Maybe I was not cut-out to be a tricoteuse?

Vanessa helped me to find my place and I managed to lasso that needle. It was now necessary to tuck one of the needles through the loop -- so as to pull off the first stitch! With that, I felt a little giddy... until a customer strode in and stole my teacher's attention.

I stood, needles in midair, fingers cramped, waiting for instructions, when it eventually dawned on me that I might repeat the process on my own! ...I managed another stitch... carefully clamping down on the row lest I lose it!

When another customer filed into the shop I picked up the ball of yarn, carefully wrapping the loose end around it. I pushed the needles, along with the stitches, back into the needle case... and went to pay.

"Will you be able to continue on your own?" Vanessa was concerned. I assured her that I'd find a how-to video on YouTube. With that, she smiled with assurance. 

I told Vanessa that I would just take a few more photos of her town, before heading home.
"Be careful," she said, looking at my spur-of-the-moment purchase. This could get expensive!  

I did not immediately understand her comment, until I remembered the guardian angel, Vanessa, the one whose store I had wandered into earlier (and in which I was currently shopping!) hoping to return a favor. If I returned the favor, buying something from each shopkeeper each time I photographed a shopfront, then, yes indeed, my photo stops could get pricey! ...Then again, perhaps she meant that my new knitting hobby could get pricey? Either way, I had just had a priceless experience!

 

Le Coin Commentaires
Talk about the shopkeeper characters that you have met, or tell us about your own knitting adventures! Any knitting terms you would like to share here? Which is the best knitting project to begin with: a scarf, mittens? Feel free to share your favorite knitting blogs... Click here to leave a comment.

Related Stories: "The Last Peasant" (read more about Valentin, the Frenchman sitting on the bench...). Click here.

French Vocabulary

une noisette = espresso with a drop or "tear" of milk
un paysan (une paysanne) = peasant
l'addition (f) = bill, check
les aiguilles (f) = knitting needles
le vide-poches = a tidy: a shallow bowl or vase designed to receive the contents of one's poche, or pocket

Things I Learned From Knitting

Things I Learned from Knitting Whether I Wanted to Or Not: order the book here.

 

 

 

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Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"Your blog has added much richness to my days for many years. High time to acknowledge your generosity toward your readers, by offering some small support."
--Candy T., California


reve


Dog Days in Alsace (c) Kristin Espinasse

How many, like this little gal, dream of riding a scooter through France? Photo of "Ephie" (effy) taken last week in Colmar. Never miss a word or photo, receive word-a-day via email or by RSS updates (for Yahoo, AOL, Google and more).

un rêve (rev)

    : a dream

Trenet One way I learned French was by listening to the classics (check out songs by Charles Trenet). Share with us, here, your Best tips on learning French!

.
Example Sentence & Sound File:
 

J'ai fait un rêve. I had a dream. --Martin Luther King

*note: Jean-Marc tells me that "had", and not "have" is the popular French translation (at least it is the one that he is most familiar with), though MLK's exact words were I have a dream. How would you translate the famous quote? Your thoughts are welcome, here, in the comments box!

un mauvais rêve = a bad dream, nightmare
fais de beaux rêves! = sweet dreams!

Reverse Dictionary (notice how rêve is missing from these translations...)
Life is but a dream = la vie n'est qu'un songe
to be in a dream = être dans les nuages, dans la lune
everything went like a dream =  tout est allé comme sur des roulettes

 

"La Douce France" by Michael Wrenn


For those of us dyed-in-the-wool francophiles, it is a difficult question. Why do we like France so much?   The answer is more likely to come, not in sentence answers, but rather in paragraphs.  Many will start by telling about a French teacher long ago in high school who either inspired or tortured them, then there was a photo in a textbook or magazine, or a film that awakened something inside that beckoned us, not unlike the sirens of antiquity, to come to France.

But why France?, so many ask.   The French can be so difficult, so finicky, so hard to understand.   And yet, that becomes part of the challenge: not only to conquer this beautiful but beguiling language, but to understand and know the country and its people.   In the end, France dominates our hearts, our dreams, even our very souls.

Some of us came to France and immediately fell in love. After hearing more of Kristin Espinasse’s story, I find that we both share in that we came to France to study and were at first charmed, but had to go home and return again before we realized that la Douce France is where our hearts longed to be.

Kristin and many others like her have built their lives here.  They pursue their dreams, and have beautiful families.  Others, like me, have to be content with frequent trips, but I consider myself lucky to have a career where everyday I can teach young people about a land and a language that I love so much that I have devoted my entire career to its study.  It is my vocation and my avocation.  There is a special pleasure that comes when I am able to bring my students to France and share my love with them, and when I see that they, too, begin to love this special place, then I am a happy man....

Even with frequent trips to France, when I am back home in California I long and ache with all my heart to be in l’Hexagone. Especially in those darkening days of autumn and winter, when a trip to France seems like a lifetime away in far-off June, I find myself missing France.  It is in those times when Kristin Espinasse has become for me a tresor d’or.  Through her blog, she sends me a beautiful gift, three times a week, which allows me, for just a few minutes, to come back to my beloved France.  And as a petit bonus, she helps this old professeur as she manages nearly every time to find some word or expression that is either new to me or long-forgotten, despite all my education and work.

Not only does Kristin share her world with us, a world where languages and cultures intersect, but she opens her life to us and brings us in, sharing with her devoted readers her joys, fears, hopes, and dreams.  And by extension we share in the dreams of her beloved husband Jean-Marc, mother Jules, the children, the extended family and her friends.  Through her writing, we are drawn in, and we become part of this special world that she and Jean-Marc have created.  In viewing the comments from readers, it is immediately apparent that I am not alone in feeling this sense of a virtual family, all thanks to the efforts of this amazing writer.

As a reader for many years, I had longed to meet in person someone with whom I felt I shared so much.   When the offer came to come to Ste. Cecile, and to bring along my dear students, well there was no question, we were going.

That is how we found ourselves on a warm 4th of July afternoon, sitting under a mulberry tree, just feet from the vineyard as a few sprinkles fell and offered a little relief from the muggy temperature.  Jean-Marc showed us his old vines, and spoke to us about his winemaking; the students got to taste the fruit of his labor.  Kristin shared about the writing process while the youngsters intently listened to her anecdotes and observations of life in France.  Smokey and Braise vied for attention and calins from the students while the cigales sang and reminded us that we were surely in the South of France, not the Napa Valley.

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Here, two people were not only opening up their lovely home with its view of the graceful vineyard, le Mont Ventoux and les Dentelles de Montmirail, but sharing their very lives with those who just happened to be there on that particular day.

As our autocar pulled away and we headed down the driveway that was lined with the rosemary and lavender that Kristin had pruned, I had a few words to share with my students to sum up our visit.  I said to them, “You have just met two people who followed their dreams.  If you like what you saw, perhaps it is time for you to start to think big, to dream, and begin doing the work that will make that dream come true.  Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams...”

As you can tell from Kristin’s and my words, this was indeed a very special visit.  Even with both of us writing our hearts out, we can’t quite seem to capture the magic that was felt on that warm afternoon under the mulberry tree.  Perhaps the answer is in something that was said many years ago by one of my former students when I asked him why he enjoyed his trip.  I don’t really know, he responded, but there is just something special about France.

***
Michael Wrenn, Professeur de lettres
Saint Helena, California

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Kristin, Michael, and California students--the ones our teenagers (away at horse and basketball camp!) were so upset to have missed!

 

Le Coin Commentaires
Did you enjoy Michael Wrenn's account of his visit? Can you help to answer Michael's question: Why do we like France so much? Just what is it about "la Douce France" that has us longing to return to l'Héxagon? Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, in the comments box.



French Vocabulary

la Douce France
 = sweet (beloved) France; a common moniker made even more popular by a Charles Trenet song

l’Hexagone = a euphamism for France, based on the shape of its borders

un petit bonus = a little extra, an added bonus

un tresor d’or = a golden treasure

un professeur = a teacher, professor

les calins (m) = caresses, displays of affection or pets (of affection), in the case of animals

les cigales (f) = cicadas, a locust-like insect found in the South of France, known for its chirping sounds

un autocar = a tour bus

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             Thank you, Nicholas Howell, for these pictures!

 

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Words in a French Life: Lessons in Language and Love
"King of Spain": please don't miss the Gallic love story of how I met my husband... and mistook him for un roi. Read the introductory chapter to my book "Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language", click here. (The photo, above, was taken (by Jules) on Mother's Day, several weeks before our 17 year anniversary).

...and...

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Has anyone read this book? I am wondering whether or not to order it!: The Summer of Katya: A Novel

In the golden summer of 1914, Jean-Marc Montjean, recently graduated from medical school, comes to the small French village of Salies to assist the village physician. His first assignment is to treat the brother of a beautiful woman named Katya Treville. As he and her family become friendly, he realizes they are haunted by an old, dark secret . . . but he can’t help falling deeply in love with Katya. Read customer reviews, here.

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
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--Candy T., California


Cool Raoul

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"Post visit endorphins"  Read on, in today's story-column.

Note: The next word-a-day will go out on Monday! 
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Monaco villa apt Villa Royale apartment in Monaco. Rent this large studio with beautiful sea views located in the residential district of Beausoleil overlooking Monte Carlo. Click here.
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Cool Raoul (khool Rah oohl) expression

(How to translate this well known French *slang* expression , one that has obviously borrowed a bit of English slang ("cool"). Would you agree the one of the following correctly expresses the meaning (the meaning being "don't sweat it!")... so how about this translation for "Cool Raoul": Chill Jill! Relax Max! Zen Gwen!

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

"It is what it is"

Jitters & rain! A *tour bus* will pull up to our home/grape farm this afternoon... and its *47 students* will file into our front yard for a wine-tasting. I hope our visitors are not picturing the set of "A Good Year". Here at our vineyard, we'll need "Beverly Hillbillies" expectations to take off the pressure. We don't do manicured gardens, we don't do tasting rooms. We do have a rickety old picnic table (seats 10).

Need to take a spoonful of my own medicine: "warm affection, not perfection!" ...off, now, to find a feather-duster and a pooper-scooper...

The panicked words, above, were posted yesterday at Facebook. (Thank you to everyone who responded with calming thoughts, including my cousin Marc's no-nonsense "two cents": "Kristi you kick a$@!!  fear not just set em on the ground and get em intoxicated").

...And now for the awaited update I promised...

We did not survive the "friendly invasion".... Thrived is the word! We thrived from it! Composure was one of the many issues that arose in the leading-up-to this event (we'll get to logistics in a bit), for I had to keep running back and forth to the bathroom to towl dry the sweat from beneath my arms, this, before the audience arrived [imagine an audience coming to your own flea-bitten home! (OMG--The dogs! we'll get to them later...]). As for the nerve-wracked hostess and the talk she gave...

Like a child rushing home from a thrilling backwood adventure, words running ahead of her spinning legs -- so excited is she to recount every detail to anyone who'll listen -- this is how my own words spilled out in front of the high school students... and their collected ears were as receptive as a grandmother's or grandfather's as I, the thrice-their-age hostess shared the adventure that led me to France.

If I had only known how accepting the group would be, I might have skipped the pre-arrival jitters, which began three some days before the event when I was surprised by the response to a certain email confirmation that I had sent....

On Friday night it occured to me that I might contact the teacher who had written me last winter, and who I eventually insisted come for a visit. "But I will be travelling with my students..." Professor Wrenn explained. "Well, why not bring them too!" I insisted...

And then, last week, in an unusual organizational mood, I had the inspiration to confirm Professor Wrenn's visit. Ah, and wasn't he coming with a few students? it seemed to me.... Figuring I'd need to wash a couple of extra glasses, I sent off a confirmation message to inquire about how many extra goblets to set out.

What happened next was a brilliant test! Either throw in the towel (too late, I'd need it to soak up all that persperation) or simply join the audience and watch it unfold -- "it" being the latest act in this farcical vineyard comedy.... 

When Professor Wrenn wrote back, informing me that 47 students would be joining us, there was a moment of silence there, before my blurring computer screen. Next I shook my head in sincere appreciation and, looking up, I applauded (somewhat sarcastically) the powers that be. This was just another test, wasn't it, Lord? Obviously there are still a lot of kinks to work out in little 'ol meaning-well me. The fact remains: It is one thing to mean well, but action is proof of the heart's intent

That night I tossed and turned. In my dreams troops of students marched up the driveway...

The next night's dreams had the same students overcoming the front gate! They were now looking for seating. Only where? We did not have 47 seats in my dream... not even in reality!

When I wasn't dreaming, I was fretting about logistics: just where will we put everyone if it rains? 

"Under the mulberry tree," was Jean-Marc's non-chalant answer.
"Only if we squeezed together like sardines could we fit under that mere seedling!" Now I was exaggerating, our tree was older than that; still, its leafy branches might cover 25 heads, max. (Note: while the scorching sun was initially an issue--now it was rain that threatened!)

When I wasn't fretting about logistics, I wondered about a few practical points, such as les toilettes! We had one of these "seats" available for guests....

"They can just 'go' behind the grape vines!" Jean-Marc offered another of his outrageously improbable solutions. 
"These are Americans!" I reminded him, as if his own countrymen were "The Barbarians". 

And speaking about going to pot, what about our pot-holed lawn? I imagined so many sprained ankles as students squeezed their way past the bottlenecked courtyard and into our scorched-grass garden.

And the dogs! Our goldens were supposed to be the fluffy 'welcome committee', offering up a sweet-scented bienvenue to our visitors.... As it happened the dogs had run off the night before... only to return one hour before the guests arrival. And what poor dead river rat had they rubbed all over their furry bodies this time? What to do with the stinky, style-cramping dogs?!!!

It was all too late now. The jig was up. One way or another, the tour bus was arriving. It was showtime minus 58 minutes when, standing there with a wet head, I rooted through the medicine cabinet for toothpaste and a comb. Nada. Zip. Scratch. Rien! Our own kids, who had left for camp, had swiped them! Chewing on the bristles of my toothbrush, hoping to capture the essence of mint, I ran my fingers through my hair. I had to give my husband credit - he certainly wasn't worried about appearances -- in fact just where was he this many minutes before he was to appear, wine-bottles in hand, and launch into his welcoming speech? 

The moment passed.... as had all the uncertain moments before it.

And then, there they were, filing in smoothly to the courtyard, over to the mulberry tree, where each student took a mismached seat.... (scavengered seats taken from every kitchen nook and every garden cranny). 

And, there they were, listening to Jean-Marc, listening to me. And there was the rain, falling down softly, hitting the leaves of the mulberry tree. Where was the chaos? Where were the ankle sprains? Where was the kilometer-long line to kitchen bathroom?

Looking over the scene, more than order, there was peace. And when I glanced over to Professor Wrenn, seated in his wheelchair at the foot of the steps, I saw each individual raindrop falling over him, like pennies from heaven. Rich droplets mirroring the moment. The weather didn't seem to bother our teacher. In his clear eyes I saw that it was, afterall, a beautiful day.

***

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Um... logistics!

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Jean-Marc, aka "Chief Grape" is a natural!

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Professor Wrenn, after the rain, and students.

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P.S.: (a bit off topic but...) I forgot to wish everyone a Happy 4th! HAPPY 4TH!!!! In return students wished Chief Grape and me "Happy Anniversary" (celebrated 17 years married on the 4th!)
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Postnote: so much more to say about Mr Wrenn's class visit. So many names to mention (I only managed to scribble down the name of one of the student photographers: thank you Max Parriott! I hope to add in the names to the other picture-takers. Where to end this rapid recounting of yesterday's meet-up? How about with Merci beaucoup to the students from St. Helena High, in Napa Valley. It's was such a joy to spend time with you.

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Le Coin Commentaires
I'm afraid I could not get in every detail of this memorable visit, but I hope you enjoyed the story of our first tour bus visit! To leave a comment, click here.

*** 

Meet-up! If, by great chance, you happen to be near Colmar, France on Thursday, please join Jean-Marc and me for dinner! Click here for more info.


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As soon as the students and the chaperones left, we missed them! "Monsieur Wrenn," Jean-Marc said, "est vraiment sympa!"
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Portes tordues Les Portes Tordues : The scariest way to learn French!

"Five Quarters of the Orange" by Joanne Harris


Has anybody read Five Quarters of the Orange? Would you recommend it?

"When Framboise Simon returns to a small village on the banks of the Loire, the locals do not recognize her as the daughter of the infamous woman they hold responsible for a tragedy during the German occupation years ago. But the past and present are inextricably entwined, particularly in a scrapbook of recipes and memories that Framboise has inherited from her mother. And soon Framboise will realize that the journal also contains the key to the tragedy that indelibly marked that summer of her ninth year. . . ."  See the reviews and order a copy here.

 

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"Your blog has added much richness to my days for many years. High time to acknowledge your generosity toward your readers, by offering some small support."
--Candy T., California


se donner de la peine pour faire quelque chose

Fennel field (c) Kristin Espinasse
Cabanon and field of fennel near the town of Orange. Please note: the next word goes out on Tuesday!

se donner de la peine pour faire quelque chose

     : to go to a lot of trouble to do something

 Il s'est donné beaucoup de peine pour réussir. He went to a lot of trouble to succeed.

Audio file will return on Tuesday, with the next post.

Check out the latest prices for Kindle, click here and consider ordering today! Your purchase helps support this free language journal. Merci beaucoup!

 

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Writing Lesson Number 1: Show up at the Page, Step out of God's way

Three times each week it is the same effrayant feeling. Today it was no different. Lying there asleep in bed I gradually gained consciousness. My eyes were already open when I found myself gazing at my husband's bare back. There were his deep scars (post melanoma), there was his bent hair, or "pillow head", there was that poetic point at which the curve of his torso meets the curve of his hip.

It is the most delicious part of the day, those fleeting few seconds of quiet observation--before thought ticks in, dispersing the peaceful moment. And they are the most nerve-racking, those seconds that follow.... when apprehension arrives. I turn over and peer out the porte-fenêtre, as if by shifting the body a shift in perspective will follow.

The position of the morning light falling, just so, on the grape vines, this is my alarm clock. I know it is 6:30 a.m. But the question remains: Quel jour est-il?: Saturday?... Sunday? Around this time my husband's alarm chimes in, with a hint... 

Then it hits me and there I feel it, beating at the walls of the soul's chamber! A field of butterflies begin to flap wildly and take flight. I am carried forth, with the papillons, to the following, undeniable conclusion: this is not a day of rest.... this is not a day of repos....

THIS IS STORY-WRITING DAY!!!!

The pressure is on! As a self-appointed écrivaine (when no one else is hiring, you've got to hire yourself!) with a self-appointed deadline (11 a.m. each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)  there is the alarming realization that I now have 4 hours and 26 minutes to create une édition, one that will be automatically pulled from this blog's server and delivered to readers inboxes at around 10:59 a.m.! 

This is where faith comes in. After the initial panic (What to write? What-to-write?!-What-to-write?!-What-to-write?!) there is nothing left to do but to work. The words will come....
 
Panic subsides as I grasp at a few scraps or impressions, letting them continue to bubble up to the surface of memory. But how will the broken bits and fleeting pieces add up to a meaningful story? Temptation comes haunting--the temptation to throw in le torchon and just give up. Çela ne vaut pas la peine! 

That is when I am reminded that it is all beyond me; I need only to let go... and let the story set itself free. I am no more than the fingers through which the words will flow. That is my only job. Heaven knows.

 

 Le Coin Commentaires
What are your first thoughts each morning? Are you apprehensive or excited for the new day? Do you hit the snooze button or do you bound out of bed each morning? And what about self-imposed deadlines--do you have those too and do they help you to produce? Click here to leave a comment.

 

Do you want to write stories? Books? You can! Read and be inspired by "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life". Buy the paperback or download the Kindle edition.


French Vocabulary

effrayant,e = frightening

la porte-fenêtre = French window

Quel jour est-il? = What day is it?

le papillon = butterfly (also, a fickle person)

le repos = rest

un écrivain, une écrivaine = a writer

une édition = (newsletter) edition

le torchon = (dish)towel

Çela ne vaut pas la peine! = It's just not worth it!


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Thank you for visiting our sponsors!

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The next time you are asked to conjure up a peaceful image... try this one! Do you see the sunflowers in the far right corner? 

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Amy Plum's book "Die For Me"
Summer reading: New, in fiction--and in based in Paris! "Die For Me" by Amy Plum. In the City of Lights, two star-crossed lovers battle a fate that is destined to tear them apart again and again for eternity. When Kate Mercier's parents die in a tragic car accident, she leaves her life--and memories--behind to live with her grandparents in Paris. For Kate, the only way to survive her pain is escaping into the world of books and Parisian art. Until she meets Vincent.... Click here to buy the paperback or buy the Kindle edition

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The rocks on top of the roof help hold the tiles down when the Mistral wind blows! All photos taken with this handy pocket camera.

Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
♥ Send $10    
  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"Your blog has added much richness to my days for many years. High time to acknowledge your generosity toward your readers, by offering some small support."
--Candy T., California