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Entries from September 2013

bonne lecture + a newly-released memoir that will satisfy your hunger for France (and maybe even andouillette)

stone cottage and window shutters on shaded patio in Provence. Manicured garden with euphorbia and pruned hedges (c) Ann Mah for www.french-word-a-day.com
Today's story and photos are by Ann Mah, whose Paris memoir is out now! If you love France, language, and food, you will appreciate Mastering the Art of French Eating! Wishing you 'bonne lecture.'

bonne lecture (bown-leh-ktewr)

    : happy reading, enjoy the story or article or paper

Audio File/Example Sentance: Download MP3 or Wav file

En vous souhaitant bonne lecture.Wishing you happy reading.

Exercises in French Phonics
 - read this book and learn the proper way to pronounce French. Buy it here

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

While putting together today's guest post, I suddenly realized the story column did not have a title. Normally this wouldn't be a problem--except today's missive was not written by me. Que faire? What to do? No time to contact Ann Mah, the author of the essay.

Then it dawned on me: I'm the editor of this blog. It's my job to title the articles, you nincompoop, or espèce d'andouille!

Speaking of andouille (also a topic in Ann's book), I was suddenly weak-stomached by my newfound authority as namer-of-another's-opus. What if I blew it? Ended up dishonoring my writer with a cheesy or flippant title? I mean, it's one thing to slap a title above your own essay, but quite another to sum up the thoughtful words of another. 

I reread Ann's tender remembrance, below, about her vacation in Provence, when something came to mind: "Ode to an Endearing Stone Cottage in Provence..." 

....Only, when I looked up the word "ode," I learned it means "poem." Ah, dommage! Too bad! Unless... Could an essay be a poem?

I paused to consider how Ann's story reminded me of the chapters in her douce, or sweet-hearted memoir. "Ode" is exactly how Ann's writing comes across to me.  After all, an ode, according to Merriam-Webster, is "a poem in which a person expresses a strong feeling of love or respect for someone or something."

Ann's book is bubbling over with tenderness for a country she has always dreamed of living in. One day when her husband, a diplomat, is assigned to Paris, she gets the chance to move to the City of Light... only, Ann's dream-come-true has a bittersweet twist--one that will render her stay in France that much richer, that much more meaningful and memorable. As virtual travelers alongside Ann, we reap the very same rewards reading her memoir, and we are left with mouths watering for France and its culinary treasures.   

What a treat to have Ann with us here today! More than an excerpt from her book, she has written an extra for us. Wishing you bonne lecture as you read Ann's offering, below. 

 

Ode to an Endearing Stone Cottage in Provence--and to La Soupe au Pistou!
by Ann Mah 

The first time I saw the house, I was delirious with jet lag. I had arrived in Paris from Boston at dawn and taken the high-speed train from the airport, my head bobbing heavily as I struggled against sleep. At Avignon, the hot wind hit me like the blast of a hair dryer, sweeping along the quai, billowing against my wrinkled clothes. In the station, I found my friends – newly arrived from London – and a rental car, and we sped along country roads, squinting against the blazing sun, past olive groves and apricot orchards. We climbed a hill towards a pretty, pink, proud village, circled a roundabout, crept past shops shut against the heat of the afternoon, parked the car next to a fig tree. The house was covered in ivy, an unassuming stone cottage at the edge of town. But when the door creaked open, I smelled lavender and I knew I was in Provence.

lavender garden and stone bench and terrace in Provence www.french-word-a-day.com


The house was filled with charming nooks, soft couches where I longed to tuck myself away with a good book, a stone basin filled with dried lavender blossoms, rough sisal carpets on the floors, linen curtains softening the windows, the occasional scorpion scuttling across thickly plastered walls. But the true magic lay beyond the kitchen door, in the garden. When I stepped outside, I fell – that is, I tumbled under a spell of fig trees and umbrella pines, wild mint and thyme sprouting from rocky corners, lavender plants clipped into balls, terraces tamed into polished wilderness, the scent of savage herbs, and sun-warmed pine needles, and a hint of wood smoke.

When I think back to that vacation, I can’t remember exactly how we spent the languid days. Eventually my husband arrived, and I do recall late-afternoon swims in the pool, ice cubes in rosé, toasts spread with olive tapenade. And trips to the open market, of course, wicker basket in hand. The produce was so bright, so soft-skinned and bursting with flavor. I bought speckled shell beans, fragrant pots of tiny-leafed basil, a liter of golden olive oil. But even as I cooked these things, I wondered how a real Provençal housewife would prepare them.

We went back to the house the next year, and the next, and the next – for six years in a row – and each time I fell a little more in love with the garden, the market, the village, the soft air of Provence. By the second year, I learned about soupe au pistou – a summer soup filled with shell beans and courgettes, laced with olive oil and a fragrant basil pesto – but tasting it eluded me. Soupe au pistou, someone told me, was eaten at home, not in restaurants, a recipe prepared by Granny’s loving, patient hands.

The culinary and travel memoir "Mastering the Art of French Eating : Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris" by Ann MahI thought I would never learn how to make authentic soupe au pistou. But then, I started researching a book about French cuisine, diving into the history of regional specialties. On my annual trip to Provence, a group of local ladies invited me to help cook soupe au pistou for the village fête – for a crowd of 200 – and I eagerly joined them at 5am, with my chopping board and vegetable peeler in hand. My adventures with these formidable women – excellent cooks all of them – are recounted in my book, Mastering the Art of French Eating – but I will say here that it was a wonderful experience, albeit mildly terrifying.


What I didn’t know then was that the summer I finally discovered soupe au pistou would be my last in the house with the magical garden. A few months after our vacation, the owner put it on the market and the next summer we planned a holiday somewhere else. But I still think of the proud, pink village on the hill, the hot breezes and umbrella pines, the feeling of peach juice dripping down my chin. I still miss the long, lazy afternoons, the sound of the neighbor’s lawnmower punctuating a nap, the smell of lavender tumbling in on a breeze. But the truth is, I’m hesitant to go back to Provence, to stay in another house, for fear the spell will be broken. Instead, I buy big bunches of basil in my local farmer’s market, and I cook soupe au pistou again and again, and I dream.

*    *    *

serving of La Soupe au Pistou, plated; www.french-word-a-day.com
Thank you, Ann, for this endearing portrait of a place close to our hearts! Reading your stories reminds us just what it is that draws us to France. 

 To comment on Ann's article, please click here. 

Mastering the Art of French eating is available in hardcover here, or in ebook here

PortraitAnn Mah is a journalist and the author of the novel, Kitchen Chinese. Ann was awarded a James Beard Foundation culinary scholarship in 2005 and her articles about food, travel, fashion, style, and the arts have appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, The Huffington Post, the International Herald Tribune, Washingtonian magazine, and the South China Morning Post, among other publications. 

The wife of a U.S. diplomat, Mah lives in New York City. For more information, please visit www.annmah.net.

 

You can order your copy here, too:

*Amazon 
*Barnes and Noble
*Books-A-Million
*Indiebound
*iTunes

"Whether you’re French or Francophile, a long-time connoisseur of French food or someone who’s just figuring out the difference between frites and frangipane, feasting through France with Ann Mah is a delicious adventure. Ann’s writing is lovely, her curiosity boundless and her good taste assured. Spending time with her in Mastering the Art of French Eating is a treat."
—Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table and owner of Beurre & Sel Cookies

"Ann Mah dishes up a welcoming concoction, a good dose of French history, a personal, vibrant, enthusiastic picture of life in a country she adores, without apology. I am hungry already!"
—Patricia Wells, author of The Food Lover's Guide to Paris and Simply Truffles

"Excellent ingredients, carefully prepared and very elegantly served. A really tasty book."
—Peter Mayle, author of The Marseille Caper and A Year in Provence

*    *    *

Determined to improve your French so that you may travel to France and taste the different regions? Check out these helpful language-learning tips submitted by our generous community at French Word-A-Day:

When you purchase an item at Amazon.com using any of the links, below, you help to support this free language journal.

 Bescherelle conjugation guide.    Capture plein écran 16052011 092531"This is without a doubt the definitive guide to conjugation of French verbs... an indispensible reference and not overwhelming for beginning students." Order it here.--M. Savoir (Amazon reviewer)

If you know a friend who would enjoy French Word-A-Day, thank you for forwarding this post. The sign-up form to receive the free French language/lifestyle newsletter is 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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"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


reconfort: a farewell to a reader with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease

Melanie Olsen
Bon voyage, chère Mélo. If you only knew how much you meant to me--je te garderai dans mon coeur pour toujours.


Our dear friend and fellow Francophile, Mélanie, passed away September 23rd after surviving 18 years with the neurodegenerative disease known as ALS. Melanie will be honored in a ceremony on Monday. In case, like me, you struggle to find words to comfort a family in mourning here below is some encouragement--follow your heart.

le réconfort (ray-cohn-for)

    : comfort, reassurance

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc Download MP3 or Wav file

L’étiquette funéraire est simple; écoutez votre coeur. Observez ceux et celles laissés dans le deuil et offrez votre soutien et réconfort avec des paroles, des mots et des gestes du cœur pour témoigner de votre amour, respect ou sympathie. 
    Funeral etiquette is simple: listen to your heart. Observe those who are mourning and offer support and comfort with paroles, words, or heartfelt gestures to show your love, respect, and sympathy.  -from Etiquette Julie, in Quoi dire ou faire en temps de deuil "What to do or Say in time of Mourning" 

Mas de la PerdrixProvence Villa Rental Luberon luxury home; 4 bedrooms, 5 baths; gourmet kitchen, covered terrace & pool. Views of Roussillon. Click here.  

 

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

Yesterday morning I woke up with fresh hope. It may have been a result of the strange and cathartic moment from the day before, when my husband surprised me on our anniversary. The outpouring of tears, and the intense emotion accompanying it, had felt, mysteriously, like mourning--and yet it was one of the happiest moments of our married life.

The release left me with a clear and positive mind as I sat down to another day of work as a self-appointed journalist. I've never managed to land a gig at the New York Times and publishing houses aren't exactly beating down my door, but one never knows when years of practice will pay off again!

The thought suddenly hit me: maybe today good news will come my way? In the eleven years since fueling this online journal, I've received a handful of life-changing propositions in response to it. There was the day when I clicked open my inbox and discovered an email from Simon and Schuster (a publishing contract followed!), then the chance to speak at the historical Parisian bookshop Shakespeare and Company, and recently, I was invited to join the editorial team at France Today magazine: they offered me the backpage column "Le Dernier Mot"! 

And who knew what could come next, when, against all doubts and the condemning voices in your head, you continued to follow your dreams? But first things first--no matter the hurdles overcome, you've gotta continue to do the work. And so, with a rare peace, I settled into another session of writing. At the end of the day, I checked my inbox. And there I discovered one of those life-changing, heart-thumping letters--only not the kind I had hoped for.

The email's subject line read "A farewell from Melanie"....

Mélanie! No......... I sat there with my hand clamped over my mouth. The news was so unexpected, and yet.... she had already beaten the odds by 16 years--living almost two decades with a debilitating disease.

*    *    *

I met Melanie in 2008 through my online blog, French Word-A-Day. Her first note to me came after a serendipitous coincidence (were the previous two words an oxymoron? Melanie would know--she was so curious and had a love of language! In fact, she had been looking up the word "insouciance" when--poof!--my mot-du-jour newsletter appeared in her inbox). The word of the day was souci

Dear Kristin, I have been intending for quite some time to tell you how much I enjoy receiving your email.  Many things you’ve written have struck a common cord with me, but when I saw that you had posted the word souci, I knew I could put it off no longer.

Melanie added, almost as a post note, a modest word about herself:

Thank you for all you do!  I love escaping to Provence through your adventures. I now have ALS or Motor Neuron Disease so typing takes time and energy but one day soon I hope to send you a message about my experience in Provence and other connections I have had to what you have written

I had goosebumps reading Melanie's letter and immediately looked up ALS, learning the heartbreaking reality of a horrible illness also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Most people die within two years of coming down with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

There began a tender correspondence. One hundred and two precious exchanges (including the comments Melanie left at my blog). Piecing together her letters and friending Melanie on Facebook, I learned a little, each time, about this beautiful, athletic, and funloving character who one day, at the age of 30, had the wind knocked right out of her sails.

In 1995 on returning from France--where she had passed the most exhilarating and inspiring time of her life--Melanie was diagnosed with motor neuron disease.

It was difficult to believe, even for the friends she would later meet. Poring over her Facebook photos, taken before she learned the news, I witnessed her joy via the scenes of her European adventure: there was Melanie, kicking up her boots on the dance floor, and there she was in Cannes, all dolled up (I wrote to her asking if she modeled, but she quickly downplayed her God-given beauty: "You are too kind!" she wrote, immediately changing the subject).

Melanie in Cannes, France
If I were a talent scout, I'd have snapped up this beauty, illico -- in no time at all!



There were photos of Melanie hiking in Porquerolles, clinking champagne flutes in Venice, and--was that a yacht she was on? I was fascinated by her adventures, lived with verve and a very sweet heart....

Melanie in Monte Carlo
Melanie told me that she loved hearts--collected them (notice the belt), but she admitted that her illness prevented her from sharing her life with someone. I pictured her in her wheel chair, years after this photo was taken. At the time she had no idea that on her return she would be diagnosed with an incurable disease. But her idealism, which she hinted at in one of her letters, had her beating the odds. More than the 2 years that ALS patients are given, Melanie lived 18 years with ALS.



As I got to know Melanie through her photos and brief notes, I could not help but imagine that once upon a time--with a Eurail pass and backpacks on our backs--we would have made wonderful complices, or partners in crime! She'd be the daring one, and I'd gladly tag along--sharing her zest for life, my own world brightened by her shining light.

"I think we have a lot in common," Melanie said one day, responding to one of my blog stories. What a compliment! The validation that we would have indeed been giggly complices in France--where we would have pinched ourselves again and again, unbelieving of our lucky stars that have sent us there, delighted me.

PORQUEROLLES France, Mehari car, Kristin (c) french-word-a-day.com
Moi--Kristin. Melanie's would-be accomplice--only pretending to be as adventurous as she!



 But such correspondence--indeed, such dreams--were limited. The truth was, owing to an illness that robbed her of her strength to eat or even type, Melanie grew weaker by the day. She had, so far, beat the odds--having suffered 16-years from the disease, though she never complained but remained a smiling inspiration to all who knew her. Yet I sensed moments when her bravery waned. Melanie once responded to a post I wrote, "Brebis", about a lonely shepherd. The last lines of the story moved her:

...Little did the berger know—and little do we all know—that out there, somewhere, someone is trying to comfort us without our even knowing....

"Your last thought was so touching," wrote Melanie, in the comments section of my blog. She went on to admit, "It warms my heart to think that it is so."

I, too, find comfort in the thought that out there, somewhere, someone is trying to comfort us, without our even knowing. And those lines, intended for my brave friend, were the closest I ever came to telling Melanie how much I thought of her and her bravery.

Around 2011, Melanie could no longer swallow. One day, in 2012, she wrote in, responding to this post on GMOs, encouraging me to continue to eat healthfully--no genetically modified foods! Melanie then shared with me her fondness for cuisine and how she had loved living in Chicago and DC, "both great cities for culinary diversity." She went on to say that in the past two years, because of her condition, she could no longer eat whole foods. Melanie had gracefully accepted yet another new fate: Ensure.

And yet, despite the liquid nourishment that she now received, she continued to enjoy reading about food--even her inner foodie (I loved it when she called herself this--a foodie!) could not be brought down by a heartless disease. She would have, with sincerity, wished all gourmands bon appetit! And Melanie's message was clear: we must all continue to enjoy life's bounty.

In our 5 year virtual friendship, Melanie encouraged me to continue to write freely and with an open heart and, little did she know, she carried me through my bout with skin cancer.

"Bon courage," she wrote, after a particularly invasive operation on my forehead. But how could I be anything but grateful, compared to my friend, who probably could not even speak (I never had the chance to hear her voice). Melanie would have traded places with me in an instant, wearing my dreaded scar like a rock star!  (On second thought, Melanie would not have traded places with anybody, but she bravely endured her cross.)

As I sat there with my hand cupped over my mouth, reading the farewell message sent from Melanie's family and remembering our delicate friendship (I never managed to tell Melanie just how much I loved her. I never did dare say Please, tell me all of your fears--lean on me! No, I was too afraid of somehow putting my foot in my mouth. I kept thinking my words might come off as pitying. So we wrote about other things, including coincidence--something that fascinated Melanie.

Coincidence! Yes!.... I remembered back to my cathartic moment at the lunch table, when my outpouring of tears felt strangely like mourning. And the heaving that accompanied them... and the bittersweat sadness that my happiness felt like... 

Jean-Marc! I said. (My husband sat beside me as I learned the news of Melanie.) "Jean-Marc! Remember when we were sitting at the table, just before I began to cry... just moments before I felt this sharp tug in my left hand." I looked at my palm, there, beside my thumb--where an insistant pinching caught all of my attention....  Pinch, pinch pinch. Pinch, pinch, pinch! I had thought it was a muscle spasm, but, looking down at my hand, I saw nothing...

But, at that very moment, before even knowing she had passed away, I thought of Melanie

*    *    *

I can see us now, together in France, me and my would-be complice. France, the only other place besides Heaven, that we'd rather be. The only place that we'd once again pinch ourselves on arriving. Can you believe it? Pinch, pinch, pinch--I'm here! 

I look down at my hand, amazed. I "heard" you, Mélanie! I heard you! I'm shaking now, those tears are back, rolling down my face drowning my keyboard. I believe. I believe. Bless your heart, thank you, Melanie--I believe!

*    *    * 

Melanie
One of my favorite pictures of Melanie. Thank you Wendy, Melanie's sister, for permission to post these photos. Our hearts go out to Melanie's dear family.


 To comment, please click here.


Walk to defeat ALS
- each September Melanie encouraged friends and family to support the ongoing search for a cure for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Her last wish was that in lieu of flowers at her memorial, donations be made to a cause she fought for with grace and determination. The week before she died I received this last message from Mélo in my inbox.

It must be September because I am sending out my letter for the Walk to Defeat ALS. The ALS Association funds vital research for possible treatments and a cure. The money raised also provides for patient services like assistive technology, guidance from an amazing staff, and equipment loan closet which have been so helpful to me all along from the time I was diagnosed to now, 18 years later.  Here are some numbers: Approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year. It is estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans may have the disease at any given time. Most patients survive only 2-5 years.   Please make a donation to help support all that the ALS Association does. Thank you so very much!!!


Melanie once wrote to me, pointing out another thing we had in common: the love of the famous prayer by St. Francis of Assisi. 

"Most mornings, as I lay in bed waiting for my help," she shared, "I say the prayer by Saint Francis of Assisi. I was thrilled when you posted it in French and immediately memorized it and now recite it en francais."

This is for you, chère Mélo:

St. Francis of Assisi's Prayer
Audio File: (Hear 16-year-old, Jackie, recite the poem below in French: Download MP3 Prayer-st-francis or Download Wav file

Seigneur, faites de moi un instrument de votre paix.
Là où il y a de la haine, que je mette l'amour.
Là où il y a l'offense, que je mette le pardon.
Là où il y a la discorde, que je mette l'union.
Là où il y a l'erreur, que je mette la vérité.
Là où il y a le doute, que je mette la foi.
Là où il y a le désespoir, que je mette l'espérance.
Là où il y a les ténèbres, que je mette votre lumière.
Là où il y a la tristesse, que je mette la joie.

Ô Maître, que je ne cherche pas tant à être consolé qu'à consoler, à être compris qu'à comprendre, à être aimé qu'à aimer, car c'est en donnant qu'on reçoit, c'est en s'oubliant qu'on trouve, c'est en pardonnant qu'on est pardonné, c'est en mourant qu'on ressuscite à l'éternelle vie.


                              *     *     *
  Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
  Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
  Where there is injury, let me sow pardon;
  Where there is discord, let me sow harmony;
  Where there is error, let me sow truth;
  Where there is doubt, let me sow faith;
  Where there is despair, let me sow hope;
  Where there is darkness, let me sow light;
  And where there is sadness, let me sow joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in forgetting ourselves that we find, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. 

To comment on this post, click here. Thanks for forwarding this edition, helping to get the word out about ALS. It's time for a cure!

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


"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


tenir la route

Jean-Marc reading "Mastering the Art of French Eating" by Ann Mah (c) Kristin Espinasse French-Word-A-Day.com
I still can't believe this hunka hunka burning love (as one of my endearing readers calls Jean-Marc), yes I couldn't believe it then and now, 23-years later... I still can't believe he loves me. Happy anniversary, Baby. We celebrated our 19-year- wedding anniversary (the date we exchanged religious vows), on Sept 24th.

Jean-Marc is reading "Mastering the Art of French Eating," by Ann Mah. Highly recommended! Order your copy here and enjoy the 5-star reviews. More about this entertaining and insightful book on France and food, very soon...

tenir la route (teuh-neer-lah-root)

    : to stay the course

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or Wave File

Hier on a célébré 19 ans de mariage. Notre fille nous a payé un compliment: Votre couple, elle a dit, a bien tenu la route. Yesterday we celebrated 19 years of marriage. Our daughter paid us a compliment: Your relationship, she said, has stayed the course. 

To comment on this word entry, or to add to it, click here

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

At a neatly-dressed table overlooking the sea, our celebratory lunch was coming to a disappointing ending. But it was hard to be annoyed at the waiter, whose gentle smile had been so kind and welcoming. I watched as he struggled to keep up with the tables during the lunch rush, and felt the growing anxiety he himself might be feeling. It seemed at any moment the new arrivals, to our left, would stand up and toss their napkins on the table, before leaving in disgust.

I had the urge to whisper to the impatient newcomers, "The waiter is not ignoring you, he is just a little overwhelmed at the moment." Instead, I minded my own business. Let life take its course has become my meditation lately. The idea is not to meddle in God's grand plan. Good things and bad things happen. It is how we steady ourselves that matters. We have simply to trust and to love.

Jean-Marc was growing weary of the wait, too. The stray cats had been a good distraction, but after watching the furry interlopers take turns patrolling beneath the tables for fallen scraps, my husband heaved a sigh of impatience. When could we finally order a cup of coffee? I could read his mind as his eyes scanned the restaurant's terrace for our waiter.

Oh no. I hoped he wouldn't voice the complaint or say something sarcastic. Not after the friendly exchanges we'd had with the waiter. But the truth was, I was losing my patience too. 

"You need to grab him when he comes by..." I hinted, the curt tone in my voice giving away my own exasperation. Such "suggestions" were the story of our married life. On the one hand I complained about my husband's nerve, on the other it was I who sometimes pushed him to the front lines of confrontation. Have you heard back from the plumber? Is the telephone company going to charge us for that? Really? 

I sank down a little in my seat. That everyday life could be an ongoing war was disheartening. That a moment of ingratitude could give way to a restless impatience, was even more humbling. How fortunate we are--and yet our hearts are as fragile as anyone's. These thoughts come to me after the fact. After I've melted into a pool of tears there at the bustling restaurant.

The sequence of events happened quickly. One minute we were waiting for the waiter, the next I was worrying about the impatient newcomers to our left... then the strained look on my husband's face... and the homeless cats.... 

And next I knew the waiter appeared, bearing a little plate of cake. I stared at the single candle on top, its flame already blown out by the breeze, despite the waiter's efforts to shield it. I noticed the spray of whipped cream that outlined the surprise cake. The sweetness hit me, suddenly, and the tears rushed up. 

"Thank you!" I squeeked, and it was all I could do to keep my eyes dry until the waiter left, resuming his sprint from one table to the next.

By the time I looked over at my husband, the barrage had opened and my face was flooded with tears. Jean-Marc's thoughtful gesture had pushed me over the edge of my own edginess. It was just a little piece of cake, but it might as well have been a shimmering engagement ring (and if it were, I suddenly knew, deep down, that I would marry him all over again today on our 19th wedding anniversary).

How thoughtful he is! Try as I might, I could not stent the flow of tears. Next came the runny nose and then the heaving.  I could not explain the reaction but, by all appearances, it looked as though I was mourning--instead of showing gratitude for the anniversary cake he had arranged to be delivered to me there at the table. 

"I can't explain..." I said to Jean-Marc whose eyes never left mine. (I wished they would, for his concentration only intensified my emotion, causing another wave or downpour of tears.)

"It's just that ...." I took a deep breath and finish my sentence, "On a quand même une très belle histoire..." It was true, we had, after all, a pretty damn good love story. 

***

Later, our daughter Jackie managed to put to words what I could not. On showing her the pictures from our anniversary lunch, and sharing with her my teary reaction, she offered: "Votre couple a bien tenu la route!"  Yes, our couple has stayed the course--at times an obstacle course. But we have held on for the ride.

I can't help but make a small parallel, now, when I think about those scraggly stray cats at the restaurant. How cavalier they seemed, as they strutted beneath the tables, but when so much as a strand of grated cheese fell to the ground, they lost all notion of ego or pretense and devoured the fallen scrap

"I'm not such a toughy, after all," I said to Jean-Marc as I wiped the tears from my face back at the table. I'm not sure he fully realizes that when push comes to shove in our marriage, rather than show my sadness, the well of tears inside of me freezes into a giant shield.

After the avowal, I quickly looked away to recompose. Wrung out from the tears, I watched those proud cats, who strutted to a stop, only to scramble when a sliver of sustenance fell from the sky above. Love is sometimes the same way, appearing in scraps. And suddenly, strutting along through life, tough as nails, we are dumbstruck by our hunger.

To comment on this story, click here.

 

 Bescherelle conjugation guide.     Capture plein écran 16052011 092531"This is without a doubt the definitive guide to conjugation of French verbs... an indispensible reference and not overwhelming for beginning students." Order it here.--M. Savoir (Amazon reviewer)

 

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
Jean-Marc bought two round trip ticket to Sardinia for 68 euros. We stayed three nights at a B&B, near Pula. (Lodging was 60 euros per night and the 3 day rental car was 100 euros... just in case you are looking for something do do when in the South of France--visit a nearby island!)

We also celebrated this occasion back in July, when we remembered our civil ceremony.  See a steamy picture of that celebration, here.

 

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
Other reasons to visit Sardinia.... the flowers are so pretty this time of year...

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
If you love bikes you'll see plenty...

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
The locals sells their modest harvests....

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
Already mentioned the bikes, but they're worth another line....

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
And if you like classic motos -- plenty of those!

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
Personally, I'm a sucker for door curtains and their flirty ruffles! Love it when the tiles peek out.

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
Also charming are the brochettes of Italians chatting next to the little trucks called "Apes" ("bees", in Italian).

Sheep in Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse french-word-a-day.com
I used to love to gaze at the sheep. Nowadays, I love to look for the shepherd!

Window shutters in Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
Do these shutters speak to you, too? They come in all colors and sizes, but "natural" like this is fine by me.

Church in Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse
Your are always celebrating your anniversary, Jackie sighs. I can understand her confusion. Our civil and religious marriage ceremonies being months apart, there is the temptation to mark the occasion when it arises in July... and again in September. 

To comment on this edition, click here. Thanks for forwarding Frencthis post to someone who might enjoy it or relate to it.

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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  ♥ Send $25    
    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


How to say zipper + recycle or repair your shoes! + Comps-sur-Artuby

Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-Word-A-Day.com
A cobbled path leading to church in the village of Comps-sur-Arturby. More photos at the end of this edition.


Today we are talking about repairing or recycling clothing. Please join the discussion, sharing your experience and ideas for staying stylishly up-to-date--while minding ecology and the economy.

Mas de la Perdrix - visit this charming rental in the south of FranceProvence Villa Rental Luberon luxury home; 4 bedrooms, 5 baths; gourmet kitchen, covered terrace & pool. Views of Roussillon. Click here.  

 

une fermeture éclair (fair-meh-tyur-ay-kler)

    : zipper

 

Audio file: The following example sentence comes from the planet-friendly French site ecogeste.fr:
Listen to Jean-Marc read the words below:  Download MP3 or Wav file

Des semelles usées, un talon cassé, une fermeture éclair de sac coincée... Avant de les remplacer, vous pouvez confier vos chaussures et accessoires à un cordonnier. En plus, vous soutiendrez une filière au savoir-faire de plus en plus rare en raison d'un manque de clientèle.

Worn out soles, a broken heel, a purse zipper that's stuck... before replacing them, you can entrust your shoes and accessories to a cobbler. What's more, you'll be supporting a trade that is more and more rare owing to a lack of clientele. 

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

Last week the winds picked up here in Bandol, sweeping out the warmth of summertime. Though our seaside environment benefits from an extended season--or un été indien--my feet don't seem to know the difference: mid September now and j'ai froid aux pieds!

Time to put away the flip-flops.... Rummaging through the floor of my closet, looking for close-toed shoes, I discovered a few possibilities for fall: a pair of pseudo Mary Janes (not sure about the style), Converse hi-tops (hand-me-downs from Jackie, the interior lining is as holey as Swiss cheese), a pair of high-heeled dress boots--so cheap the talons are two different sizes (no wonder the markdown), a pair of black boots from the 90s--and a pair of black ballerinas from the same decade (I now wear the latter as slippers--so will have to rule these out as a possibility. Once sportswear turns into loungewear it's hard to sport the items in public again. Know what I mean?).

I stared thoughtfully at the eclectic pile. Tucking my flip flops into a shoe box--it seemed a little sorting might reveal some new possibilities. I spotted my loafers. Yes! Slipping them on I had a look in the mirror and realized, once and for all, I will never have that look of relaxed elegance: my ankles stood out beneath my pant legs, and the brown leather shoes were dull. Maybe a good polish would take care of that? 

Studying the motley crew of shoes, I now saw a workable set of possibilities for autumn. What's more, I remembered a pair of brown leather boots (those ought to take care of these ankles!) that would round out the collection.

In the cellar, I sorted through a box of shoes, finding the boots at the bottom. Pulling them from the tangle of chaussures, I was disappointed to see they'd been sorely twisted--their new shape resembling a curled crevette! I slipped them on, hoping to straighten out the toes, but when I tugged at the worn zipper it finally broke.

More than a broken zipper, I noticed how worn out the soles were. There was no use procrastinating, it was time to buy a new pair of bottes. But the last time I went shopping in the area, I found the shops unwelcoming and the prices even more alienating. I was only having a bad day, it wasn't the fault of the commerçants. But seeing all the merchandise, I wondered: how can anyone afford to dress these days?  My mind still lives in 70s prices--maybe that is why everything seems so expensive these days. I am fortunate to be able to replace my shoes, but I feel terrible for those who don't have the same privilege.

Studying the worn boots, it seemed I could squeeze another season out of them--I needed only to visit the cordonnier! An added incentive of visiting the local cobbler was the satisfaction of not adding to the dreaded pile--the universal garbage dump, or the landfills, that gets harder and harder to breakdown as time goes by. I can't bear to throw out another pair of shoes when I picture heaps of discarded chaussures all across the land--choking landfills with leather, plastic, and shoe glue. I wish I'd always thought this way, but I am a late-bloomer when it comes to recycling. It's only in the last 5 years that our household has installed boxes for glass, metal, plastic, clothing, batteries, and "small electric units" (our grocery store collects coffee machine, electric toothbrushes, and the like). Before that, we made an effort here and there, but were discouraged by the lack of follow-up (our village's recycling system, at the time, was hit or miss).

Boots in hand, I entered our town's cobbler shop and soon realized why people are not so motivated to extend the life of their belongings: because it can be costly to do so! There in the tiny shop, as I waited for the cobbler to finish mending a pair of sandals, I noticed the finished items on the counter, waiting to be picked up. A pair of high-heeled sandals had a receipt tied to them: 26 euros for the repair work! I began to calculate: at $35 dollars one could almost replace the dainty pair of dress shoes.

Ah, but les bonnes affaires coûtent cher! I remembered an old saying I once learned from a very wealthy French woman: Good deals cost a lot! she said, as I accompanied her shopping in Cannes. It's true, and I've witnessed the principle here at home where my husband delights in showing me his latest 19 euro steal. I zip my lip, knowing that in one more season I'll be sweeping those falling-to-pieces shoes into the dustpan, along with rest of the pile up on the doorstep. Some deal!

Back at the cobblers, I set my boots on the counter for the cordonnier to inspect. 

"I'll need a new fermeture éclair...and it looks like the soles are shot...anything you can do about the leather?"

I watch as the shoe repairer notes down some double-digit chiffres: 16.... 12.95...  The amount increases when I decide to go ahead and have the second zipper reinforced, just in case.

When the cobbler hands me the bill I'm lost for words, so he speaks for me: Est-ce que ça ira? Will this work?

I guessed it would have to... After all, what was the alternative? I could buy a new pair of boots--for twice the price (given the you-get-what-you-pay-for wisdom, mentioned above) or I could prendre soin, or care for my own boots. The price to do so was alarming, but in the end I was paying less than I would otherwise.

I hoped to be making the right decision, and in the time it took me to reply to the old cobbler, my eyes scanned his tiny shop. In addition to shoes there were several bags waiting for repair (this is where old Mr. Sacks, Jean-Marc's beloved sacoche, was mended). I remembered, now, Jean-Marc mentioning the ancient cobbler "You've got to meet this character!" Jean-Marc had said. I wondered now, just how many years had the cobbler been here? Were they even training cobblers these days? Wasn't it a dying trade?

As I stood there, hesitant, a few more locals walked in, dusty and worn shoes in hand. The cobbler greeted them by name and I gathered he had a few supportive clients. One more couldn't hurt. 

 *    *    *

Cordonnerie (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-word-a-day

To comment on today's story, click here. I would love to read about your experiences with caring for your own things, and your thoughts on sustainability, supporting local business, or whatever you feel like sharing. 

Extra credit.... Teachers, please share the French Word-A-Day blog with your students, to help increase their vocabulary. 

FRENCH VOCABULARY

 j'ai froid aux pieds = my feet are cold
un talon = heel
la chaussure = shoe
la crevette = shrimp, prawn
la botte = boot
le commerçant = shopkeeper
le cordonnier = cobbler
le chiffre = amount, sum
la fermeture éclair = zipper
prendre soin = to care for, to take care of 

In Ways to Improve Your French: Listen to music!

ZazzZaz's album. Debut album from one of France's greatest recent success stories. Seemingly out of nowhere, newcomer Isabelle Geffroy (AKA Zaz) ended up topping the charts in France for over two months with this debut album, an engaging blend of Jazz, Soul and French Pop. With singles like 'Je Veux', even non-French speaking listeners will be enchanted by Zaz's voice. Order it here.

Join me on today's virtual tour of the village of Comps-sur-Artuby. These photos were taken in 2001.... The pictures are very small, but you can still get an idea of the breathtaking environment.

If you missed the recent photos tours, check them out:

Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-Word-A-Day.com

What has this old post office become? Some people in France live in converted chapels, others in ancient bread ovens (large architectural structures as big as a baker's), so the idea of moving into a post office shouldn't be so surprising.

Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-Word-A-Day.com

Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-Word-A-Day.com

I believe this building is called un hangar, or shed. 

 

Max (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
A then 6-year-old Max...

 

Les nuages, or clouds in Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-word-a-day.com
Les nuages, or clouds, in the distance

 

Comps-sur-Artuby, France (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-word-a-day.com
November in Comps-sur-Artuby...

 

Comps-sur-Artuby (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
Art studio "The Little Scops Owl"



Pronounce it perfectlyPronounce it Perfectly in French. 

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Order it here.

cordonnerie (c) Kristin Espinasse

I hope you enjoyed today's story from the shoe repair shop, or cordonnerie. To comment on today's post, or to send in a correction, please use the comments box 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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    ♥ Send the amount of your choice


"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


Pictures from Grignan + an emergency visit to the vet--and the French word "epillet"

Jackie (c) Kristin Espinasse

 Sweet 16! Today, September 18th, is Jackie's birthday and we've had chocolate cake for breakfast and look forward to Chinese food for dinner. (Meantime she's begun another day at fashion school. But after our dog's recent drama, and Jackie's hands-on response, I think she'd make a great veterinarian! Read on, in today's French infused story column....

un épillet (ay-pee-leh)

    : foxtail or grass seed

Ever found an épillet on your dog? Comment here

 Bescherelle conjugation guide.   Capture plein écran 16052011 092531"This is without a doubt the definitive guide to conjugation of French verbs... an indispensible reference and not overwhelming for beginning students." Order it here.--M. Savoir (Amazon reviewer)

 

Foxtail (c) Curtis Clark
Audio File and Example Sentence: Listen to Jean-Marc Download MP3 or wav file

Lorsqu'un chien se met brusquement à se secouer les oreilles au printemps ou en été, penche la tête, refuse qu'on le touche… il y a probablement un épillet là-dessous !

In spring or summer, when a dogs begins abruptly to shake its ears, lower its head, and refuse to be touched... there is probably a foxtail there beneath!

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

On Monday I picked up Jackie from the bus stop and enjoyed a lively conversation with our soon-to-be 16-year-old. Driving home, we talked about motivation, about keeping on top of things, and how all this helps in pursuing one's dreams. It was refreshing to see how receptive Jackie was, vs. our sometimes draining dialogues which make me feel like such a nag, and leave my testy daughter feeling guilty, too.

Despite the renewed mother-daughter complicity, our life is good outlook was challenged sooner than expected. Arriving home, Jackie agreed to feed the dogs and help bring in the laundry on the line and fold it. Instead of grumbling, she approached her daily 15 minute chore (part of a new routine this school year!) willingly. 

"That's my girl!" I cheered, "and thanks--I really appreciate it!" Even Braise, our golder retriever, was in a good mood, and we laughed as she jumped and danced while waiting for her croquette dinner to be served.

Then suddenly Braise fell to the ground and began yelping in pain. We watched as she mowed her head across the gravel, her cries growing more insistent. When we got her to stand up, she couldn't walk a straight line, but advanced crookedly across the yard--all the while lowering her left ear. And when she suddenly began shaking her head, as dogs do their bodies, after a bath--we realized something was amiss.  

Foxtail2
Hordeum murinum, or foxtail (c) Curtis Clark
My heart sank with the realization that this could be it--the dreaded "death torpedo" pet owners fear: those nasty grass seeds, or foxtails, that catch in a dog's coat and travel up and into the ear or eye or nose. I heard all kinds of horror stories--that once inside, they travel to the brain or the lungs, killing the animal! 

Jackie was posed and calm as she held Braise close and instructed me to have a look inside our dog's ear.

"OK, OK! Here we go....." the least I could do was to mirror my daughter's composure; just as important, we didn't want to be a ball of nerves in front of our suffering dog.

Indeed, animals are so sensitive--and intelligent. In contrast to the wild cries and head shaking pain, Braise remained as still as a monument, modeling a quiet bravery that hinted at the delicateness of the situation.

"It must be excruciating, the pain!" Jackie remarked, as I peered into Braise's ear, pulling and prodding to get a closer look. But all I saw was dirt--the kind I should have been regularly cleaning out. Now guilty feelings intermingled with all the worry.

As the moments passed, without another complaint from our dog, we nurtured a growing hope that maybe whatever had "gotten" her had somehow disappeared.

"Maybe it was only the beginning of an ear infection?" I said to Jackie.

"Peut-être," Jackie hoped, and we held our breaths as we slowly released Braise from our grip.

Our brave patient took a few uncertain steps, as though she herself were nursing the same espoir. Only she didn't make it far before she fell over, beside the withering lavender bush.

Seeing Braise disoriented like that, we were sick to our stomachs with worry. We watched helplessly as Braise plowed her head across the gravel, her muffled cries rising in her dusty wake.

Something was horribly wrong.

"Jean-Marc!" I shouted up to the second floor, where Jean-Marc was working in his office. A moment later four of us were careening down the road, to the veterinarians. Jean-Marc had asked Jackie to stay behind, but our daughter insisted Braise needed her comfort and assurance.

Quelle chance! The vet was still working at 7pm, and she welcomed us into her office.

Jackie and I tried to heave Braise onto the steel examination table, when Jean-Marc waved us aside and picked up our clinic-phobic dog. "Allez, hop, up you go!" I could see Braise's hair falling in a sheer layer across the steel surface beneath her--so terrified is she of doctor's offices.

When the vet warned that our dog must remain completely still, Jean-Marc steadied her in a head lock and I hugged her body tight. Jackie murmured assurances: Bravo! C'est bien, Braise! T'inquiète pas, mon chien! C'est bientôt fini! 

We all watched as the vet directed the special tweezers into Braise's oreille. She too was impressed by Braise's bravery. "Most dogs would go crazy about now." 

"She wants us to help her," I said, remembering back to the scene at home. Braise would have let me stick forceps in her ears, so desperate was she; her quiet obedience was such a contrast to her throbbing pain, making her message loud and clear: do what you need to do to fix this! Her composure was remarkable. It was as though she had gone to another place in her brain--doggy nirvana--where she was waiting out the traumatic moment. 

"Voilà!" The vet pulled out the so-called torpedo of death, and cleared up one or two idées fausses, or rumorsin the process. "It is rare that this would kill a dog, she said, offering the bit of broken foxtail for our viewing. "But they can be dangerous. It's not just the ears they menace, they are often found in between the fingers and toes... " (This helpful tip was followed by a demonstration, in which the vet collected a dozen more broken foxtails from between Braise's paws!)

"The danger here," she said, is when they pierce the skin and travel through the body... sometimes puncturing the lungs!"

The vet encouraged us to cut back the grasses on our property and to check our dogs every day. It would be extra work, given we have two large and furry golden retrievers, but I could just add that to the kids chore list. And of course, I would do my part, too. Living here in the countryside, it would take a family effort to keep back those lurking torpedos... but the good news was, we now had a wonderful new veterinarian, just around the corner.

 ***
To comment on today's post, and share your own experiences and insights into today's word or story, click here. Thanks for sharing today's post with an animal lover.

 "Torpedoes of death" -- it's a chilling term, but I learned so much from Carla Jackson's article on Hordeum murinum or "Hare Barley" and how it menaces man's best friend. 

 

Rollerskating in Fréjus (c) Kristin Espinasse, french-word-a-day.com
Rollerskating with Braise in Fréjus, in 2007. (Jackie was 10-years-old)

 

   French shopping bagI 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.

More Photos from France

If you can't make it to France just now... we've got you covered: enjoy these virtual tours of some of my favorite villages in Provence and beyond. 

Grignan, France (Drome) (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-word-a-day.com
Matchy matchy. A blue door coordinates with a whimsical bag...

Grignan, France (Drome) (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-word-a-day.com
Roses and "grignandises" -- or sweets and temptations from Grignan.

Grignan, France (Drome) (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-word-a-day.com
Always room for another pot of flowers...

Grignan, France (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-Word-a-Day.com
Time to put Grignan on your bucket list.

Grignan, France (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-Word-a-Day.com
Roof tops, or toits, and a blue horizon.

Grignan, France (c) Kristin Espinasse, visit French-word-a-day.com
Don't steal the café sugar. You never know who's a tattletale. Story here.

Grignan, France (c) Kristin Espinasse, visit French-word-a-day.com
The village of Grignan is known for its famous resident (Madame de Sevigny) and for its roses--but don't tell that to the valerian flowers, which shout their presence from the very rooftops.
Window and stork in Grignan, France (c) Kristin Espinasse, visit french-word-a-day.com
 Another Grignan resident.

Grignan, France (Drome) (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-word-a-day.com
I will add more photos to this collection. Please click here and see when the next postcards from Grignan are posted. 

To comment on this edition, click here.

Exercises in French PhonicsExercises in French Phonics is... 
" a great book for learning French pronunciation" Order your 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


"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


What does the French word "micmac" mean?

The village of le Vieux Cannet, France (c) Kristin Espinasse
At play in the perched village of Le Vieux Cannet. Mom and I strolled through this town and took these pictures in 2006. Le Vieux Cannet is close Les Arcs-sur-Argens--where we lived for a time. More photos at the end of this post. 

Paris Monaco Rentals

France and Monaco Rentals: short-term holiday rental properties throughout France. Click here for pictures.

 

un micmac (mik-mak)

    : an intrigue, a scheme, or a secret practice with a guilty--or seemingly guilty--aim. 

Audio file: Listen to Jean-Marc read the French definition to today's word, micmac: Download MP3 or Wav file

un micmac: c'est une intrigue, manigance, pratique secrète dont le but est blâmable ou semble tel. (wikipedia.fr)

To comment on today's word and/or add an insight to it, click here

 Bescherelle conjugation guideCapture plein écran 16052011 092531"This is without a doubt the definitive guide to conjugation of French verbs... an indispensible reference and not overwhelming for beginning students." Order it here.--M. Savoir (Amazon reviewer)

 

 

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

It began with the sweater I found in my husband's car. That was strange... it didn't belong to our son or daughter. Maybe Jean-Marc had bought himself a new pull-over? No, it was too small.... 

Just whose was it then? Examining the neat gray cardigan tossed over the back seat, I wondered if it belonged to a woman? But then, it could very well be a men's sweater. Forget about it.

A few days later I happened upon a veste--a black linen blazer resting casually across the cozy armchair in our living room. The veste didn't belong to us either. And this time there was no doubt it belonged to a woman. I examined the feminine tie around the waist and tried to picture the elegant wearer....

Once upon a time it would be common to find articles of clothing strewn around the house and yard, and in our cars. When we lived on the vineyard and had a lot of helping hands at harvest time, we amassed a colorful collection of objets trouvés, or found items. When they'd gone unclaimed, it was my pleasure to offer the gladrags to the next year's unsuspecting volunteers (the ones who'd shown up in their pressed polos and new socks, naively dressed for the grueling, messy chore of grape picking.)

But we left the vineyard a year ago. I gazed at the black linen veste. What flair!--such a contrast to my well-worn top, with its pit marks beneath the sleeves--hallmarks of a woman who'd let herself go? 

Vain imaginings! Vain imaginings! Just where did they lead--except to the garbage heap, where all fruitless pursuits eventually end up! I'd do better to put my colorful imagination to work in words (finally writing that memoir), rather than waste any more brain fuel on jumping to conclusions. 

Determined, I marched to the kitchen for a cup of tea when--crash!--I ran right into another misplaced object. Une casserole.....

But this isn't my sauce pan! my thoughts protested. I reached down to the ground where the little casserole had been left behind, like lover's underwear.

I grabbed the handle of the little casserole and, pulling it close, examined every nook and cranny. Well isn't it cheap! A tacky casserole at that! Flustered, I shoved it under the sink, where it settled with a clamor, beside a stack of cans for recycling.

My mind began to reel. Just where had my husband been all week? I tried to think back on his comings and goings... but my thoughts were suspended when the phone rang.

It was my mother-in-law, calling to let me know she was making progress on her moving cartons. I had offered to come and help her unpack, but she insisted she was content to go at her own pace.

"Well, let me know if you need anything--or would simply like to go for a stroll. It would be a pleasure!" I assured her.

"I'd love to go for a walk--another day. And when you come, could you please bring back my little casserole?"

"Your casserole?"

"Yes," my mother-in-law explained. "I use that one to boil eggs. Jean-Marc borrowed it last week, after I dropped the bottle of honey Cécile gave me. Wanting to salvage his sister's honey, he collected it in the pan...."

As my belle-mère spoke, I remembered back to the scene... of Jean-Marc filtering the honey in our kitchen. I was very nervous about his plan to separate the honey from the broken glass (!!), but found it so thoughtful of him to go to great lengths to rescue his sister's miel. (I did make him label the jar. If, after all my protestations--he insisted on salvaging the "broken-glass-honey", then he could be the guinea pig--not my belle-mère or the kids!) 

That's when it dawned on me--the sweater, the linen veste, the comings and goings of my husband. Mais bien sûr! Jean-Marc has spent the week helping his mom settle in, and chauffering her back and forth to our house for meals during the tumultuous time.

Almost on cue, my belle-mère continued: "and if you happen to find a black veste... I left it behind..."

"So the veste belongs to you--and the casserole too--and not some other woman!!" I chuckled, hinting at my confusion and le micmac following all the saucy discoveries this week. "Well, it wasn't a culotte, still, it was a casserole!"

My mother-in-law was a little confused, but I kept on joking until she, too, was laughing at my active imagination.

"No, it wasn't a culotte. Still it was a casserole! Une casserole!"

*    *    *

Post note: Funny how an innocent item can seem so threatening. Meantime, considering all the dents in my belle-mère's "tacky" (oh, for shame! to have said such a thing!) little sauce pan, I think it's time she enjoyed a new one. Then again, chances are she's very happy with her trusty egg pan. Best not to keep jumping to conclusions!

 To comment or to read the comments click here.

French Vocab

un pull (pull-over) = sweater
une veste = jacket
un objet trouvé = found item
une casserole = sauce pan
la belle-mère = mother-in-law
le miel = honey
une culotte = underwear

Door and oleanders in Le Vieux Cannet, France (c) Kristin Espinasse
Lacey curtains and oleanders in Le Vieux Cannet.

Valley below Le Vieux Cannet (c) Kristin Espinasse
The valley below Le Vieux Cannet. 

Map of vieux cannet and surroundings (c) Kristin Espinasse
I've been calling it Le Vieux Cannet... but it's full name is Le Vieux Cannet des Maures...

Hollyhocks and dog in Le Cannet des Maures (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Coucou!" Hi there! (to the right of the hollyhocks)

Row of homes in Le Vieux Cannet des Maures (c) Kristin Espinasse
Row of village homes and the church campanile

Beneath the campanile in Le Vieux Cannet des Maures (c) Kristin Espinasse
Beneath the campanile, or bell tower

La Placette in Le Cannet Des Maures (c) Kristin Espinasse
Shutters with heart there in "La Placette" square.

Front porch in Le Vieux Cannet des Maures (c) Kristin Espinasse
Missing column and cobbled path.

Door and pot in Le Vieux Cannet des Maures (c) Kristin Espinasse
Draped in green leaves and topped with pottery... a cozy village entrance.

Spaniel and hibiscus flowers in Vieux Cannet, France (c) Kristin Espinasse

A guard dog and hibiscus flank this quiet entrance.

Les escaliers in Le Cannet des Maures (c) Kristin Espinasse
Les escaliers, or stairs leading to a private address. To comment on any of these photos, click here.

More photos on the way. If  you are reading by email check back to the blog, here, where I am uploading the rest of this collection from the quiet village of Le Vieux Cannet, near Vidauban, France.

Best Tips For Learning French - check out this free resource made up of our readers best tips on how to speak and understand French: click here. 

Share this blog with your French class or with your French teacher. It would be a pleasure to have you with us!

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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"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


Photos of Roquemaure + souvenir: remembering September 11th, 2001

Angel war monument in Roquemaure, France (c) Kristin Espinasse
Do you believe someone watches over us? Photo taken the town of Roquemaure.

le souvenir (sooveh-neer)

    : memory, recollection

Audio file: listen to Jean-Marc read the example sentence below: Download mp3 or Wav file 

Hier soir, nous avons regardé un film en souvenir des attentats du 11 Septembre 2001.
Last night, we watched a film in memory of September 11th, 2001. 

The latest edition of Pronounce it Perfectly in French is out. Click here

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

Seven years ago we came to a fork in the road of our French existence. Jean-Marc was floundering at his job as an uninspired sales rep for an Italian company selling wine bottling machines. As for me, I was holding on tight to the coattails of my writing dream. But a proposition my husband was about to make threatened to put an end to both of our careers:

"Et si on déménage en Californie?" he ventured.

To this day I wonder what our life would have been like, had I not talked Jean-Marc out of the idea of moving to the States and, instead, reminded him about his own dream of wine-making. (Admittedly, the encouragement given was also a way of safeguarding my own nascent vocation--as a chronicler of French life.)

Jean-Marc soon quit looking for jobs in the California wine industry (he'd discovered the town of Healdsburg and was smitten), and happened upon a vineyard for sale in the town of Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes, where we spent the next 5 years of our lives--he picking grapes and making wine--and I chronicling a fast-paced life in the slow-poke countryside. What a ride.

Still no regrets for talking my husband into deepening our French roots, though I do sometimes wonder what life would have been like had we offered our children a chance to grow up in the States. By now one of them would be a senior in some California high school, and the other would be celebrating her upcoming Sweet 16 as a Valley Girl might.

"I know 16 is a special birthday for Americans," Jackie hints, hoping to cash in on a smart phone this year.

"Oh yah, Smartie Pants? Just how do you know so much about American culture?" But I already know the answer to the question--it's all the dubbed T.V. our daughter watches. In any case, the reality in our house is we don't do birthdays like the Kardashians!

Which reminds me, now, what it is about France that pulled me close in that decisive do we stay or do we go moment: it's something about French modesty (apart from necklines and swimwear, of course)... and history. These two things are beautifully represented in a gift my mother-in-law received, at about the same age as Jackie.

"That year I received an orange." Though my belle-mère remembers it bitterly, the flicker of gratitude is still bright in her eyes. Her father was a prisoner of war, and her mother struggled to make ends meet, hawking linens out of her truck in North Africa. Under the gritty circumstances, it was a privilege to receive a gift at all--and to this day my mother-in-law can't eat a clementine without remembering her family's struggles.

Perhaps that is what draws me to old France: more than modesty, it is remembering. Here is where the word souvenir takes on full meaning.  More than a trinket brought home from a tourist trap, a souvenir is a heart-filled remembrance and a timeless honoring. It whisper "We will never forget." On ne vous oubliera jamais.

This week my own country--and people all over the world--are remembering September 11th. Last night, as I watched the film "Vol 93", I remembered the hair-raising telephone call, received twelve years ago....

A Dutch neighbor, who ran a local café in Les Arcs-sur-Argens, rang me. Her voice filled with empathy, she asked, "Have you heard the news?"

*    *    *

I meant to write about our parallel life, or what things would have been like had we taken the other direction at that proverbial fork in the road. Instead, things ended up here--neither in California or in Ste. Cécile, but here, with this souvenir de 11 Septembre

Will you join in now, and share: Where were you when you heard the news? 

Comments welcome here.
 

Corridor or porche in Roquemaure, France (c) Kristin Espinasse

The photos in today's post were all taken in Roquemaure, France, in 2010.

Diamond and blue window in Roquemaure, France (c) Kristin Espinasse
 Diamonds and shutters.

l'Ecole Buissonnière restaurant in Roquemaure, France (c) Kristin Espinasse

The restaurant is called L'Ecole Buissonnière, and the term faire l'école buissonnière means to play hooky or skip school.

Lace curtains at the produce stand in Roquemaure, France (c) Kristin Espinasse
 Lace curtains at the green grocer's and cageots, or crates, of produce.

To comment on this post, click here, and thanks for forwarding this one to a friend. 

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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"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


Pictures of Grimaud + conjugation

Grimaud and the Golf of St. Tropez (c) Kristin Espinasse
Grimaud. Did you know the Gulf of St. Tropez was once called the Gulf of Grimaud? Gives you an idea of its importance. The Grimaldi family once had ties here, which may account for its rank as one of the wealthiest villages is the region (surpassing even "St. Trop").  For no particular reason (except that my computer is full of photo archives that I haven't always had the chance to show you) I'm pairing today's post with Grimaud photos. Enjoy! 

 

sauter (so-tay)

    : to jump

je saute, tu sautes, il/elle saute, nous sautons, vous sautez, ils sautent...

I chose today's word after hearing our 18-year-old, Max, teasing his sister in the kitchen:

Cherche moi à boire... et que ça saute!
Get me something to drink... and hop to it! 
 
Audio File: hear Jean-Marc pronounce today's word, the conjugated verb, and example sentence above. Download MP3 or Wave file

Note: today's example sentence--the cherche moi à boire part--is Neanderthal French. You won't want to use caveman French in a Parisian café--or at my mother-in-law's (though she has an excellent sense of humor and would probably just tease you right back). As for the phrase "et que ça saute" this one is current--so go ahead and try it out on your friends or significant other! Et que ça saut (and hurry up!).

 Bescherelle conjugation guideCapture plein écran 16052011 092531"This is without a doubt the definitive guide to conjugation of French verbs... an indispensible reference and not overwhelming for beginning students." Order it here.--M. Savoir (Amazon reviewer)

 

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

The other day, while chatting with Mom on the telephone, I shared with her some of the things I had been writing about on my blog. Mom's computer is broken so she's missing French Word-A-Day. She loves to read the online journal, as it keeps her updated on my life--a life we might have shared had each of us not left the Arizona desert two decades ago (Mom moved to Mexico, with the love of her life, and I came to France, for a second chance with my own amour de ma vie.)

As I recounted to Mom some of the stories I'd posted on this language blog, I remembered the pictures, too:

"I showed a photo of a saint's foot...." I told Mom, "And there was a French livre d'or, or guest book, at the church we visited in Port Cros. I photographed it, too, along with the prayer request I scribbled inside--only I think I misspelled one of the words--that is, I think it needed conjugating...."

Knowing Mom would appreciate the photo's caption, I read it to her: "Good thing we don't have to conjugate to get our point across to God."

Mom listened intently before responding. 

"Conjugate? What the hell does that mean?"

After chuckling at my mom's feisty response, there followed an uncomfortable pause--the realization that I had, in one way, received more instruction than she--having had the privilege of "higher" education. (Mom had been kicked out of high school as she awaited the birth of her first child.)

But any embarrassing advantages were quickly erased as I struggled to answer Mom's no-nonsense question. How to explain conjugation? My university degree couldn't even save me.

"Uh... well... it's like... You know--"to be"! Bumbling my way forth, more like a pre-school candidate than a language honors graduate, I managed this:

 "I be..."

(Was that snickering on the other end of the telephone line? I cleared my throat, trying to offer a verbal illustration of the scholarly concept that my leather-bound degree assured me I'd mastered):

"...I be, you be, he be..." I croaked, finishing my example. "See... you don't say it like that. The verb "to be" has to be conjugated. It's just something we seem to do automatically: I am, you are, he is..."

"Oh, I see!" Mom's cheery response was forgiving--and wonderfully refreshing, and her childlike enthusiasm for any and all knowledge was contagious!

What a relief it was to share a rare appreciation for grammar, and to know that I had not unintentionally snubbed my dear mom, my Brilliant Teacher of All Things. As I relaxed back into our usual bantersome conversation, I shared another tidbit.

"You know," I mused, "I sometimes forget that I didn't know much about English grammar... until I got to college and began studying French!"

"That's a good one!" Mom laughed. "You ought to write that on your blog!"

***

Post note: though Mom is a regular commenter on this blog (apart from these past weeks, owing to a broken computer), she often frets about her spelling and punctuation--not that that slows her ALL CAPS messages). Write on! I tell her. Never hold back! This is a truth I have learned while teaching myself to write stories: Never let grammar get in the way of sharing yourself with others.  

Comments Corner
To comment on this story, or any item in this post, or to pose a question to our community of Francophiles click here.

Capture plein écran 11092013 105853

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porch in Grimaud (c) Kristin Espinasse

 Door beads sighting! And a cozy and welcoming porch in Grimaud....

Galerie Paschos in Grimaud, France and yellow motorbike (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-Word-A-Day.com
A gallery ("Paschos" gallerie) and a the post office's motor scooter.

windmill in Grimaud (c) Kristin Espinasse
 17th-century moulin à vent, or windmill, outside Grimaud's town center.

Jean-Marc and Braise (c) Kristin Espinasse
 Jean-Marc and Braise (when she was a puppy, 6 years ago)

Restaurant L'ecurie de la Marquise and Le Bou Bou Grill (c) Kristin Espinasse
Restaurants "L'Ecurie de la Marquise" and the Bou Bou Grill in Grimaud.

Galerie du Porche in Grimaud (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-Word-A-Day.com
Galerie du Porche, for pottery, in Grimaud.

La Placette in Grimaud, France (c) Kristin Espinasse
A quiet and restful square, "La Placette", in the middle of Grimaud.

Black cat in Grimaud (c) Kristin Espinasse, French Word-A-Day.com
Number 17. Nothing to be superstitious about there...
 
Charm of Grimaud (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-Word-A-Day.com
 At the intersection of Rue des Meuniers (Miller Street) and Place Vieille (Old Square). Still, not a lot of traffic in Grimaud.

Pottery in Grimaud, France (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-Word-A-Day.com
Close up pottery shop. See anything in the window that catches your fancy? To comment on these photos, click here

Paschos gallery in Grimaud, France (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-Word-A-Day.com
The fountain in front of Paschos gallery.

Hydrangeas in Grimaud, France (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-Word-A-Day.com
Hydrangeas and a place to sit and watch the world go by. (What kind of seat would you match to this lovely historic home? A rocking chair, an wooden bench, a lovely iron seat...? Or do you like the contrast of old and new? To comment, click here.

Above restaurant Le Bou-Bou, in Grimaud, France (c) Kristin Espinasse, French-Word-A-Day.com
A sleepy balcony over the restaurant Le Bou-Bou, toujours en Grimaud....

All photos in this post were taken in 2006, while enjoying a stroll with my Aunt Charmly and Uncle Tucker, visiting from San Francisco. I hope you enjoyed this photo journey through a favorite French village. 

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


"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


une mare

Jules visits Serignan-du-Comptat (c) Kristin Espinasse
I didn't have the chance to run this by Mom and get her permission to post her photo... so I'm taking advantage of the fact that her computer is broken. She can kill me later (for the fabricated "rain dance" caption) when her laptop is repaired and she catches up on all the missed editions of French Word-A-Day. I know she misses the stories--and especially the comments, where she would send you her all caps LOVE! (Photo taken some time ago, in Sérignan-du-Comtat)

No photos off our flooded house to illustrate this edition, so how about a picture of Mom doing a rain dance? 

Speaking of the deluge, did you know that inundation is a defense strategy? The dutch used to flood land to hinder the Spanish army (see Hollandic Water Line). Meantime, Jean-Marc and I defended our own soggy turf here at home, trying to evacuate water flooding like an open dam into our kitchen and bathroom after Sunday morning's storm! Story follows. 

HulstonExclusive French made clothes now available to purchase on-line. Thomas Hulston Collections.

 


une mare (mar)

  1. pond
  2. puddle
  3. backwater 

une mare entre les rochers = rock pool
une mare de sang = pool of blood

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

I woke up yesterday morning with the delicious realization that it was Sunday. Dimanche! No need to rush out of bed--except to let the dogs out... after-which I could return with a nice cup of kawa and a cozy view of the storm with its thunder claps and pouring rain--quel spectacle!

As I lingered au lit a few minutes longer I enjoyed the windy scene outside the open window. There was a lone bamboo playing coucou, or peek-a-boo, just beyond the window pane. Now I saw her, now I didn't. For a moment, I wondered if she could see me too? Just because one couldn't see eyeballs didn't mean a plant didn't have vision! Perhaps one day we will be amazed to learn that, all this time, plants have been observing us, too!

My eyes travelled past the playful reed where, beneath the dark sky, the rain poured down. It was pleasing to know that the flowers and vegetables in the garden were getting cups full to drink this morning. I could almost see the extra blossoms and the fattened fruit (just this week I'd discovered three melons growing in our permaculture garden! How to say hot-diggity in French?).

Bon, enough admiring the splendours of nature, it was time to let the dogs out before they rained down on the tiled floor. Our golden retriever, Braise (pronounced "brez" like "Pez"), had a couple accidents last month, but we no longer awaken to a flooded entryway as long as we stay one step ahead of the deluge.

Stepping into the front room I cast a look around, to verify there were no accidental puddles. That's when I noticed the water seeping in from the kitchen....

Ah, another leak! For a split second I believed I could sop up the wet floor on my own... (allowing Jean-Marc to sleep in for once). And then, little by little, the gravity of the situation hit me. Mon Dieu--we were being inundated! 

Approaching the kitchen, it sounded as though someone had left the tap running. I hurried in to shut it off... when I realized the water wasn't flowing from the robinet--it was rushing in from beneath the kitchen door! Looking down, I saw my new leopard-patterned flip-flops were submerged. I began to back out of the room as my brain stammered, "towels... towels...thick absorbent towels..."

By now the water had followed me to the end of the second room--reaching my feet as I stood there slack-jawed and frozen. When I watched the water engulf our dogs, who were lying at my feet, and observed how their golden coats now doubled as sponges--I sprang to action.

JEAN-MARCCCCCCCCCC!!!!!! The house is flooding!!!!

A second later and Jean-Marc was hopping forth, managing to pull on his pants en-route.

He hurried outside, running through the rain, around the side of the house to unclog the water duct. Meantime, I dashed back-n-forth, grabbing towels... only to learn that my efforts to soak up the flow were akin to "a drop in a bucket". After twisting dry the useless towels I grabbed a salad bowl from kitchen drying rack and tried to evacuate the water this way, splashing the water into the bowl.... but the water rushing in from the kitchen door discouraged my efforts. Then I had an inspiration: I could sweep the water out the opposite door!

I ran and got our biggest broom and went to work. "Braise! Smokey! Là-bas!" First, I swept the dogs into the family room (conveniently up a level, on dry ground).

I was busy with all the water-sweeping when suddenly my hair stood on end. That is when I noticed that my husband's telephone charger was plugged in. My eyes traced the cord, the other end of which was now meeting the trickle of water which flowed out from the kitchen.

This was it. Electrocution! My fears of electric shock returned as I tried to stay calm. Jean-Marc appeared in time to shut off the mains, assuring me of the impossibility of an electrical accident, "And anyway," he said, " you would not be harmed because everything is up to standard." I still don't quite believe that things would automatically shut off, if the wires touched the water, but there was no time to argue--we were now up to our ankles in rainwater!

"C'est une mare!" Jean-Marc cried, stepping into the pool of water. My husband grabbed a second kind of broom (one with a wide wiper-blade on the end--a favorite of mine for mopping the floor and perfect for our mission!). Jean-Marc hurried to the kitchen. Ça y est, his efforts outside had worked and the water no longer rushed into the house like an open dam! 

Jean-Marc began sweeping the water out of the kitchen to the dining room, where I rerouted the flow--with the help of my broom--out the front door! We worked like this for the next hour, relaxing into our effort, buoyed now by our growing bantering.

"And I had been wondering if you were going to help me clean the floors today," I laughed.

Jean-Marc laughed at my jokes and listened as I pointed out all the positives:

"Good thing we don't have moquette! Can you imagine what a disaster wall-to-wall carpet would be? And thank heavens this happened on the weekend. What if it was a hectic school morning?"

 All the teasing and joking waned as we grew exhausted from the chore of evacuting what amounted to hundreds of liters of water. I began to wonder what I would have done if Jean-Marc hadn't been there? Worse, what if both of us had been away--as we were last weekend? What would the kids have done? And what if my belle-mère was the one house-sitting? 

"What would an elderly woman do under the circumstances?" I asked Jean-Marc. "Who would she call?"

"Les pompiers," Jean-Marc answered. "But the firemen wouldn't come for a little job like this."

"But this would be a big job--an impossibility for an older woman," I argued. "What would she do?"

"Call family and friends," Jean-Marc answered, sweeping the last of the water out the front door.

I couldn't help thinking of the future.... But any fears were immediately replaced by thankfulness. How lucky I am to have Jean-Marc. But what about those who are all alone?

That afternoon, yesterday, that is, we went and visited my belle-mère. What a hectic week it must have been for her after moving to a new apartment. Even though we helped with her move (Jean-Marc and his brother, Jacques, painting her new apartment and putting down new floors, their sister, Cécile, packing their mom's boxes, and me helping clean up her old apartment in Marseilles), my mother-in-law is on her own. After our flood, which revealed my own weaknesses, how much more I think about my belle-mère's challenges.

"You know," my mother-in-law said, as we walked arm and arm back to her apartment, having enjoyed an ice-cream on the beach, "I have seen a lot of lonely people in my life. As a nurse-on-call, I visited many households and I looked Loneliness in the eye. I am happy to say that I am not a lonely person. What a horrible thing that is."

I trust my belle-mère means what she says but, just in case, we are now only a stone's throw away.

"Quite a storm last night," my mother-in-law says, handing me her apartment key as we arrive home.

"Oh, those thunder claps! J'ai sauté du lit!" She chuckles. 

"Me too, I leapt up from bed when the thunder struck too!" I laugh as I help my mother-in-law into her apartment. I watch her walk to her room, to turn off the blaring radio she's left on in her absence. And I'm suddenly filled with a mixture of relief and gratitude--to finally live so close that we hear the same thunder and see the same rain.

...And given how loud she plays her radio... if I listened closely enough, I could probably hear Charles Aznavour from just across the gulf of La Ciotat, where my mother-in-law will tune into her favorite golden oldies program, and let her thoughts drift back to the comfort of the past....

La pluie ne cesse de tomber
Viens plus près ma mie
Si l'orage te fait trembler
Viens plus prés ma mie

*    *    *

Comments
To respond to today's story, or to comment on any item in this edition, please click here to join the conversation.

A soggy Mr. Sacks (c) Kristin Espinasse
Though the water rose to our ankles, Mr. Sacks was up to his buckle in rainwater!

Poor Mr. Sacks! Jean-Marc's beloved sacoche was rescued, though some of his contents didn't fare to well. (Jean-Marc tells me my passport is a little soggy. I wonder if it will still work at airport immigration?) 


French Vocabulary

le dimanche = Sunday

le kawa = coffee 

le lit = bed

coucou = peek-a-boo (also means "hi!")

bon = O.K. 

quel spectacle! = what a show!

Mon Dieu! = My Goodness

le robinet = tap, faucet

là-bas! = (move) over there!

la belle-mère = mother-in-law (can also mean step-mother)

La pluie ne cesse de tomber /Viens plus prés ma mie/Si l'orage te fait trembler Viens plus prés ma mie
The rain won't stop falling, come closer my dear/ if the storm makes you tremble / come closer my dear

Beekeeper Jean-Marc (c) Kristin Espinasse
In other news: first batch of honey here at Mas des Brun! Jean-Marc had the pleasure of making honey when we lived at the vineyard in Ste. Cécile, and he is now delighted to bottle his first batch of local honey from the hills of St. Cyr-sur-Mer. 

However, those were no honey bees that were buzzing above the ceiling of our family room (just beneath our daughter's bedroom! The droning grew louder and louder this week until, on Saturday, Jean-Marc intervened--donning his bee suit with built in mask and arming himself with a can of guêpicide. Now there are no more guêpes, or wasps, freeloading here at home. 

For Science buffs...
And speaking of wasps, they're not all bad. Did you read about the wasps that live in our figs, ripening them? Happy to report that this year's harvest is delicious (and every wasp made it out... well before we sank our teeth into the fruit. Don't miss the story, here--but first you have to promise you will still eat figs when you are done! Promise?)

Gladiator (c) Kristin Espinasse
What a week, between a wasp invasion, a move, and an inundation. Is it okay to fancy oneself a ... a... (well just what would you call this flying woman pictured above? Surely not a gladiator?) Photo taken at Parc Astérix, in Paris. 

Jackie and Michèle-France (c) Kristin Espinasse
Whatever she is, she has nothing on these dearies. That's our daughter Jackie (7 years ago...) and my belle-mère, Michèle-France. Though its an out-dated photo, one of the girls has not changed one iota. The other is enjoying day 4 of fashion school. Wish her luck! Our turn now to wish every one bonne rentrée, or happy back-to-school (or back-to-work, if that is the case). 

Comments welcome 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


"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
--Betty D.


kif-kif! + list of Arabic words you will hear when in France

Port-Cros island off the south coast of France (c) Kristin Espinasse
The island of Port-Cros, where those who love nature roam.... This protected site, off the coast of Hyères, is a protected paradise. Put this one on your bucket list -- unless you suffer from island fever or prefer to lick windows ("shop", that is) when on vacation. Only one boutique on this island--and it sells foutas. Read on.

Mas de la Perdrix - visit this charming rental in the south of FranceProvence Villa Rental Luberon luxury home; 4 bedrooms, 5 baths; gourmet kitchen, covered terrace & pool. Views of Roussillon. Click here.  

 

Today's word is woven within the following post, where you'll find many more useful French (whoops! Arabic terms!) You'll be happy you learned them when next you find yourself strolling down a southern French beach. Among the chant of the cicada and the crashing waves, these Arabic words will sing-song along--as natives in the South of France shoot the breeze, using words that have naturalized just as certain foreigners have. Tee-hee!

 

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

If you think you learn a lot by reading a language blog... you'll learn even more by devouring the comments readers post. Voilà, so much for my sneaky way of alimenting my own français

This morning I sneaked into the comments to learn a thing or two or three when I spotted Hani's commentaire:

"Has the word fouta been used long in France? It is actually an Arabic word meaning towel..."

Aha! So fouta means "towel". Well now that makes sense! Delurking in time to write my own comment, I thanked Hani for the insight... only my message ended up in my blog's spam filter! (I'll fish it out in a sec... For some reason, Bill's and Julie's comments often end up there, too. And this morning Odile was trapped in the filter! Ah well, if I find any other comments--or yours there--I'll fish them out too. So much for the disappearing comments caper!) 

Meantime, Hani's comment inspired today's post: a list of oft-heard Arabic words used here in the south of France (and perhaps beyond--in Lyon or in Paris?). And because I've been meaning to share photos from Jean-Marc's and my recent getaway, I'll marry the vocab words with the photos. The terms won't necessarily match the images, but just like a good couple they will compliment each other :-)

 Speaking of couples, here we go--

Jean-Marc and Mr. Sacks ride the ferry (c) Kristin Espinasse
Jean-Marc and Mr. Sacks on the Ferry to Port-Cros. One of these guys has lost weight--and it ain't saggy ol' Mr. Sacks!

Yes, look who joined us on our getaway: Mr. Sacks! No, that's not a cabas, that's my husband's beloved, takes-with-him-every-where bag--the adorable Monsieur Sacks (see him in all his glory here!).

1. cabas = shopping basket

  Arrivng at the harbor of Port Cros. No, we didn't travel via fishing boat :-)

And this just may be Mrs. Sacks. (Notice the blue Hawaiian beach bag--she appeared here, too, hidden somewhere in the "reunited with ex husband" post.) Mrs. Sacks was a gift from Reader Fred Caswell (hi! Fred!), who brought her to me at a New York city book signing. He also brought his lovely wife Nancy (Bonjour, Nancy!). See, Fred, I really do use the soulful bag--even though you apologized when you offered it, wondering whether it would be of any use. Useful? It's a staple! Long live Mrs. Sacks!

By the way, those aren't babouches, those are loafers on my feet: 

2. babouche = slippers

Epicerie on Port Cros island (c) Kristin Espinasse
The island's épicerie or grocer's or mini-market is, as the sign says, "at the top of the stairs, to the right"

 We didn't see any toubibs on the island. Had we seen a doctor, my guess is he or she would look like this--for all the natives wore shorts and loose-fitting tops--and all the locals were barefoot or pieds nus, which gave them an even more je n'ai pas un souci au monde (or not a care in the world) look.

3. toubib = doctor

Port-Cros harbor and village (c) Kristin Espinasse
A dump, a hole, a godforsaken place? I think you'll agree that the village of Port-Cros is no bled

4. bled = the "boondocks" as we say back home, or a remote--or rural--place

Mini Moke (c) Kristin Espinasse
I hope Brian is reading. My sister's beau loves cars and would appreciate this cross between an American jeep and a skateboard--designed by the British Motor Corporation.

Port-Cros does have a little in common with a bled paumé (a one-horse town), in that no cars are allowed on the island--apart from the cheery Mini Mokes or low-riding island jeeps! Bikes, or vélos, are not allowed either, as Jean-Marc learned. All the more reason to enjoy one of the many protected sentiers, or hiking trails.

signposts or island direction (c) Kristin Espinasse

"Would you like to go to Plage du Sud or return to Port Man," Jean-Marc offers. 
"C'est kif-kif". It's all the same," I answer. All the beaches are beautiful!

5. kif-kif = a fun term that means "the same thing", or "c'est pareil" or "six of one half a dozen of the other"

Prickly pears on the island of Port-Cros (c) Kristin Espinasse
It's hard to resist capturing these figuiers de barbarie, or prickly pears--much easier to take by photo than by hand. The island of Port-Cros is a parc national, filled with interesting plants above, and sealife, below. As for dogs, or clebs, the sign on the ferry boat mentioned they were not allowed on the island. 

6. clebs = (slang) dog

Island dog - golden retriever (c) Kristin Espinasse

Well then, I wonder where this gal came from? Hmm? Hmm?And all her friends that decorated the windows and lounged beside the café chairs where the tourists sipped steaming cups of kawa

7. kawa = coffee

DSC_0479
I wanted to take a little space, just un chouïa, to show you this seagrass called "posidonia" that is found on the island and in the calanques nearby our home...

8. chouïa = a little

DSC_0490
The posidonia piles up high along the seashore--making a comfy natural mattress for an afternoon siesta: perfect for forgetting about those nagging fardeaux awaiting the tourist back home....

9. fardeau = burden or emotional toll

  la méduse or jellyfish (c) Kristin Espinasse

Speaking of burdens, a violet tribe, or smala, tormented the seaside. Here we see a member of the jellyfish family... two of which bit me! Are people who swim in these waters brave--or seriously maboule?

10. smala = tribe or large family
11. maboule = mad, crazy

little island (c) Kristin Espinasse
Cash, or flouze, would have been useless as there were no pharmacies on the rugged coast. So I remembered a tip I'd learned from one of the info boards at the tourist office...

12. flouze = cash or "bread"

How to Treat a Jellyfish Sting

  1. rinse with salt water (this is convenient...)
  2. apply sand to the area (hot sand is best) ; massage gently
  3. to remove tentacles: find a flat-sided object to scrape off the sand plastered over the wound (a credit card would have been ideal, but I used a sharp-ended pebble).

Tip! Don't do what I did: When my stings were not apparent, I began to doubt whether or not I'd truly had a painful run-in with the jellyfish. Worse, I began to apologize for being such a big baby! Just in case, I went ahead and half-heartedly treated the invisible area, using the protocol mentioned above.

A day or two later things weren't so invisible. Two large bumpy wounds were unmistakable--one on my ankle was the size of a sand dollar, the other a "slap" across the hand -- both deep red and itchy as can be! So when in doubt -- go ahead and thoroughly treat the area, making sure all tentacles have been removed. 

I leave you with one last word, close to my heart: taboulé!

My mother-in-law, Michèle-France (born in Marocco), makes the very best. And because she is moving this week, I'll end this post and say "see you next week"... 

...insha'Allah (if God be willing).

Kristin

 

garde-manger (c) Kristin Espinasse
A garde-manger or dish protecter--perfect for keeping the winged ones out of the taboulé!  

Comments  and corrections welcome here. I'd love to know if you enjoyed these photos and words--or have come across other Arabic words adopted by the French. Thanks for joining the discussion here in the comments box.

 

 New to this language blog? You might enjoy Blossoming in Provence. Here's a Amazon review from Debnance at Readerbuzz:

Blossoming in Provence

 

I read Espinasse’s earlier book, Words in a French Life, a few years ago and liked the way she connected stories from her new life in the south of France with French vocabulary lessons. Blossoming in Provence is more of the same. And equally inviting.

Island of Port-Cros (c) Kristin Espinasse
The heavy object, to the right, looks like "une meule" or grindstone. Wonder what it used to grind? There are plenty of wild olive trees on the island, but no local olive oil, it seems....

Would you like to see more pictures of the island of Port-Cros? Have you ever been there? Let us know, here in the comments section

(Just making sure you have not confused the island of Port-Cros with the nearby island of Porquerolles, shown in this blog post.) 

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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"I have enjoyed this blog for years and watched your children grow up. You are staying strong through all the changes. Merci pour tout."
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