On the positive side: after the attempted break in, getting to know the neighbors (including somebody famous!)
Example sentence & Sound File
Quand la maison du voisin brûle, c'est ton affaire aussi
When your neighbor's house burns down, it is your business too.
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE
by Kristi Espinasse
She wears miniskirts that could get her arrested, but that is not why her nom d'affection is "Bifteck." I call her this for the way she fries up steaks at home after selling fish all day (the smoke sets off the "damn combo alarm," the one that warns of fires or thieves). But especially, I call her this, for the way our loveable personnage has helped "beef up" neighbor relations around here. Her fish stand, turns out, is the local hub or old-fashioned "water-cooler," as we would say back home.
I went to her poissonnerie the day after my run-in with the intruder. "Comment ça va?" Bifteck inquired, her long blond braid embellished with an island flower.
"Ça ne va pas du tout!" I said. "Il "était là. LA! Dans ma fenêtre!!"
"Peuchère!" Bifteck hurried around her fish stand to sympathize. Next, she proceeded to tell anyone within earshot what had just happened to their very own neighbor--moi! Like this, I met a lady my age who lives down the street... (the neighbor with that oeil-de-boeuf window. I'd always wondered who lived there!). She told me two men in a camion blanc have been circling the neighborhood. The pair knocked on her door and were insistent about giving her an estimate for some roof work she did not need.
Next, I met the biker in flip-flops and a tank top, who lives a few doors down and who never lets solicitors beyond the front gate. Holding a sack of just-bought supions, he warned, "It's often a ruse to case your home!"
Finally I met another voisin, who looked to be around 70. "Do you know who you are talking to?" Bifteck took me aside. "He's a world-famous chef d'orchéstre. He's so kind, but a true tête en l'air !" I ran home to google my neighbor who, turns out was 90! I wondered, did he know Harry--beloved South African conductor who also lived in Provence. Harry... Maybe it's not too late to write about that dinner at my friend Cyn's in which we spent a melodious evening, huddled around her piano, Harry's fingers dancing on the keyboard.
That night is now blurring in my memory, as are the specifics of Thursday's break-in which is more and more like a bad dream. If only the police had taken fingerprints. If only some item, some piece of evidence--a glove, lighter, or God forbid a knife (Bifteck found one after her own home invasion. The police were able to get fingerprints, catch the guy and put him in the la taule for 5 years!).
But back to Bifteck, our local fishmonger, who is the strength of our voisinage. I've been to her stand 3 times since that chilling encounter at the bedroom window, and each time she cries out the news (like all crieurs or fishmongers worth their salt). And each time, a huddle of neighbors forms around the paella, or near the tuna, or by the coquilles saint-jacques, to listen to what happened to one of their own. The solidarity that ensues is enormously reassuring. As the saying goes:
Quand la maison du voisin brûle, c'est ton affaire aussi. When the neighbor's house burns down, it's your business too!
FRENCH VOCABULARY REVIEW
le nom d'affection (terme d'affection) = term of affection
le bifteck = steak
la personnage = character
la poissonnerie = fish store, fishmonger's
il était là, dans ma fenêtre! = he was there, in my window!
peuchère! = you poor thing! what a shame
un cambrioleur (une cambrioleuse) = burglar
supions = small squid
oeil-de-boeuf = bull's eye window
le camion = truck
le blanc = white
le voisin = neighbor
le chef d'orchéstre = conductor
tête en l'air = scatterbrained
la taule = slammer
le voisinage = neighborhood, vicinity
Thank you, Jean-Marc, for these beautiful photos of our neighborhood warrior with the purple flower in her hair.
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