"The world is violent and mercurial--it will have its way with you." Listen to this in French, don't miss the lovely end. + Paint in Provence

Abstract and Figurative artist Tess Baker paint in provence France La Ciotat pepper tree
The world is violent and mercurial--it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love--love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.” Tennessee Williams (photo of my friend Tess Baker, founder of Paint in Provence.)

Today's Word: MERCURIEL

    : changing (mood), fluctuating, inconstant, variable...

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read the following quote:

Click here to listen to mercuriel

Le monde est violent et mercuriel--il fera ce qu'il veut avec vous. Nous sommes seulement sauvés par l'amour--l'amour l'un pour l'autre et l'amour que nous mettons dans l'art que nous nous sentons forcés de partager: être un parent; être un écrivain; être un peintre; être un ami. Nous vivons perpétuellement dans un bâtiment en feu, et ce que nous devons en sauver, tout le temps, c'est l'amour. -Tennessee Williams

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE

    by Kristi Espinasse

Tess came to visit this weekend! She's my longtime painter friend from England, who calls tomatoes toh-mah-toes, says things like "mercurial" (to describe the sea), and calls me Darling  (as in Daar-ling, we must get together soon!).

We decided to have lunch in Bandol so that Jackie and Tess could see each other, too. Jackie is my 20-year-old daughter and she's studying art in Toulon, and waitressing on Sundays for some argent de poche....

Jackie waitressing at Le Jerome in Bandol France with abstract figurative artist Tess Baker

If you happen to be in Bandol on a Sunday, stop in to see Jackie at Le Jêrome. And if you are looking for a recommendation, Tess and I highly recommend the pièce de boeuf. It's outstanding--charred on the outside, cooked à point. After lunch, Tess snuck around the corner, with Jackie, to stuff a big tip into the art student's pocket because in France all tips are collected by le patron, and little of it ends up in the pockets of workers. Jackie insists her boss is fair about this, but Tess wasn't taking any chances, having worked in French restaurants over the 4 decades she's lived here.

Abstract Figurative artist Tess Baker in La Ciotat France painting lessons Provence

After lunch in Bandol, and before our stroll beside the--mercurial--sea here in La Ciotat... Tess suggested we sit down and paint. Quelle idée! I haven't felt that self-conscious since blowing into a giant hunting horn during a proper lunch in a château. I thought my pants would rip right open (and that maybe more than my pants would rip as I let it rip trying to force air through that giant brass horn!). 

I felt this kind of vulnerability now. Sensing my fears, Tess had an idea. "We'll paint that lovely willow tree! Let's simply focus on a section of it. We'll paint those branches..." And the way she said it ("braahn-ches") kind of suckered me into this unexpected watercolor session.

My attention was scattered as I watched people walking by our house, sometimes slowing to view the artistic activity here in our garden. Not only was it nerve-racking to be painting beside an artist, but we now had a mobile audience. One of those passers-by was my 8-year-old golden retriever, who parked himself beside my chair. Smokey wanted to play artist, too! which reminded me: just play!

Smokey golden retriever red beret artist
"Notice the light hitting the side of the leaves, Tess was saying. "Now see the darkness on the other side. Let's start with the light...." Tess had already made several vertical brown strokes on her canvas. I hurried to pick up a paintbrush but it felt as awkward as chopsticks. And which one to use? Thank God there were only two. Mimicking Tess, I picked up the big one.

Tess was painting away with a shade of green...but where was this color green in the paintbox? A childhood rhyme came to mind, as I struggled to remember color mixing...yellow and blue make green... (or did yellow and red make green?) 

"Here, you can use the color I've already mixed," Tess offered. "Just start sploshing it on!"

I glanced over at Tess's own canvas, wondering what all those verticle brown lines were for?

"Those are the branches, darling," she explained, but all I could see (ahead of me) was the green of the leaves!

"Do you need to get your glah-ses?" Tess hinted.

Oh, yes! Mais bien sûr!

Finally seated, still feeling ill-at-ease before the blank canvas, I bargained with my art teacher: "OK, I'll paint--but only if I can throw it away in the end!

Tess agreed and before long I was settled in. If those paintbrushes felt like chopsticks, the act of painting felt like picking up slippery noodles with those foreign utensils, or brushes. Why was this so difficult for me? I began to think about Tess's former students, and the wonderful works of art I'd seen with my own eyes. And here I could not even paint a leaf--not even an abstract one (as we'd agreed to do, to simplify).

"Just let go!" Tess said. I brushed aside all the torturous thoughts and got on with the moment. When else would a chance like this come around again? A little while later I was giddily painting right over my braahn-ches and trees....with a shower of crimson wings (red for determination? Wings for freedom?). Feeling more and more relaxed, I went to re-dip my brush into the glass of water. That's when I noticed how close the cups were...

Teacup kristi painting


"Tess, What are the chances I've dipped my brush into my teacup?" I wondered.

But my good friend brushed aside the worry, "Oh, I'm sure I've done it dozens of times myself. Carry on, darling!

And like that, we sipped our colorful tea, and painted gleefully. The tourists strode by and the pepper tree swayed gently, mimicking Smokey's golden tail as he snoozed on and off beneath the artist's table.

 *    *    *

Post note: Later, when I went to prepare dinner, I was surprised to find my little painting tucked into the window above my kitchen sink. Tess had set it there...in case I had a change of heart. I was glad it didn't end up in the poubelle. The little work of art was, after all, a sweet souvenir of our time together.

Pepper tree paints
Come to France and Paint Provence With Tess. Read about the time she brought her students to our vineyard, in the story "French Toilet Paper & Other Disasters" (disasters which had nothing to do with painting!

FRENCH VOCABULARY
l'argent de poche = pocket money
pièce de boeuf = piece of beef, side of beef, tenderloin
à point = medium rare
le patron = the restaurant owner
quelle idée! = what an idea!
la poubelle = garbage

Drawing lessons

Read Patricia Sands book set in Provence, order Drawing Lessons here.

Also, Beautiful watercolor illustrations of Provence, click here for this sketchbook
La Petite Aquarelle watercolor paint set from France. Order here
Valrhona chocolate from France, and more in French groceries, here
All-new HD Fire Tablet - and many other tablet models here.
Global Culinary Escapades
BORDEAUX AND THE DORDOGNE small group tour Sept 17-25 - culture, cuisine & wine. Click here for itinerary.

Kristin Espinasse paintbrush watercolor abstract painting in La Ciotat France French shutters
For those who enjoyed the opening quote, on art and love, here's a post from the 2010 archives. Open up your eyes and your senses and enjoy!

Thank you so much for reading these stories and for the time you've set aside to learn a French word or two. If you feel you have learned more than a little vocabulary, here, and would like to reward my efforts please know that a one-time contribution is not only a great support, but it is vivement apprécié. Simply use the quick links below (they'll take you to PayPal). Merci beaucoup! 
♥ Send $10    ♥ Send $25    ♥ Send another amount


collier

Colmar (c) Kristin Espinasse
Today's story opens in the poetic place known as Colmar, France. Never miss a photo: sign up, here, for French Word-A-Day.

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

 

le collier (kohl yay)

    : necklace

 Listen to the audio file: Download MP3 or Wav

Le collier de Nan a été apprécié par tout le monde.
Nan's necklace was appreciated by everyone. 

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

We met up with our friends Charles and Martha in Alsace last month. They said they had a special present for me, un cadeau that had not left their care during their multi-city périple (beginning in Florida) prior to our meet-up in Colmar.

The gift, Charles explained, was from Nan. I had not met Nan before--not en personne that is. Charles had introduced Nan to my Word-a-Day newsletter a few years back and, since, Nan and I have exchanged a few emails. I have a picture of Charles, Martha, Nan, and Jean-Marc taken, I believe, at a wine-tasting in Florida. Their smiling faces greet me each morning as I walk past our postcard rack, headed for the coffee machine.

The night that Charles and Martha presented me the gift, we were in a rush to make it to a wine dinner in honor of Jean-Marc. 

"I think it is best that I open the package after dinner..." I hinted to Charles. I didn't want to rush the experience (from the way Charles and Martha spoke of the gift, in hushed, reverent voices, I had a hunch that whatever was in that box would merit full concentration).

Currently my undivided attention was on the clock: we had a matter of minutes to shed our sweaty vêtements de long voyage, shower and dress for the dinner.

"Now's the time," Charles insisted, and something inside of me yielded, in time to trust my friend to put my priorities in order. Dinner could wait.

Meantime, we waited patiently until Martha and friends Kim and Bill could join us for le dévoilement, or unveiling. The honorable opening-of-the-gift ceremony would require an audience. 

 

Kristin & Jean-Marc
                                           Kristin & Jean-Marc 

When we were all gathered around the box, anticipation was so thick you could cut it like a satin-bowed ribbon! In that moment I was reminded that part of the pleasure that a gift brings is in the gift's opening! No longer feeling rushed, I took the time to open the box, carefully lifting the lid....

SAM_0584
                                  (picture by Tante Michou)

Un Collier!

And what a necklace! To fully appreciate the handcrafted oeuvre--an intricately beaded neckpiece--you would have to be familiar with our life... a life of vines & vocabulaire.

The magnificent neckpiece paid tribute to both une vie en prose... and a life in vine rows! Never before had my husband's and my own passions been united in one precious link... le grand collier!

232323232-fp5398--nu=3348-673--49-WSNRCG=3699648;75336nu0mrj
                     Pictures by Charles McGrath and Martha Melvin

232323232-fp539---nu=3348-673--49-WSNRCG=369964-843336nu0mrj-1

SAM_0576
The words read "perles", "syrah", "vivace", "dentelle", "carignan", "mourvèdre"....

On studying the necklace, I wished I were a bead artist or an artisan de perles--so as to not miss one precious detail! But soon enough I would see the necklace through the eyes of others. In the weeks to come, during wine tastings and family visits, I presented le collier to all our guests...

DSC_0033

It was Aunt Michou's response that most touched me. She noticed the neckpiece immediately, pouring over each detail... She declared the collier "une oeuvre de l'esprit... une oeuvre d'art extrêmement émouvante qui vient du coeur et qui parle au coeur tout en comblant le regard." 

I could not have said it better, and so I listened, as les tantes appreciated this grande oeuvre de l'esprit et du coeur:

"Regarde!" said Aunt Marie-Françoise, "there is even a (little beaded) moon next to "lunatique". The necklace was partly made up of tags, or flaps, each beaded with French words symbolic of our work: many of the words came from my stories (trésor, vivace, sieste...) , and others of the mots represented the varieties of vines growing on our vineyard (Morvèdre, Syrah, Carignan), or the wines that came of them ("Dentelle", "Mistral", and "Lunatique").

(And I have so far failed to mention the colors!... in reference to our vineyard's name: Domaine Rouge-Bleu!)

"'Merci' est un des plus jolis," The 'merci' (flap) is one of the prettiest! Michou remarked, more than once. Aunt Michou pointed out how certain letters were punctuated by spheric perles (notice the "i"--of Mistral on the second photo below...).

SAM_0583

                       These pictures are by Tante Michou...

SAM_0580

      "Une intelligence de coeur et d'esprit" -Aunt Michou, praising the neckpiece.

SAM_0566 

A tongue-in-cheek detail was the blue and the red corks (from our Dentelle wine). Nan had thoughtfully included them in this thematic, truly dramatic neckpiece. Every detail, down to the silver "grapes and leaf" clasp on the back whispered our lives, lives entwined with vocabulaire and vines....

Charles remarked that it must have taken two years to complete the piece. Martha added that so much care had been taken....

But how to thank the artist? Comment la remercier? This is the question! Perhaps I could share with Nan this compliment, coming from our art-savvy aunt, Michou in Paris: C'est un bijou de haute couture. On imagine même que Christian Lacroix créerait une robe tout exprès pour ce collier! It is a work of haute couture. We can even imagine that Christian Lacroix would create a dress especially for this necklace!

And, while racking my brain for a proper thank-you, I'll borrow Aunt Michou's words (whispered while admiring the various beaded words of the collier): "'Merci'... est un des plus jolis"....

Meantime, while waiting for Mr. Lacroix' attentions... I'm pairing the neckpiece with a trusty pants-and-top combo. Many, many thanks, Nan! And thanks go to Charles and Martha, who did a wonderful job transporting le collier!

SAM_0562
                                (Kristin, with daughter, Jackie, right).

Le Coin Commentaires
Comments, corrections, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box. P.S. While rushing to finish today's edition, I have not checked the French words or written the vocab section. Any help is appreciated. Sorry for any French mistakes! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this "piece" in the comments box

 => Check out Nan Heldenbrand Morrissette's site at Art4Life.

FRENCH VOCAB LIST
Thank you very much, Newforest, for creating this enriched list of words and definitions

un cadeau (des cadeaux) = present(s), gift(s)
un périple / grand voyage = a long journey, an adventurous trip
en l'honneur de = in honor of
vêtements de voyage = travelling clothes
le dévoilement = the unveiling
soulever le couvercle = to lift the lid
Quel collier! = What a necklace!

une oeuvre / un ouvrage = a work
une oeuvre d'art = a work of art, artwork
un chef-d'oeuvre = a masterpiece

une perle = pearl (jewelry)
une perle = bead (made of glass)
une perle 'fine' (en bijouterie) = a 'real' pear

    a person you qualify as:
        "une perle" = a gem, a real treasure!
        "une perle rare" = a real treasure

    in a literary sense:
        une perle (de sang, de sueur) = a drop (of blood, of sweat)
        les perles de la rosée = dewdrops

    but... (fam) une perle / une erreur grossière = a howler


un artisan = a craftsman
combler le regard = to satisfy/ to please the eye
tout en comblant le regard = (while) pleasing the eye at the same time
l'esprit = spirit, mind.

le vocabulaire = vocabulary
mots = words
la vigne = vine (here used in the plural)
    (but the drink -> vin = wine- is masculine! :-) )

un(e) des plus joli(e)s = one of the nicest / one of the prettiest

Related story: Read more about the delighful Aunt Michou in the story "cachette" and learn a favorite word she taught me, in the story chouia.

And, whatever you do, don't miss this post about aunt Marie-Françoise, who passes down the family tradition of lavender weaving

Thank you so much for reading these stories and for the time you've set aside to learn a French word or two. If you feel you have learned more than a little vocabulary, here, and would like to reward my efforts please know that a one-time contribution is not only a great support, but it is vivement apprécié. Simply use the quick links below (they'll take you to PayPal). Merci beaucoup! 
♥ Send $10    ♥ Send $25    ♥ Send another amount