la veuve de la vendange

Winter Cabanon (c) Kristin Espinasse
Photo of a modern cabanon with its carpet of white mustard flowers. Don't you just want to lose yourself in it?

la veuve de la vendange (lah vuv deuh lah von danzh)

    : crush widoww


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

I learned a new term last fall, while guiding yet another enthusiastic and brave bénévole out to the vine fields to help my husband, Chief Grape, with the work load.

"Yeah," said Eugenia, sympathetically, as she sped-walked (we wouldn't want to keep the Wine Chief waiting!) beside me in well-worn jeans and a grape-stained tee. "There is even a term for it!" 

It must have been in the way I looked: a little desperate? And I hadn't meant to show any evidence of exasperation. After all, the harvest and its flurry were over... and yet we were still soliciting helping hands (including Eugenia's) for tying up any harvest loose ends. 

"The harvest just keeps on going... and going... and going... At first it was two weeks, then four, then six. We began this harvest eight weeks ago!" I explained to our latest helper, as we dashed out to the field, buckets and scissors in hand. (I would leave Eugenia with Jean-Marc and our other volunteer, Jeffrey, in time to run back to the kitchen and stare into the fridge, wondering just what to throw together for an impromptu guest lunch. I didn't dare serve last night's noodles: a collection of scraped-from-the-kids'-plates pasta... fit for a close-knit family, but nowhere near appropriate for our volunteers! 

Huffing and puffing our way out to the field farthest from the house, Eugenia disclosed to me the well-known term used in the wine industry. "They call women like you "Crush Widows"!

Crush Widows! It was one of those "Aha! moments". So I was not alone in this very lonely state: the grape harvest: when vintners disappear from their wives and from the home and can be found somewhere out in the field or in the "cave" for the remains of the day. 

But what Eugenia didn't tell me was that Crush Widows don't suddenly lose their status—and regain their lost Love—after the grape crush. No! They wear their vine veils on into winter.... when their husbands are busy juggling the sales of their wine, the accounting, the bottling, the PR, and the pruning of their vines!
 
***
Pulling into the driveway last night I stopped in front of the cellar and lowered my window. I was lucky to find Jean-Marc outside and not lost to the depths of his cave

"Want to eat early tonight?" I had in mind a movie on T.V., one we could watch after an early meal... 
"I'll be at the vintners' meet-up. Remember?"
"Oh... that's right! (How I managed each time to forget...) Do you want us to wait for you for dinner?"
"I don't know when I'll be back..."
***
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Voilà, une petite illustration of the term Crush Widow, which could well be a song by Ani DiFranco. I'd love to sing it now, with a feisty French accent!

This morning I woke up and checked the pan on the stove. His portion of rumsteak aux champignons was still waiting for him. I imagined Chief Grape had filled up on crackers, olives, and nuts during last night's vigneron meeting. This was all he needed to do! Join another Cercle de Vignerons!!!

Just then, my inner "Fairness Mediator" cleared her throat in time to remind me of the thousands of hours that I had given to starting up a website and filling it with stories. I remembered the day when Jean-Marc marched up to my computer and mumbled something about all my time being thrown into cyberspace... and for what benefit?!
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I could be patient with Chief Grape. I could learn, as he eventually had to, to allow another's dream, and to do so encouragingly. And for what benefit? As Ani says, for the joy it brings.
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Corrections are appreciated and comments are "one of those joys that writing brings". Click here to leave a message on the blog.
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Jean-Marc & Kristi (c) Sophie Roussel Bourreli
He loves me. He loves those grapes. He loves me. He loves those grapes!

French Vocabulary

bénévole = volunteer
la cave = wine cellar
le rumsteak = round or rump steak
le vigneron = wine maker 
aux champignons = with mushrooms
cercle de vignerons = wine society

Audio file: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce these French words: (Click here to download MP3 file). Tip: can't hear the audio file? Try changing browsers (from Chrome to Firefox or...) or updating your audio software.

On les appelle "Les Veuves de la Vendange", ces femmes qui "perdent" leur mari chaque année en septembre, pendant le ramassage des raisins. We call them "Crush Widows", these women who "lose" their husbands each year, in September, during the grape harvest.

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DSC_0060-1
Name This Photo (That's Smokey, taken one year ago... when there was snow).
When you shop at Amazon, entering the story via any of the links below, your purchases help to support this free word journal - at no extra cost to you! Thanks for keeping this in mind. Here are some on my picks:
The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It
,,, The Widow Clicquot. Highly recommended! Both Jean-Marc and I loved this book, and took turned yanking it out of each other's hands during summer vacation. Click to see the reviews.
Kissing Bench
A cozy kissing bench for the garden. I'm looking for one of these in France, meantime, for US readers, you can get one at Amazon!


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


espoir

une Maison à Valbonne = a House in Valbonne (c) Kristin Espinasse
                                 Christmastime in Valbonne.


Espoir

(es-pwar)

noun, masculine

hope


The following letter is an intimate look into la naissance of a certain "thrice-weekly" journal from France. This online blog began in October of 2002 following its earlier pen-and-paper beginnings—as letters that were sent via snail mail to a group of beta readers: my family and friends! For this opening story-letter, I have chosen a Wild West theme, one that seems fitting, considering my southwestern roots. Though I left the Phoenix desert half a life ago, a part of my heart forgot to board that plane to France.
 

To You, the Reader (A Story about You and Me)

In October of deux mille deux I began a website, a vitrine of sorts, for my writing. I put up a few published stories, a bio and un livre d'or, and waited beside my virtual mailbox, ginger ale in hand.

A few tumbleweeds blew past, but no publishers. My address, my website—my writing—remained in a cyber ghost town.

I continued to peddle my words, sending out queries for my stories. I did not sell many.

I thought to offer something to attract editors and publishers, and so I stepped out of my cyber-office and nailed up a sign. It read: "French Word-A-Day." I waited patiently for a customer. More tumbleweeds blew past. No publishers.

I continued to show up at the page, or keyboard, each morning and the stories collected like so many stars over a sleeping desert on a warm summer's night. As for l'espoir, I had that. Still, no publishers came.

But you did.

You must've seen the sign out front. You signed up for French words and accidentally found yourself in my French life. You must have said, "Pourquoi pas?" then pulled up a barstool, ordered a ginger ale, and settled in.

Your presence reassured me. I wrote and wrote and wrote a little more. And mostly I hoped you would not leave town when the next cyber stagecoach passed through. At least not until I figured out what it was I had to say.

Then one day you said: "Thank you for your missives," and I ran to my dictionary to look up that word. You also wrote: "Thank you for your vignettes."

"'Vignettes'! 'Vignettes'!" I giggled, doing a little square dance. I never knew what to call "it" besides an "essay" (which, I felt, was a spiffier term than "diary entry").

Many good months passed with small writing victories, and a former ghost town came to life.

But my joie was short-lived. A menace and a few mean-spirited e-mails arrived. I almost yearned for those tumbleweeds. Instead, I mentioned my soucis in a letter, and suddenly it was Showdown at the French Word-A-Day Corral! You showed up with your posse and told the bandits to get out of town. Then you turned to me and said: "Don't let the !@#& get you down!"

While others don't understand the life of a former desert rat-turned-French housewife-turned-maman and, recently, struggling écrivaine—you do.

At a shop in Draguignan, the vendeuse says: "Your name sounds familiar. What does your husband do?" I fall back into a slump, reminded that what I really am is a pantoufle-footed housewife with a backup of three loads of laundry and a sink full of dirty, mismatched assiettes.

I return home to the dirty dishes and the laundry—and to a letter from a reader, which says: "Thank you for your stories." I sit up straight, dust off my keyboard and am reminded that what I really am is a working writer—if only I will show up at the page, and write, each day.

So, thank you, dear Reader, for helping me to live my dream: for reading my—missives—and for your thoughtful words of support. Although publishers and agents may not be beating down my porte, each time I crack open the door—there you are.

In the new year, I'd like to continue with the stories, expanding the gist of this French Life. I hope you'll stay in town because I have figured out that I do, indeed, have something more to say. In fact, there is so much that I have not yet told you.

And while you know of the light-hearted, bubbly side of this expatriation, Real Life continues to rumble within my writing veins, like a rowdy, drunken saloon girl, wanting to be heard. Only I will need to slap her cheek, pour a bit of cool water over her head, take a tissue to her running mascara and tell her to have faith, that her story will be told, if she will only show up at the page.

May you, too, live your dream in the coming year.

Bien amicalement,
Kristin


 
French Vocabulary

la naissance
 = birth
deux mille deux = two thousand two
la vitrine = showcase
le livre d'or = guestbook
l'espoir = hope
pourquoi pas? = why not?
la joie = joy
un souci = worry
une maman = mom
un(e) écrivain(e) = writer
la vendeuse = saleslady
la pantoufle = (house) slipper
une assiette = plate
la porte = door
bien amicalement = best wishes, yours


Le Coin Commentaires - Story Edits
Did you find any typos in this story? Any vocabulary words missing from the vocab section, below? Any other style or technical concerns that you would like to point out? Please leave a message in the comments box, here. Thank you very much!
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Update: in the third paragraph from the end, I am having difficulty knowing what to do with the years (originally, only two years—"2005" and "2006"—were mentioned. Five years have passed, since...). If you have an idea on how to present or update this, let me know. Perhaps I should take out the years and keep "in the new year"?
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I am also wondering about how to work in the very first paragraph--which is fitting for the blog post, but not for an introductory or first chapter in a book. Any ideas on how to resolve this are welcome! Perhaps I should leave it out? (In which case I'll need to remember to remove the vocabulary words from the vocab section! Oh, the blips of speed-publishing!)

Update: I am reworking the intro paragraph, check it out, now, and please let me know if you have any edits. Here is the paragraph that I took out:
     
For this last edition of 2004, a more personal look into la naissance of this letter from France; a background on how it came about, and its raison d'être(besides building one's vocabulary!). Most of the stories in 2004 were in keeping with a French theme. For today's personal story, a Wild West theme seems fitting, considering my Southwestern roots. Though I left the Phoenix desert one third of my life ago, a part of my heart forgot to board that plane to France. 



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Update: Four weeks after publishing "To You, the Reader (A Story about You and Me)," I was contacted by an editor at Simon and Schuster (!), this, thanks to a certain reader/writer who discovered my online stories. The book that resulted from that e-mail is available for purchase

When you buy any item at Amazon, entering the store via the following links, your purchase helps to support this free word journal!

Herbes de Provence in a handy grinder. A special blend found in country kitchen in the South of France. Click here to order the 3-pack for under $10

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

I Heart Paris Shopper: made of recycled material

Tune Up Your French: Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Spoken French

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


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